It’s a bit like trying to catch a tiger by the tail when you attempt to discuss “early” American-made long rifles. The big problem is, very few have survived, and even fewer have survived which are capable of being dated.
For instance, in the reenacting world, there are constant arguments and discussions on what is, and what is not, “correct” for certain time periods. I’m not a reenactor, but I’ve seen them argue many times – well, mostly read them argue, since this is prime internet fodder. For instance, what is “correct” for the French Indian War? That’s tough, because it’s highly unlikely that any expert could really show you a single rifle with documented use in the French and Indian War, much less existence in the general time period. They’re still around, but proving it is another matter.
First I’ll offer a caveat that, I’m a nobody in the world of scholarship over antique Kentucky Rifles, or really anything else outside of the legal world. I’m pretty good at constitutional law topics. So call me if you have a problem in that regard. But back to guns, I probably know enough to be dangerous on a lot of these topics, but that’s never stopped me before of course. So, take everything you read here for what you paid for it…..
As opposed to a “rifle,” this sort of American long-gun below is most likely the common long-arm of the American frontier during the French and Indian War period, through the Revolution. Regular line militia units generally had muskets. But the frontier fringes were always different. You didn’t just have a long-gun for militia use as part of military formations. You used it for hunting food; for self defense; for peace of mind. Accuracy did matter, unlike a formation of muskets. But so did versatility: you may need to shoot shot, for instance hunting birds or turkeys; or, you may want to use a solid roundball for deer, elk, bison, or humans. Or even a combination of both.
A smoothbore long gun allowed this versatility. It also allowed increased loading speed. However, you did sacrifice accuracy as compared to a rifle. But most Scots-Irish frontier settlers, originally from England, never came from a tradition of using rifles. They almost only used smoothbores. Unlike rifles, there’s no problem at all documenting the use of smoothbores throughout the French and Indian War, and long, long before.
Here’s the blog post I did on that a while back:
The Revolutionary War period is much easier to pair with known surviving rifles, as there’s a lot more examples – though still fairly few. Fortunately, there’s tons of written documentation on the use of American rifles in the Rev War, including the fact that George Washington utilized entire units of “Riflemen” in the war. This included my 5th Great Grandfather, James Bryan, and his fellow rangers from the Augusta County, Virginia frontier.
There’s no doubt that rifles were even more numerous than we now can document. It’s sort of like pipe tomahawks. They’re not really documented much until the late 1750s, but we know they were around; they had to have been. They didn’t just spring to life with the few documented examples which survive.
The problems with dating early rifles is discussed in an article written by Wallace Gusler in the American Society of Arms Collectors Bulletin No. 74, Spring 1996, where he basically creates his own categories of rifle time periods. Perhaps this category is most closest to his “conflict period,” of rifle construction, which he states as 1750-1783. This includes what I believe is the most important of these rifles, and which is the centerpiece of this post – the so-called “transitional rifles,” which take us from the “German Jaeger” rifle to what ultimately became the “Kentucky Rifle.”
Rifles were around – no doubt – but the documentation prior to the 1770s is sparse. In the Spring, 1988 edition of Kentucky Rifle Association Bulletin, William Guthman wrote about documentation which he had found mentioning the use of a rifle in 1759 – during the French and Indian War:
References to rifles during the French and Indian War are extremely rare, particularly in records of the New York and Canadian campaigns. Occasionally mention of a rifle is documented, but often we are simply given second – or thirdhand reports . . . . Recently I acquired a single-leaf, two-page general order dated January 23, 1759. The order was obviously issued in preparation for the 1759 summer campaign in which Sir William Johnson captured Fort Niagara, the French evacuated Ticonderoga in the face of Amherst’s advancing Provincial and British army, and Crown Point fell to that same army only one week later. That fall, on September 13, the British defeated the French of the Plains of Abraham. Both the English General Wolfe and the French General Montcalm were killed in that battle, and the French surrendered Quebec to the British four days later . . . .
The important point is that rifles were used to some extent in all of these actions. Although the extent of their use is so far unknown, they must have contributed to the comnplete British victory in each of the engagements discussed . . . . Here, in part, is what the orders say:
The General (undoubltedly Amherst) expects that every Regt. will have their accotrements in good order and fitt for Service by the first of March . . . . The Regts. will likewise return what Numbers of RIFLED BARREL’D PIECES they have . . . .
Although these references to rifles are brief and general, they inspire us to speculate on the nature of the arms they refer to, and to intensify our search for more detailed information.Rifles in 1759, by William H. Guthman, KRA Bulletin, Spring 1988; as included in Selected Articles from the KRA Bulletin (Vol. 1-30), by the Kentucky Rifle Association, 2005, at p. 78.
