The RCA 19 Rifle – an epic mid 18th century flintlock “smooth rifle” with an exciting history

“RCA 19” Rifle a.k.a. Chief Paxinosa’s “Smooth Rifle.”

There is an argument to be made that this “smooth rifle,” which means that it is built in a rifle in all ways, except for the lack of the actual rifling, is one of the oldest known American longrifles with an existing record for the date of manufacture. The earliest known American rifle for years was believed to be the “Schreit Rifle,” dated 1761. There may be others out there now, but 1752 would be the oldest, to my knowledge. With the importance of the American longrifle to our history, this is pretty cool. No doubt there were others older, but very, very few survived, and only a tiny fraction of those can be traced to a date.

This is an important example of one of the first truly American Longrifles, and was possibly in the hands of an unlikely American patriot in the colonial period: an elderly Native American Chief who’s wife had converted to Christianity and who was a dependable friend and ally of American colonists.

For years this gun was hanging in the conference room of my office, until a man named Ernie Cowan, who was the person who discovered the original Lewis and Clark air rifle ( see ) , tracked me down and said he knew the origin story of this gun, and could explain the mysterious engravings on it. Ernie has since passed on, but he compiled much of this information.

Likely built 1752. 62 cal. Smooth bore. American Black Walnut stock. Octagon to round barrel. Believed to have been made by one of America’s first long rifle makers, Moravian gunsmith Andreas Albrecht, for an early Shawnee Indian Chief, Paxinosa – “the Great Shawanoe.” This was Ernie’s attribution until he passed away, and it may indeed be true. Others adamantly deny that this was made by Andreas Albrecht, and disagree with the attribution of Paxinosa as the owner. If so, then it appears to have been made for another Native American, given the engraving, who most likely would have been a chief. But then that’s a crazy coincidence that it ties so closely to the creation story of the Piqua sept of the Shawnee – of which Paxinosa was “King.” It’s an interesting mystery which may never be completely solved – as is the case with any unsigned rifle which requires speculative, but informed, attribution.

On April 18, 1754, Moravian missionary David Kleist scribed in his diary that “the Great Shawanos visited Bethlehem…and asked about Brother Albrecht (Andreas Albrecht) who had made a rifle for him two years ago in a very satisfactory fashion.” The only Shawanos (Shawnee) chief in Bethlehem at that time was Paxinosa, substantiated by his name having been mentioned as leaving for Wyoming on April 19th. 1752 was the year Albrecht built a rifle for Chief Paxinosa, an 82 year old Piqua Shawanos chief, friend of the English and the Moravians.

Paxinosa could not speak German or English but Delaware and French, and Kleist makes a special note on the 18th that Paxinosa’s communication “is very creative.” When in Albrecht’s shop in 1752, the Chief communicated his preferred rifle style and design while dealing with a language barrier. In the 1750s, young Indians preferred grooved rifles but older Indians, like Paxinosa, chose the versatility of the smooth-rifle. He also liked the styles of French trade guns; ie. octagon-to-round barrel and French butt plate. However the Germanic influenced stock (American walnut), patch box , volute, sling swivels, and graceful carved lines point to the fact that a Germanic rifle in Albrecht’s shop served as an example to illustrate what Paxinosa wanted.

The trigger-guard features a panther holding a spear which is the symbol of the eastern branch of the Shawanos (Shawnee) Indians and is also a totem. More importantly, the butt plate features an engraving of an Indian holding a rifle with flames around him. The fourth tribe of the Shawanos people is the Piqua, which means “man coming out of the ashes” (the origin story of the first Piqua man). Without the written language, this symbolism on the butt plate served as Paxinosa’s signature.

I actually contacted the Shawnee tribe and spoke to the Chief, and also contacted the author of the existing books on Shawnee genealogy. I learned that a panther totem could be consistent with Chief Paxinosa. It could have been his totem; it may not have been. But that it was certainly possible, and could not be discounted. I have been unable to find any origin date for the symbolic leaping panther with a spear. It does appear to go back to native origin stories about a water panther leaping over the Earth, which vary some according to tribe, but appears to be pretty common throughout the different regional tribes.

