"Did I ever tell you how he broke the back of Eli Whitney?"

Eli Whitney Blake (1820-1894), nephew of the famous inventor Eli Whitney, took over the armaments factory established by his uncle at Whitneyville in 1841. He worked with Sam Colt in the late 1840s to manufacture Walker-Colt revolvers for the Texas Rangers, one of Colt's first large-scale contracts. There is said to have been tension between Colt and Whitney during this collaboration due to Colt's slack attitude to both record-keeping and adherence to contracts. When their arrangement ended Whitney quickly became one of Colt's major competitors for the custom of the US Government.

Ben Quill here refers to a contentious episode in the history of Colt. In 1849 the Massachusetts Arms Company, another prominent competitor, started to manufacture revolvers. Colt came to suspect that a number of patents for revolver design that he held were being infringed upon -- and that Eli Whitney was backing the venture, using knowledge he'd acquired whilst working with Sam on the Walker-Colts. He waited until the factory was in production and then moved in with injunction proceedings, demanding that royalties be paid. Litigation lasted a month, with Edward Dickerson representing Colt and Rufus Choate the Massachusetts Arms Company. Choate tried to prove that the revolver was an old idea dating back to time of Henry VIII, and thus not subject to patent, but the court found in Colt's favour. The Massachusetts Arms Company (and by extension Eli Whitney) was forced to stop making revolvers, leaving Colt in a very strong commercial position. He immediately set about expanding his Hartford pistol works and reduced his prices from $28 a weapon to $25 on orders of a thousand or more, a move designed to attract government custom.