I’m sure there’s more, but I do have a day job, as much as I’d like to search old documents for the word “rifle” all day, every day. I’ll note enthusiastically, that for anyone truly interested in learning more about Kentucky Rifles – not necessary just old flintlocks, but antique American muzzleloading rifles, the Kentucky Rifle Association, which meets once per year in Pittsburg, PA, usually in June, is the place to be. You will see many of these guns discussed in real life, if you make in there. But you can’t just show up. There’s somewhat of a vetting process. But it’s worth it if you have an interest in learning and being around these early rifles. I’d post some pics of KRA shows, but I don’t have any. And if I told you that I did, I’d have to kill you…..
Also, the Kentucky Rifle Foundation, an arm of the KRA, does great work, and produces some great documentation of these rifles, and often releases CDs full of high quality photos. The KRF is also very active on Facebook and if you follow them, you’ll see lots of great pics of original guns:
The Grandfather of the American Longrifle was the German Jaeger, such as this beautiful, and fairly plain, believe it or not, example in the NRA museum:
The first jaegers to arrive in America caused quite a stir. With such a firearm, an experienced rifleman could consistently put a hole in a playing card at 100 yards, or kill a deer or an Indian at six times the effective range of existing muskets. However, jaegers weighed as much as twenty pounds and required about ten minutes to load using special tools. And Indian, in this interim between shots, could turn the event into quite a hair-raising experience. The American gunsmith soon realized that if the jaeger was to be a success in the new environment it had to be redesigned to accommodate the settlers and frontiersmen.
It is not at all surprising that the first American-made rifles bore a striking resemblance to the European ancestors. Although wood was plentiful, imported tools were at a premium and the means for producing iron, barrels and locks were rather primitive. Thus development around the turn of the century was very slow. There was little or no specialization in this initial stage, and circumstances forced the early gunsmith to work in many mediums and exercise many skills.Evolution of the Pennsylvania Rifle, by Crosby Milliman, American Society of Arms Collectors Bulliton No. 16, Fall 1967.
George Shumway described the German connection to the development of American rifles, and described some of the context of how rifles were used in Germany:
In comparison with the barrels of American longrifles, the barrels of German flintlock rifles most often are relatively short, and typically range between 24 and 30 inches. These rifles were intended for offhand use. Rifle matches were a common social activity of the times, and the offhand position was the one most commonly used. In addition to the target shooting there was a limited amount of hunting done, for boar and stag, and the offhand rifle served well for that too. A third activity that put the rifle to use was the considerable military activity of the times. Though the common troops of course were armed with muskets, there were special units of riflemen, or jaegers, as well, some mounted as cavalry and some not. The word “jager” or jaeger in the German language means hunter or sportsman, but even in the 18th century it was used in a military connection to mean a rifleman.Rifles of Colonial America, Vol. I, by George Shumway, 1980, p. 15.
But, why were the barrels so short on the jaegers?
Joe Kindig, Jr. hypothesized that the Germans never really took to the use of greased patches in their jaegers, as was the case in America from an early period, which in part explains the lengthening of the barrel in the development of American rifles, as well as the switch from a wooden patch box to a hinged brass one:
In America where the greased patch was almost always used with the rifle, the barrel was lengthened to about that of the musket. A barrel had to be long enough that the last grain of powder was burning as the ball left the muzzle. With slow burning powder the smooth-bore muskets and fowling pieces of the period all had long barrels.
The earliest Kentucky (Rifle) made in America was undoubtedly very similar to is German ancestor in every respect. That is, the stock was rather clumsy and club shaped and especially thick at the cheek piece. The butt was very broad and flat. The barrel was octagonal and very short. It was completely brass mounted and carried a strong heavy flint lock.
Finding greater accuracy in longer barrels, some gunsmiths almost immediately began making barrels of extreme length. For this reason some of the longest Kentuckys were made in the early period. By the middle of the eighteenth century some Kentuckys had assumed th along slender graceful lines of the English following piece, although barrels ranged in length from about forty inches upward. the butt was still heavy and thick especially at the cheek piece, and the butt plate was still broad and flat. Most Kentuckys of this earliest period were stocked in maple that had little or no curly figure. Some were stocked in walnut, and a few in one of the fruit woods – cherry, apple, or pear.
In this period the wrist was carried far back toward the butt plate which further accentuated the high comb. Although the earliest Kentuckys had sliding wooden patch box lids, I believe that the brass patch box had come into existence before 1750. Because the separate wooden cover was unhandy in the constant use of greased patches, it was soon discarded by many gunsmiths in favor of the hinged metal lid. I doubt that one percent of the Kentucky rifles made in the eighteenth century had sliding wooden patch box covers.Thoughts on the Kentucky Rifle in its Golden Age, by Joe Kindig, Jr. 1960, pp. 27-28.