Paxinosa (Paxinous, Paxinos) was born of the Piqua tribe of Shawanos (Shawnee) Indians in central Ohio around 1670. What is known about his early life is that in 1680 he is listed among the Minisink as a Sachem on an expedition against the French in New York, he entered Pennsylvania (Pa.) in 1697 and attended the William Penn treaty in 1701. Paxinosa was married in 1717 and fathered children, but he does not appear again until listed among the Chief men of Opessa’s Town on the Potomac in the 1740s.

In 1749, the death of Chief Shekellimus of the Wyoming Valley Shawanoe led Paxinosa to take over as their Chief. This small settlement of Shawanos was situated on Richard’s Island (aka. Shawnee Flats) on the Susquehanna, present day Wilkes-Barre. It was here that Paxinosa’s friendship with the Moravians began. Missionaries Christian Seidel, Christian F. Post, and David Zeisberger visited Wyoming many times as friends. The Chief’s second wife, Elizabeth, was Christianized by missionaries visiting Bethlehem in 1750 (Paxinosa in 1754). Paxinosa’s Indians in Wyoming were made up of Shawanos, Delaware and a few Mohicans. They first lived in wigwams, then with help of the Moravians, built log cabins. During the harsh winter of 1753-54, the Moravians came to the aid of Paxinosa’s Indians by providing grain, avoiding famine.

When the French & Indian War began, Paxinosa regularly provided Shawanos warriors to escort the Moravians from town-to-town. On one of those escorts, Paxinosa discovered the body of a dead French-aligned Mohawk killed during a skirmish the previous day. As was the custom, Paxinosa stripped and scalped the Mohawk warrior in the belief that he could not enter the after-life. (This is one of the few documented accounts of scalping. PA Archives)

In the 1750s Paxinosa also found friendship with a Moravian gunsmith, Andreas Albrecht. Exactly how is not known except that Paxinosa’s son, Kolapceka (aka. Samuel), attended the Moravian’s Boys School and knew how to play the violin. In addition to being a gunsmith and schoolmaster of the school, Albrecht was also an accomplished violin player and taught violin at the school.

In 1754 when the French and Indian War ignited, Paxinosa was an ally to the English. With the Delaware Chief Tedyuskung, he warned the people of Gnadenhuetten to return to Wyoming. Throughout the war, both Chiefs tried to pursuade Indians in Pa. to ally with the English. In 1756, after Shamokin was attacked by settlers, Paxinosa gathered his people and moved to Tioga (Athens, PA). In 1757 he attended the Treaty of Easton with 57 warriors. In 1758 he moved to Secaughcung, NY and finally moved to Ohio country in the spring of 1760. One year later, in 1761, Paxinosa died near the Ohio River.

Of note, in 1755, Paxinosa referred to himself “an old man”; in 1757 his eyesight was so defective that he wore spectacles; Moravians referred him as the “Great Shawanos”; Chief Cornstalk was Paxinosa’s grandson.
*All information found at the Moravian Church Archives, Bethlehem, PA or Pennsylvania Archives

It is not known if it was a gift or purchase but in 1752 Andreas Albrecht built a smooth- rifle for the Shawanos Chief Paxinosa. In an excerpt from Moravian missionary David Kliest’s diary, Kliest writes that on April 18, 1754, the “Great Shawanos” visited Bethlehem and mentioned that he was very pleased with a rifle made for him two years before by Brother Albrecht.

Translation of David Kleist’s Diary page by the Pennsylvania German Society:

“April 1754 (handwritten)

Thursday, 18th Today “Great Shawanos” of Eiland (Richard’s Island, aka. Shawnee Flats) came to us to bring us some work. He was very glad to find me at home. I (David Kleist) was happy to see him since it had been two years since he had been to Bethlehem, at which time I repaired a rifle for him. He asked about Brother Albrecht who had made a rifle for him two years ago in a very satisfactory fashion. He would like to have engaged me in conversation, but knew no English. I could make out what he meant through our friendship and words. He is very creative.”

It can only be speculated how this gun descended from Paxinosa after his death in 1761. He had a son who was well known to the Moravians, and who is mentioned in Zeisberger’s diary as greeting him in the Ohio country on October 17, 1772 and helped him locate land on which to build a mission. Possibly present day Schoenbrunn Village, or Gnadenhutten.

