Mysterious Valley of Virginia Flintlock Found in Fincastle

This is an original 19th century flintlock “smooth rifle,” .45 caliber, which belonged to a family in Fincastle, Virginia. It was possibly made somewhere around there, around the lower valley of Virginia, next to the mountains – though probably not in the mountains. I posted pics of it a while back, with the information I knew, or thought I knew about it. And there were differing opinions on where it originated from. Some thought Virginia. Some thought Pennsylvania, or western Pennsylvania. When Jim Webb was here this weekend, he gravitated towards this gun, and provided some new leads….

The gun has some similar features to known rifles made in the Shenandoah Valley in the 1800s. It’s signed on the barrel (in my opinion) “H. Harlton.” Or it could be “Hamilton.” That needs more research. This could be the maker, or the owner. I can’t find any gunmakers of that name, so it may be the owner, which I also can’t find.

The gun has an extremely unusual octagon to round barrel, for this type of weapon. Overall it’s a beautifully balanced and artistic American flintlock. Our culture as a country and a people is exemplified by the hundreds, if not thousands, of types of guns made by a melting pot of Americans during the 18th and 19th centuries. Not only do we like guns, but we want the option of having personalized designs, and our exact specifications for caliber and so-forth. This gun shows that.

The barrel and foreshock is likely the key to figuring out the geography of where it was made. When we had Jim Webb, of Hillsville, Virginia, who is a lifelong student of Virginia antiquities, he immediately recognized the unusual style of barrel attachment, as well as the ramrod hardware. He said, “wow, this is a slip pin design.” This means that the barrel itself is not actually pinned to the wood forestock, but rather it’s held in solely by the decorative inlays, each themselves pinned to the stock.

In other words, if you unscrew the tang bolt, the barrel itself should just slide backwards, and out of the stock. Sometimes if you do that, you can read the name of a common Pennsylvania barrel maker on the underside of the barrel. Apparently most Virginia guns of the 19th century were made using barrels from Pennsylvania barrel makers.

The other identifying feature, according to Jim, who immediately latched onto this gun, is that it has double ramrod finials, as well as a double entry pipe, which itself further narrows the likely geography to the lower valley of Virginia, based on a couple of other guns which have been found there.

This one is the only one he’s seen so far though which has segmented molding or carving along the forestock, rather than being continuous. It’s great fun going down the rabbit hole of figuring out the mysteries behind these old guns….

To be continued, when I find more information and/or pull the barrel…..

Update October 26, 2019….

I showed these photos to Wallace Gussler yesterday – albeit on my iphone. He concurred that the gun had many Virginia features, and recalls seeing another one like it. He said he photographed it several decades ago, and thought he may have the photos still….

Rather than the Valley of Virginia, however, he opined that it was probably made somewhere in the Monongahela Valley of present day West Virginia, by craftsmen who migrated up there from the Valley of Virginia. Or possibly near Pittsburgh, up in that border area.

He also called the barrel attachment a “hook and pin” design, rather than “slip pin,” for future reference, since I’ll inevitably forget these terms if I don’t write them down.

The hunt continues…..

15 thoughts on “Mysterious Valley of Virginia Flintlock Found in Fincastle

  1. This is awesome!!! I would love to know if you can track and find old (frontier) roads.
    I am really enjoying all of your posts!!!!!

    • Thanks, I have spent some time doing that. We have one crossing right in front of our fort….

  2. I have a very similar percussion cap 32 cal. I will send pictures and try to dig up history on it. Ive been told it was a fluent lock and changed to a percussion cap. I live in LEWISBURG West Virginia and it’s been in my family for generations.

  3. There was a rifle maker who doubled as the innkeeper at Natural Bridge, Va. His name was Daniel Heck. He is suppose to have made a rifle for Daniel Boone. He served in the War of 1812 under Andrew Jackson, and President Andrew Jackson would spend the night at the Daniel Heck’s Natural Bridge Inn on trips from his home in Tennessee to Washington, DC. Unfortunately, I don’t have any information on how to recognize a Daniel Heck made rifle.

  4. Included a short update following my conversation with Wallace Gusler yesterday. I did get some new leads to follow….

  5. Great stuff! I have been hunting and shooting a muzzleloader since the early 70s!
    I was raised in the Monongahela Valley and now live in Hardy County not far from the valley of Va!!

  6. James W VanMeter was a Gunsmith from West Virginia born around 1811. He was apprenticed under either Thomas Hart or William Hart. My wife has a James W VaMeter made rifle. Contact me if interested in seeing some photos.

  7. By the time this rifle was made, gunsmiths along the National Road, finished through to Wheeling and Pittsburgh (and from there west into Ohio and Indiana) were mostly using mass-produced barrel blanks, locks and brass castings about an inch wide (thus the narrow, nearly flat buttstock sides). Patchboxes, like this one, had pointed finials.

    This one, from further south, is inusual in being relief carved and molded – earlier features carried over, but recognisable as a horse from the Nati9nal Road stable. FWIW

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