My late friend Ernie Cowan had a common sense explanation for the extension of the barrel length from the jaeger style to the ultimate American style, which may add to Kindig’s theory. As Ernie explained, it had everything to do with the quality of gunpowder. In Germany, they had high quality Swiss made gun powder. In America, much of the gunpowder was inferior, or even homemade from frontier gun powder mills, utilizing salt petre from Appalachian caves. Like Kindig said, all the powder had to finish its burn by the time the patch and ball reached the muzzle. If you have garbage powder which is burning more slowly, you either get better powder, or you get a longer barrel. I suppose the latter of those options was in the power, while the former may not have been.
And now, for specific early American rifles. Not necessarily in a particular order, but obviously I had priorities in mind…..
RCA No. 19
This is an early “transitional” rifle, probably made by early German Moravian gunsmiths in Pennsylvania, likely in the mid 18th century. It’s currently on exhibition at the Fort Pitt Museum in Pittsburgh, at the Heinz History Center. Unfortunately however, nobody is able to visit it at this time due to the Chinese-Ebola-Aids-Flu of 2020.
Some people believe they know exactly who made this gun, and for whom it was made. Others think it was made by an unknown early master who made guns in early Reading, Pennsylvania. Still others think both. For instance, it’s believed a guy named Wolfgang Haga, was an early master gunsmith, who could have made this gun, and others. Yet, there’s no single example of his signed work. In the end, it’s not so much about who made which gun – though many of us do tend to obsess over such things – but rather why and when, and how they played a part in the creation of the American Longrifle, and American history. If a gun survived the ravages of the past few hundred years of American history, we can just be happy we get to argue about it. First world problems . . . .
This gun has many of the attributes of the jaeger, as was described above by Kindig: the use of walnut, thick and flat but, short barrel. Sliding wood patch box, and so on.. This is known as the RCA No. 19 Rifle because it’s the 19th listed in George Shumway’s Rifles of Colonial America, Book One. It’s actually a smoothbore, but is identical to a “rifle” in every other respect, so it’s referred to by Shumway as a “smooth rifle,” which was a period term used at the time as well. Additionally, there’s a sister rifle by the same maker, which is an actual rifled barrel. It’s very close to identical, as far as the woodworking goes.
This is about what you might expect for the very first style of American made long rifles during the French and Indian War period, circa 1750s to 1760s. Many attribute these to the Reading area of colonial Pennsylvania. Many think these originated in the early Moravian village of Bethlehem, where Andreas Albrecht worked. You can read more on that in the post I did on this rifle:
George Shumway wrote that “[T]his is the kind of transition piece that we like to see but which is all too rare. Its Germanic heritage is evident. See Rifles of Colonial America, by George Shumway at No. 19 (of course).
Or, if not this exactly, given the few unique features, which are explained in the RCA 19 post below, then the “sister rifle” is probably a true quintessential example of our first American Longrifle:
George Shumway also featured this rifle in an article in his Longrifles of Note section of Muzzle Blasts Magazine, in the November of 1978 issue:
This rifle is elegant in its simplicity and good design, and it is one of my favorite among all the early pieces that I have yet seen and photographed. I believe it to be a product of early Pennsylvania, but emphasize that this is not to be taken for granted. The stock architecture shows a lot of Germanic influence, and the relatively short barrel of 37-5/8 inches length is more in keeping with the Germanic jaeger rifle tradition than the American longrifle tradition. But of course the shorter barrel and Germanic architecture are what we like to see on some rifles made during the third quarter of the 18th century in eastern Pennsylvania.
It is probable that this rifle was made between 1755 and 1775, possibly in or near Reading in Berks County (Pennsylvania) . . . . It is probable that this piece saw service in the Revolutionary War, and possibly also in the French & Indian War. The present of sling swivels suggests military service on early American rifles, but in 18th century Germany most sporting rifles were equipped with slings.
A sample of the stock wood sent to the U.S. Forestry Products Laboratory was determined to be American black walnut. This does not prove the piece to be of American origin, for some American walnut found its way across the Atlantic in the 18th century, but it is a good sign nevertheless . . . .
For the enthusiastic builder of longrifles this piece is a good one to study and reproduce. The simple but good design would tolerate modifications and changes to suit the whim of the maker.Longrifles of Note, Muzzle Blasts, November 1978; also Longrifle Articles Published in Muzzle Blasts 1965-2001, Vol. I, by George Shumway, at pp. 78-79.
The “Brass Barreled Rifle”
This early rifle was found in Florida. It was tagged as “an old Spanish gun.” Eventually it ended up in the Joe Kindig, Jr. collection, and now it’s owned by Wallace Gusler. In fact, it was one of the best Kentuckys ever to turn up in the 20th century. It does have a date scratched on the inside of the brass patchbox of 1771 (see my photo below), and most unusually, it has an entirely brass barrel. It has some really cool and unusual relief carving on the cheek rest side of the stock as well.