He also had other children, such as Kolapeka, his youngest son, who was a Pekowi warrior and who was involved in raiding the Shenandoah settlements, as well as the Ohio and New River valleys. He was born in 1721 but his date of death is unknown. Perhaps this gun was inherited by him, and his death resulted in some white frontiersman or soldier coming into possession of this gun. Who knows…. The gun shows signs of use well into the 19th century. This gun is in great condition for being 270 years old, and shows that it was well cared-for through the years.

Legend of Otath-he-wagh-Pe-qua. George C. Johnston, a trader for many years among the Indians and a member of the Shawnee tribe, explained the origin of the name Piqua. He was told by a member of the tribe, that many years ago the whole tribe was assembled at an annual feast and thanksgiving. They were all seated around a large fire, which having burned down to embers, a great puffing was observed in the ashes. Suddenly, a fully formed man sprang up from the remains of the fire and the tribe exclaimed in astonishment, “Otath-he-wagh-Pe-qua,” which means, “He has come out of the ashes,” and from that time, that place was called Piqua.

Another interesting engraving is the face in the sky with tornado braids. Shawnee tradition has three figures that control weather. Each of these was created by the Grandmother Spirit and was so instructed not to cause harm to the Shawnee. One of these is Cyclone Person, a female face with braids of hair that cause tornadoes. She is given great respect by the Shawnee for not harming them.

I found this from “Conrad Weiser and the Indian policy of colonial Pennsylvania,” By Joseph Solomon Walton, regarding the 1755 peace talks in Philadelphia, with the Quakers, through about 1760:

“When Israel Pemberton and Conrad Weiser laid this report before the Governor he called his Council together and asked (1) if it were proper to permit Friends to act as mediators; (2) should a peace be proposed on condi tions of forgiveness and return of prisoners; (3) would such a message in any way obstruct establishing a fort at Shamokin; (4) would it not be better to invite the friendly Indians such as Paxinosa to come near the settle ments and thus be out of danger.*”

“Although the Indians had long memories, they had faith ful hearts, and many of the old men remembered William Pennandthekindtreatmentofformeryears. Old Paxi- nosa, the Shawanese chief at Wyoming, poured forth his eloquence for peace.”

“Hundreds of brave warriors were undecided, until they heard of the Declaration of War and the Scalp Act, “then a mighty shout arose which shook the very mountains, and all the Delawares and
Shawanese, except a few old sachems, danced the war dance.” Those who felt it wrong to use the war paint were heart-broken. Paxinosa took his family and moved up towards Tioga away from the scenes of war. He sat for days at a time meditating over the waywardness of his people. The sons of Teedyuscung,the “King of the Delawares,” dragged Paxinosa for a brief time into their war parties. Such was the condition of affairs when the Friends offered to act as peacemakers.”

“While these efforts were progressing, numerous out rages were occurring along the border. The French Indians again fell upon the inhabitants in Berks County and alarmed the citizens of Reading. Teedyuscung’s two messengers were still at Fort Allen. One of them having a bad dream they immediately decided not to go. Reports came in that old Paxinosa, the faithful Shawanese chief, who had been true to the English since the war began, had turned against the men of Pennsylvania. A general uprising seemed to be among the Indians.”

“If their old enemies were friends to the English, they, the Northern Indians, would go over to the French. Old Paxinosa arose and said I will take my people and go to Ohio.”

Even more info on Paxinosa, which I found:

Paxinosa was very close with Teedyuscung, who was also close with the Moravians. It seems likely he dressed much like Teedyuscung, pictured here, hence his preference for English-looking clothes and gun.

An artists’ rendering of Paxinosa holding RCA 19.

I found this old book, based on Moravian records, which detail Paxinosa very well:

Frederick C. Johnson, M. D., 
Treasurer of the Society. 

Paxinosa was, in 1754, the chief man in Wyoming. He was a Shawanese, and affected loyalty to the English, but was suspected of intrigue in the French interest. He was always well inclined to the Moravians, and had been a friend to them in several outbreaks along the Susquehanna. His wife was a baptised convert. In 1758 here- moved to the Ohio country, where he was the last Shawanese king west of the Alleghanies. His wife was the half-sister of Ben Nutimaes, and had lived with her husband thirty-eight years, to whom she had borne eight children, “a remarkable instance of the longevity of the marriage tie among Indians.” P

Paxinosa said he vv’as born on the Ohio. The Historian of Easton pronounces his one of the highest names in Indian history, and says that while women and children were falling under the murderous hatchet of Teedyuscung, the peaceful Delawares and Shawanese gathered around King Paxinosa in the primeval forests of the Wyoming Valley. 

