The following information comes from the Introduction of Burning Powder by Lt. Col. Douglas B. Wesson. Burning Powder is also available to purchase in print.
It is a far cry from the original revolver, which history tells us made its first appearance somewhere between 1450 and 1500, to the present day arm, but it doesn’t seem absurd to imagine the proud possessor of one of these early contrivances challenging his neighbor to a test of shooting skill, although the first hand-arm match of which we have been able to find a record was not until 1860, when Captain John Travers of Missouri and another gentleman, whose name has not descended to posterity, fired one shot at each of fifteen china plates 9 inches in diameter at a distance of 100 feet. Captain Travers, shooting with great skill, plus, possibly, considerable luck, broke eleven out of the possible fifteen, while his opponent, either less skillful or less lucky, broke but nine.
This shooting was done with single shot muzzle loading pistols of the cap and ball type. It seems almost beyond reason when one realizes that from approximately 1500 until 1850 the only real advance made in these firearms was a change from the old match lock, through the flint lock, and to the Percussion cap…in other words, the means of ignition of the charge, although full credit must be given to “Col.” Sam Colt for his development of a single barreled hand-arm with a rotating multi-chambered cylinder functioning positively, and compact enough to be handled comfortably and efficiently with one hand. And yet, in 1888, a span of but 28 years, we find Sergeant W. C. Johnson, Jr. of the Massachusetts National Guard, in the presence of many witnesses, scoring with his .44 Smith & Wesson revolver, using ammunition developed by the same company, sixteen consecutive 10’s on the Standard American 50 yard target at that distance—sixteen successive shots within or touching a 3.39 inch circle! The explanation, of course, lies in the improved revolver and metallic ammunition, both invented, patented and first manufactured by Smith & Wesson.