I took these pics myself last October when Wallace Gusler spent the better part of an hour explaining the history of the rifle to me, and graciously allowed me to take these pics. In hindsight, I should have taken a lot more. It has a strong Germanic influence to it, and I’m not aware of a single other Kentucky Rifle known which has a brass barreled rifle. At least of this early period.
I understand that Wallace believes it may have been made by Hans Jacob Honaker, of the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. It is similar to some of the known Virginia rifles, and I personally have examined another rifle – in Virginia – that appears to have been made by the same hand. The carving is very, very close. Wallace believes that the style of hinged brass patchbox is a very early design – perhaps mid 18th century.
Shumway wrote back in 1977, in what was probably the first published description of this gun, that he believed the gun saw service in the Rev War, due to the drilled sling swivel hole in the trigger guard, and that he personally thought that it dated to somewhere in the vicinity of 1760-1800, though probably 1770-1780. See Longrifles of Note, Muzzle Blasts, October 1977, by George Shumway.
Shumway also included this rifle as No. 103 in his second volume of Rifles of Colonial America, which has some good photos of it, albeit in black and white. He noted that the cheek rest on the butt stock is “stepped” with different levels of raised lines, culminating in the cheek rest portion itself. He believed it to be of Germanic Pennsylvania origin, but noted that it was unusual in many ways.
This stepped area is most unusual to find on an American rifle. One other piece shown in this book has it, No. 112. The stock is full of unusual carved designs and features which would take half a page of words to describe. Most of them seem to be unique and to be unrelated to decorations on other known rifles . . . .
The hole in the front end of the trigger guard suggests that this rifle was used in military service, possibly in the Revolutionary War. Every detail on this rifle suggests that it was manufactured in the pre-Revolutionary period, i.e., the third quarter of the 18th century, however because of the very unusual nature of the decoration it seems best to consider also that it might have been made as late at the 1780s.Rifles of Colonial America, Vol. II, by George Shumway, at pp. 452-457.
This must have been before it was discovered that the date 1771 was found etched into the inside of the brass patchbox lid. This must have predated that discovery, presumably, since he didn’t mention it.
Early Americanized Jaeger-style Rifle:
At first glance, this heavy rifle appears to be a German Jaeger. But it appears to have been stocked with an American wood. That doesn’t always mean it was made here, but it’s one indication. The carving is in an early to mid 18th century German style, but not completely. Some of the carving, especially around the tang, raises the possibility that it may have been stocked somewhere other than Germany.
One thing I hadn’t thought of, until writing about the Brass Barreled Rifle above, is that this gun has a lot of similarities with that rifle: an unusual and rare barrel, a similar cheek rest, and the inclusion of some less-than-Germanic style carving, mixed in with heavily Germanic carving. A Franken-Jaeger carving style, so-to-speak – sort of like the Brass Barreled Rifle.
Take a look at the carving around the tang on this piece, and the carving on the BBR. They’re of a similar style. Whereas the tang carving on the BBR doesn’t have the flower that this one does, it then incorporates a flower on the unusual carving behind its similar cheek rest. There are other design elements as well. I hadn’t researched this much, but just some food for thought….. Two examples of Americanized Germanic style – possibly in two different increments. No doubt one is of an older and more “Germanic” style. But that could be due to the fact that the stock was incorporating a much, much older German barrel.
The barrel on this gun appears to be extremely old – possibly 1600s – and then recycled onto this gun. It has a script “FLN” engraved on it, and has a 33″ barrel, 1.36″ at the breech and 1.20″ at the muzzle. It’s of .66 caliber. The bizarre issue with this gun was at first, it has a circa 1800 lock on it, originally flintlock, with a later conversion to percussion. But the rest of the gun appears to be way, way older than 1800. If the lock was a later replacement, it was expertly done, leaving no trace to the first few who looked at it.
Allen Gutchess, head curator at the Fort Pitt Museum at the Heinz History Center, visited the inner sanctum of the Scavengeology Headquarters back before the apocalypse, and examined it with the lock off. He determined that this gun has a very, very well installed replacement lock. Lastly, the conversion to percussion appears to have been done in America, probably second quarter of the 19th century. So we presume it was likely here then, and of course it ultimately turned up here, as it was found in Jonesboro, Pennsylvania (Lebanon County) by a well respected collector.
The beauty of this gun is that it fits somewhere in that timeline of Americanized Germanic rifles and does a great job of illustrating the transition of the period, or at least what that transition may have looked like. This is something you might have seen ranging through the American frontiers in the French and Indian War, through the Revolutionary period, whether brought over from Germany, or stocked here, or both.
The Schreit Rifle
The Schreit Rifle is cool, but good luck finding good pics of it. I have no idea where it is now. I can remember being told about this rifle as a kid, watching my father discuss it with the first President of the Kentucky Rifle Association, Al Sullivan. The significance of this rifle is that it is signed and dated on the barrel – 1761. This is believed to have been made in the Reading, Pennsylvania area.