Entries from Moravian diaries detailing encounters with Paxinosa:

Bishop Spangenburg sent (Moravian Brothers) Schmick and Fry to Wyoming, where they arrived November 10, 1755, with a message to Paxinosa, the Shawanese chief, who remained the friend of the English. Paxinosa was requested to send to Shamokin, then in great danger, and bring Kiefer, the missionary blacksmith there, to Wyoming, and then with Christian Frederick Post, who was stationed at Wyoming, all should return to Bethlehem. 

In 1754 (Moravian Brothers) Mack and Roessler visited Wyoming (Pennsylvania – present day Wilkes-Barre). Mack’s journal is of special interest, predicting, as it does, the Pennamite War : 

June 24. Set out from Gnadenhiitten, All the creeks were much swollen, and hence they did not enter the Valley till the 28th. The Susquehanna had overflowed its banks, so that where people usually dwelt and planted was now swept by a tearing stream. For a time they saw no living being, but afterwards saw a canoe and hailed it, whereupon an Indian came to the shore and set Mack and his companion over. They had many callers, among others Paxinosa’s young son. Mohican Abraham was at this time living in the Shawanese town. There they met Abraham and his wife Sarah. At the son’s request. Mack held a meeting in old Paxinosa’s cabin. He was not at home. 

Abraham interpreted. Meanwhile the Delawares and Mohicans assembled and Mack preached to them. Then he had conversation with the old Gnadenhiitten converts. Although Paxinosa was absent, many other Indians from up and down the Susquehanna had assembled at his town to take council with him in reference to a message to the Five Nations, who had sent them a belt of wampum.

….invited to dine in Paxinosa’s cabin. Meanwhile more and more Indians arrived, and at last came Paxinosa. * * * 

Mack thus observes in his journal : 

First. Wyoming is in a critical condition. The New Englanders, in right of a royal charter, lay claim to Wyoming. The Pennsylvanians hold it is within the proprietary grant and wish the Indians to sell it to them. the Indians are in a dilemma ; for if they yield to the solicitations of the Pennsylvanians and oppose the New Englanders who desire to settle here, and who threaten to shoot their horses and cows (and the Pennsylvanians urge them to oppose them), they know there will be a war, as the New Englanders are a people who refuse to regard the Indians as lords of the soil, and who will subjugate them if they refuse to evacuate the Valley. 

Second. Our convert Delawares and Mohicans have received a message from the Five Nations to send a deputation up to Onondaga to ask of them a district of their own somewhere on the river, and for permission to have religious teachers of their own. 

Third. There is a general interest in religion among the Indians of the Valley. They desire the Moravians to send teachers to tell them the word of the true God. 

Fourth. The recent floods have ruined all the plantations and destroyed the corn and beans. 

COUNT ZINZENDORF goes into considerable detail as to their stay among the Indians. They were cordially welcomed by Paxinosa, who was at this time king of the Shawanese at Wyoming. In this diary the name is written Pakschanoos. The old king and his entire family attended a baptism of an Indian woman, performed by the missionaries — the first time that sacrament had ever been administered in the historic valley. Rundt was at this time a man of 41 and Grube was two years younger. 

Diary of a journey made by the Moravian Brothers Grube and Rundt to Wajomik 1754.

July 22. — Brother Rundt and I left our beloved Gnadenhiitten, at noon, to go to (Wajomick) Wyoming. Our dear Brethren Mack and Sensemann accompanied us for a mile, and then, after they had sung a (ew verses for us, took an affectionate leave. It was very warm and the mountains were very high. Traveled 18 miles and camped for the night at the foot of the mountain, where Nutimus’s hunting cabin formerly stood. Muschgetters (mosquitoes) tormented us all night. 

July 23. — Started early and reached Wapwallopen. It rained hard and we were drenched, so we passed Wapwallopen and spent the night near the Susquehanna, where we made ourselves quite comfortable. 