John Schreit’s rifle is the earliest dated Kentucky that we know of. The workmanship is of high order. The furniture is engraved, from the chevron grooving on the muzzle cap to the butt plate. A few, but not as many early Reading and Lancaster rifles employe the chevron design. Length overall 58 3/4″, barrel length 43 5/16″, .52 caliber rifled barrel.The Kentucky Rifle, by Merrill Lindsay, 1971. Under “Pre-Revolutionary.”
[S]igned John Schreit on the barrel and dated 1761. It is a perfect example of what we would expect it to be for that date. Like the Jaeger, its architecture is broad and sturdy throughout. It also employs other similar features such as the swamped barrel being fastened to the stock with pins (no wedges at this early date). The barrel tang is square, the decoration is sparse, the butt plate is practically flat with no concavity. The large lock has a curved underside giving it the droopy look of the early European locks. The nose cap is relatively short. Some 40 years later these features would for the most part disappear.The American Kentucky Rifle, Undiscovered Masterpieces of American Fine Art, http://americankentuckyrifleart.com/chapter-2.html
I yanked the above pics of Allen Martin’s contemporary Schreit rifle from his website, but hopefully he won’t mind. No doubt it’s a better Schreit than the original, as with most of Allen’s work. He’s a modern master of the art form, and despite the large amount of modern-day talented gunmakers, nobody quite does the early Pennsylvania pieces like Allen.
If you’re interested in American history, and if you’re even remotely interested in antique flintlocks, knives, powder horns, etc., etc., you absolutely must join the Contemporary Longrifle Association and attend the annual show in Lexington, Kentucky. It’s amazing. Hopefully it happens this year…. And you get this awesome publication:
The Faber Rifle:
This is an awesome rifle; one of my favorites, which is why my primary contemporary shooter is a contemporary copy by Lowell Haarer. A great early period Virginia gun and is one of the most famous antique Kentucky Rifles, and probably the most well-known from Virginia. It’s well featured in the recent book, “The Cromwell Collection: Virginia Weapons and Other Material of the American Revolution,” by Giles Cromwell, 2016, pp. 9-14, where you can see much, much better photos of this sweet gun. You can see a lot of other amazing history as well. I highly recommend it.
Mr. Cromwell notes, citing the guru of Virginia guns, Wallace Gusler, that it’s believed to have been made around the headwaters of the James River, in what is now the Simpson Creek area of Botetourt County, Virginia. It’s an example of the “Mother School” which later extended from that area through western and piedmont North Carolina, Tennessee, and Kentucky. See Cromwell at 10; citing Gusler, Early Rifles, pp. 5-7.
Arguably, the earliest known Virginia longrifle was probably made by Johanes Faber circa 1750 in Rockbridge County, VA (now Augusta County) (Figs. 2 & 3). While signed “Johanes Faber” on the side plate (Fig. 4), there is no definitive documentary proof that Faber was a gunsmith. Faber is a common name in the area, and he might have been the first owner. This longrifle descended in the Davis family of Augusta County.1 Regardless of who actually made it, this wonderful, early, Virginia rifle most likely saw service in the French and Indian Wars, the Revolutionary War, possibly the War of 1812, and, by family tradition, the Civil War.2The Kentucky Rifle: Is it a utilitarian tool or artwork? By Jim Melchior and Tom Newbern, http://ehcnc.org/decorative-arts/historic-trades/the-kentucky-rifle/
The book gives the details on where it has been the past few decades: the rifle descended in the Davis family of Augusta County, Virginia. It was found in the crawl space of a home located at 645 Churchville Avenue, Staunton, Virginia. It was then sold to Rodney Harris at M.M. Deffenbaugh’s “Jolly Roger Haggle Shop,” also in 1981. I think I would like that shop….
Thereafter it was in the Shenandoah Longrifles Museum in Monticello, Virginia, operated by Mr. Harris. Thereafter it was owned by a who’s who of Kentucky Rifle collectors: Gordon Barlow, then Wallace Gusler, Ed Louer, and Giles Cromwell. It retains its original flintlock. Mr. Cromwell believes it to have been a salty frontier piece, rather than a wall-hanger:
Regardless of who actually made it, this wonderful, early, Virginia rifle most likely saw service in the French and Indian Wars, the Revolutionary War, possibly the War of 1812, and, by family tradition, the Civil War.The Cromwell Collection: Virginia Weapons and Other Material of the American Revolution, by Giles Cromwell, 2016, p. 13.
The Edward Marshall Rifle
The Bucks County Historical Society acquired this rifle from the descendants of Edward Marshall, which is believed to have belonged to him. This is listed as rifle No. 41 in Shumway’s Rifles of Colonial America:
In 1737 Marshall and two other men walked as speedily as possible for one and one-half days to establish boundaries for a parcel of land being purchased from Indians in easternmost Pennsylvania along the Delaware River. Marshall was born in 1715. After his famous walk in 1737 he lived a long and active life in the Lehigh Valley, raised a number of children, and died in 1789. In the years following the outbreak of the French and Indian War in 1755 Indians raided the Lehigh Valley on many ocassions, and at one time Marshall and his family fled to New Jersey for safety.Rifles of Colonial America, Vol. I, by George Shumway, pp. 178-181.
And a contemporary copy by Judson Brennan, of Alaska:
It has an overall length of 53-1/4 inches. Octagonal rifled barrel length of 37-13/16 inches long, at .58 caliber. The barrel may have been manufactured in Germany. It’s crudely marked “I * A * D RoThEN BERG.” There is a small town in Germany named Rothenberg. Shumway believed that it may have been stocked around 1760 or so, possibly by Moravians in Christians Springs, Pennsylvania.
In the recent second volume Moravian Gunmaking book, Robert Lienemann attributes the rifle to Andreas Albrecht and notes that it’s unlikely it was actually used by Marshall in the Walking Purchase event:
Family tradition states that Edward Marshal used the rifle in the 1737 Walking Purchase of land from the Lenape (Delaware) Indians. Given the speed at which Marshall and two other men walked, it is unlikely that he carried a ten pound rifle, or any extra weight. The current consensus is that this rifle as it exists is too late in style to have made the Walking Purchase trek. But it could be a restock of a German rifle that marshall owned in 1737. In any event, this rifle is considered a benchmark in our study of early American longrifles . . . .Moravian Gunmaking II: Bethlehem to Christian’s Spring, by Robert Paul Lienemann and the Kentucky Rifle Foundation, 2017, p. 65.
Lienemann believes there’s a possibility the gun may have been stocked with the older European parts, such as the circa 1730s German barrel, while Andreas Albrecht was working at Bethlehem with locksmith Daniel Kliest in the 1750s. Id. at 65-76. But without a signature, or a signature on a rifle positively identified as the same maker, it’s always going to be informed speculation.
99% of the population isn’t going to know who Andreas Albrecht was, as compared to any other gunsmith of the day. The important thing to be conveyed, in my opinion, that this is an early American rifle which has both survived the last few hundred years, and which is also available for view, and well-preserved in a museum. One of the few. And regardless of who actually made it, we know it’s an early American rifle, and an important link in the chain of our history.
The Klette Rifle
The signed, Frederick Klette rifle of circa 1775-80 is likely the singularly most published Kentucky rifle. Klette was the master armorer at the Rappahannock Forge in Falmouth, VA during the Revolutionary War, and his home was the crossroads of Stevensburg in Culpeper County, VA outside of Fredericksburg, VA6. The German-style lock on this rifle is signed “F Klette”, and the barrel is marked “S(t)evensburg”. The “t” was missed during engraving…..
Obviously, the Klette rifle was a high-end firearm at the time with all the “bells and whistles”. Apparently, Frederick Klette made this longrifle for himself, as there are no other known rifles or other firearms for that matter by him.The Kentucky Rifle: Is it a utilitarian tool or artwork? By Jim Melchior and Tom Newbern, http://ehcnc.org/decorative-arts/historic-trades/the-kentucky-rifle/
The Salty Virginia Backcountry Frontier Rifle – RCA 118
This is a quintessential Virginia frontier workhorse rifle, which likely saw more than a century of service. At .62 caliber, it has an extremely large bore for a rifle. It is a rare example of a French and Indian War era rifle, in a conflict and time mostly comprised of smoothbore guns.
George Shumway first wrote about this rifle in 1969, and it was his sincere desire to know more about this cool gun. He knew it probably wasn’t made in Pennsylvania, and he correctly attributed it to Virginia. He included in the second Volume of his Rifles of Colonial American series.
In the ensuing 40 years or so, a lot more has been learned about Virginia’s important contribution to the development of the American Longrifle. In the April, 1969 issue of Muzzle Blasts, Shumway pondered over this rifle:
The rifle shown here is one of these puzzlers of the pre-Revolutionary or Revolutionary period. It is stocked in black walnut, and has an overal length of 50 inches. The octagonal barrel, apparently of original full length, is 42-5/8 inches long, and has a caliber of about 54. There are eight grooves to the bore. The butt plate is 7/8 inches wide and 5-1/4 inches high.
The lock . . . is of a type that was made in England in the 1750-1775 period. This lock helps to date the rifle, for locks of this type apparently were out of style by the time the Revolutionary War was over.