July 24. — We went up the Susquehanna to Thomas Lehmann, an Indian acquaintance. He gave us milk and was very friendly. He told us of a nearer route to Wyoming, this side of the Susquehanna, which led over the mountains. It consisted of a narrow foot-path which dis- 
appeared after awhile. We had to determine our course by notched trees; but these became scarce and soon none remained. We turned to the left towards a mountain from which, to our great surprise, we could overlook the plain. We pushed our way through the forest with much difficulty. 

” Came to the Susquehanna where we had to cross a swampy creek ; and then, traversing a plain this side of the river, we arrived at a former Nanticoke town. We followed a foot-path to the right, and were soon met by Joachim, Simon and another Indian, who greeted us in a friendly manner, and showed us a fallen tree on which to cross the 
creek. Towards evening we arrived at several plantations along the Susquehanna, where we found the aged Moses 
and his wife, and several sisters hoeing corn. They came and shook hands and greeted us. Then Moses took us across the Susquehanna to a Shawanese town. 

“We greeted the Brethren and Sisters, who were glad to see us, especially Brother Abraham, who kissed us and 
gave us a place in the center of his hut. Our Brethren and Sisters were about the only ones in town, as the Shawanese had gone hunting. After an hour the aged Nathaniel re- 
turned from hunting and with him Joshua, the Delawaree from Gnadenhiitten ; likewise Marcus, Jacob’s son, Elias, Andrew’s son, and Appowagenant. They all took up their quarters in our hut. About 22 of us were assembled. 

“July 25. — Gideon (Teedyuscung) and his son came from across the Susquehanna and said the visit of the Brethren pleased him very much, and he wished that we might live amongst them. Towards evening the wife of the old Shawanese chief Paxinosa returned home with her children. She greeted us very cordially. We also crossed the river and 
visited two Delaware huts. Isaac of Nescopeck, who was there, said he had been baptised by Mack at Gnadenhiitten. I told him more about the Saviour, and then recrossed the river and entered the Shawanese town. Abraham had in the meantime called a meeting and the hut was quite full. Brother Nathaniel acted as interpreter. At the close of my address I asked them if they would like to hear more about the Saviour each night, and they all signified assent with “gohanna, gohanna.” Retired with gladdened hearts. 

“July 27. — Early in the morning we visited Anton’s father, who spoke to us much about his spiritual affairs. After having partaken of a meal in our quarters, we bade farewell and were about to leave, but the chief asked us to remain a little longer, as he wished to summon his people again, for they desired to hear once more about our Saviour. They were soon assembled. I told them again about salvation through the blood of Christ. The people were attentive and quiet and responded to every sentence with a loud “kehella.” Before the meeting a man had spoken with the Indian brethren Abraham and Nathaniel, saying he was a poor sinner, and wished to learn to know our God. We took leave of each one and continued on our way rejoicing. 

On the journey we heard that Joshua, the Mohican, from Gnadenhiitten had come. We were surprised ; but when we arrived home he had already gone, much to the regret of Abraham. We were gladdened by a note from our dear Joseph at Gnadenhiitten. As the Shawanese chief Paxinosa had returned home with his sons, we went to visit him. He was very glad to see us. Abraham said Paxinosa desired to have a meeting to-night, because he would like to hear about the Saviour. About 30 Indians and the whole family of Paxinosa assembled. The men sat at one end of the hut and the women at the other, while we were in the middle. Then I preached the Gospel to them. Both before and after the address we sang a few Delaware verses. The youngest son of Paxinosa and another Shawanese came to us with two violins, and desired to hear our melodies. We played a little, at which they and our Brethren and Sisters were well pleased. It rained very hard during the night, and as the roof was very poor we became quite 

“July 28. — Old Nathaniel awakened us by singing a Mohican verse. Paxinosa visited us, and I read several Delaware verses for him. He prepared his empty hut for us, so that we could speak in private with some of the brethren and sisters. Abraham and Sarah spoke very nicely. What grieved them the most was that they had to dispense with the Lord’s Supper here. We also conversed with Nathan- 

In 1755 Mack made three visits to Wyoming, in spite of 
the Indian war. 

“Sept. I. — Told Paxinosa I would go up to the Minsi town to preach, to which he gave consent. We started accompanied by Paxinosa, his wife (Elizabeth), who carried a basket of watermelons. At the Minsi town met Christian Frederick Post. In the evening I preached in a large cabin with three fire places.