All the furniture on this rifle was made of sheet brass, which is unusual. The butt plate was skillfully hammered out of sheet metal, the side plate is sheet brass and so are the ramrod pipes. And though it is missing, kit is evidence that even the trigger guard was made of sheet brass . . . .
The butt stock holds incised and relief carving of a most unusual type. I have never seen another American rifle with carving that in anyway resembles this in design. The carving was expertly designed and executed, so the maker was a well trained and capable artisan. The design of the carving is not at all rococo in form, and instead is reminiscent of the carving on seventeenth century English furrniture.
At present it is not possible to do much more than speculate on the possible origin of this rifle. Its characteristics are not Germanic in the way that they often are on early Pennsylvania rifles, and it would seem best to look to other places than Pennsyvlania for this rifle’s origin. The butt stock profile is suggestive of Virginia rifles. The long extension of the wrist into th ebutt stock is an English characteristic . . . . Virginia would seem the most likely. Hopefully we will, in time, know more about this and other early rifles as a result of research presently going on.Longrifles of Note, Muzzle Blasts, April 1968; also Longrifle Articles Published in Muzzle Blasts 1965-2001, Vol. II, by George Shumway, at pp. 131-132.
It’s believed now by some of the Virginia experts that this is a very early relief carved longrifle attributed to Augusta County, Virginia School of longrifle gunsmiths. It was possibly made by John Hannah, now known to be one of the earliest Augusta County Gunsmiths. It is also possible that it originated at the Augusta County Gun Factory in Staunton, Virginia.
Prior to 1739, the Hannah family settled in Augusta County on land southwest of Staunton, Virginia on Colliers Creek (Colliers Creek lies southwest of Lexington, VA in present day Rockbridge County). They settled on land acquired from Benjamin Borden who had been the recipient of the Borden Land Grant in 1738. In 1754, John Hannah agreed to teach his indentured servant, John Mitchell, the art of a blacksmithing and gunsmithing. In 1768, John built a mill on Colliers Creek.Based on his inventory of tools recorded after his death in 1782, he was a blacksmith, white-smith, silversmith, and gunsmith. Sounds like a good potential maker for this sweet gun.
Southern wooden patchbox longrifles attributed to Virginia makers are extremely rare. This longrifle was owned for many years by George Shumway himself. There is wonderful early, and unusual, carving on the check piece. This rifle retains its period patchbox lid which may be the original patch box cover. The check side of this longrifle was subjected to heat from a fire in George Shumway’s home. The damage to the wood was minimal and the wood was sucessfully stabilized after the fire.
The lock was converted to flint by Alan Guthchess (Curator at Fort Pitt). Alan commented that this was his favorite “frontier longrifle”. This longrifle was on display at Fort Pitt in their renowned French and Indian War display, “Captured by Indians” in 2015 – 2016, along with the original spike tomahawk in the Scavengeology Museum.
Shumway wrote about this rifle again in the January, 1970 issue of Muzzle Blasts, discussing early English locks:
The second lock illustrated is on the early longrifle described and illustrated in Muzzle Blasts for April 1969. The rifle is of pre-Revolutionary styling, and the period certainly is supported by the lock. Locks of this type are often found on smoothbore guns, that is, muskets, fusils, long fowlers, and smooth rifles of the French and Indian War period. This style of lock was made both with a flat face on the plate and with a slightly rounded face.
The example shown here has a slightly rounded face. There is characteristic rococo engraving on the tail of the plate as well as in front of the cock. Locks of this type apparently were made in considerable quantity, for they frequently are found on colonial pieces. The period of this lock style is about 1755-1775 and I regret that I cannot date it more exactly.Longrifles of Note, Muzzle Blasts, January 1970; also Longrifle Articles Published in Muzzle Blasts 1965-2001, Vol. II, by George Shumway, at pp. 190-193.
Shumway later included this rifle in his second volume of Rifles of Colonial America, where it is designated as rifle no. 118. Shumway wrote:
There are no architectural or decorative details on this very early rifle that related directly to Pennsylvania usage, and a Southern origin seem likely. The influence of English gunsmithing was much stronger in Virginia and the Carolinas than it was in Pennsylvania where Germanic influences prevailed. Colonial rifles of English influence often had inadequately designed cheek-pieces whereas the Pennsylvania rifle of Germanic heritage had a butt-stock essentially designed around the cheek piece.
On this rifle the wrist of the stock extends well down into the butt, and the relatively small cheek-piece is something less than a major architectural element. The lock plate, which appears to be the original one, is an English export piece dating to the 1740s, 1750s, and 1760s, and the rifle probable dates to the same period . . . . The relief carving on the left side of the butt is most unusual and very baroque in character. At the front end of the comb there is relief carving to help separate the comb from the wrist . . . .
Beneath the cheek piece are a series of holes which once held small iron staples to provide a place to keep the touch hole feather. The wooden patch box lid is made without any latch to hold it in place, and both it and the recess, though old, do not appear to be original parts of the rifle.Rifles of Colonial America, Vol. II, by George Shumway, at pp.514-517.
A really interesting aspect of this gun is the “Baroque” design of relief carving. It’s interesting because it generally predates the advent of any American long rifles. “Baroque” refers to a style of architecture, music, dance, painting, sculpture, and other arts, which flourished in Europe from the early 1600s through about 1740. It was somewhat formal, precise, and symmetric in design, as opposed to the more flowing and motion-oriented Rococo, which was somewhat of a bending of the original rules. Rebellious kids for instance, breaking all the rules. Just at an earlier time. Like the transition from Blues to Rock and Roll. This sort of carving brings up an interesting possibility that this gun could be earlier than it may first seem. At about 1740, through about 1770, is when the “Rococo” period becomes popular, which is usually what you see on the early Kentucky Rifles. But not generally Baroque.
An example of Baroque carving in wood:
An example of the wild-child, Rococo, carving into wood:
Just some food for thought for future discussion….
RCA No. 43 Rifle – an Andreas Albrecht attributed rifle
This early rifle has been attributed by many to early Moravian gunsmith, Andreas Albrecht.
Thus, it’s unsigned, but is consistent with what his work was believed to have looked like. Or it may be a product of another Moravian gunsmith, such as John Christian Oerter. Additionally, many of these Moravian brothers worked together on projects, so who knows. This was purchased somewhere around 1980 or so at a small auction in northern New England. At that time, the forestock was mostly missing. It has since been replaced.
The buttstock carving and lock mouldings with beavertails are essentially identical to the Edward Marshall rifle, and by association, this rifle has been attributed to Andreas Albrecht, who worked at Bethlehem from 1750 to 1759, back and forth between Bethlehem and Christian’s Spring from 1759 to 1762, and at Christian’s Spring from 1762 through late 1766.Moravian Gunmaking II: Bethlehem to Christian’s Spring, by Robert Paul Lienemann and the Kentucky Rifle Foundation, 2017, pp. 87-96
Shumway featured this rifle as No. 43 in his book on colonial rifles. He believed that it was probably made in Christian’s Springs as “a product of the 1770 decade.” He noted the similarities to the Edward Marshall Rifle, shown above, but also believed it to be more closely related to the known signed rifles made at Christian’s Spring by John Christian Oerter. Thus, he didn’t mention Albrecht, but instead seemed to believe Oerter made it. He believed that the brass patchbox may not have been original, and that it may have been a later addition. Mr. Lienemann disagrees in his recent work. See Rifles of Colonial America, by George Shumway, at pp. 188-189; see also Lienemann at pp. 87-96. The recent listing at Morphy’s auction house stated in the detailed listing that it was a later addition.
Here’s a few cool iron-mounted, late 18th century rifles, with available good photos. There’s something about the use of iron, instead of brass, which just looks good. Kind of like a modern AR-15 in FDE. It just has to be more accurate, just due to the cool factor….
Philip Sheetz Rifle
An early, Revolutionary, iron mounted rifle by Philip Sheetz, is a classic example of the period. Philip was born in 1738 and finished his apprenticeship in York County, Pennsylvania in 1764. By 1772 Philip was living in Shepherdstown and in 1775 he was in partnership with his brother Henry. In 1776 they provided the Virginia Militia with muskets. Philip died in 1793, leaving his tools to his son, Martin.Long Rifles of the Valley of Virginia, by Edwin N. Gewirz, American Society of Arms Collectors Bulletin No. 60, Spring 1989.
Southwest Virginia Rifle at MESDA
This came out of Covington, Virginia, only a few stone’s throw from my area, circa 1960, found by Wallace Gusler, and is now in the collection at MESDA.
The rifle is probably from Wythe County, Virginia. It is one of only a few known iron-mounted and carved American rifles. (Carving usually only occurred on brass-mounted rifles.) The iron-mounted rifles were popular in the mountain sections of the South from Tennessee to western North Carolina. Although this rifle relates most heavily to the Southwest Virginia School, it also has direct links to the central Vally and to Winchester, especially in the carving.https://mesda.org/item/collections/long-rifle/1156/
This could post-date our conflict period slightly, but it’s close enough and an important piece. It definitely could have been used in the post-Revolutionary Indian War conflicts on the frontier and the Ohio Country. Certainly War of 1812. Wallace wrote:
The Rockbridge County rifle . . . shows a remarkably different artistic style background from the foregoing Botetourt production . . . . [T]his rifle is the earliest of a large school that distributed influence into the southwestern Virginia area. The complex carving and a strongly triangular butt stock profile ties this school to the Lancaster, Pennsylvania production.Early Rifles of the Shenandoah Valley, by Wallace B. Gusler, American Society of Arms Collectors Bulletin No. 74, Spring 1996.