Original 18th century Virginia Rifle

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Brokennock

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Hi,
There are no clearly identifiable rifles from PA from the 1750s, although there are some good possibilities, so upon what is a 1750s Virginia style rifle based?

dave
I guess that is the BIG question.
Overall, I'm curious, not skeptically, just curious due to my own lack of knowledge, on what are any 1750's rifles based? Where did these early rifles come from? We have reports of rifle use in the F.&I. but no solid "clearly identifiable rifles from PA," which is supposed to be the birthplace of the American rifle. Imports? I feel like everything I read gives the impression that early trade guns were smoothbore and imported rifles were for those on the high end of the economic scale, and still rare at that.
 

smo

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B0E48772-865A-4AF9-BBD3-4F5B42259076.jpeg

Surely they weren’t just building boat anchors and wrought iron fencing for 100 years ....
 

plmeek

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I guess that is the BIG question.
Overall, I'm curious, not skeptically, just curious due to my own lack of knowledge, on what are any 1750's rifles based? Where did these early rifles come from? We have reports of rifle use in the F.&I. but no solid "clearly identifiable rifles from PA," which is supposed to be the birthplace of the American rifle. Imports? I feel like everything I read gives the impression that early trade guns were smoothbore and imported rifles were for those on the high end of the economic scale, and still rare at that.
Chapter 18 of Rifles of Colonial America, Vol II by George Shumway has a good discussion on this. What Dave is saying and what Shumway wrote is that we don't know because the surviving rifles are not signed or dated. There is documentary evidence that they existed, but no way to match surviving rifles with the time period, location, or individual. Therefore, we're not sure what they looked like. Of course, that doesn't keep contemporary builders from using their imaginations.

Shumway concluded that the American Longrifle may have developed simultaneously in Pennsylvania and in the South.
 

dave_person

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Hi,
There is the famous "Faber" rifle and Wallace Gusler makes a case for it being southern. The name "Johannes Faber" is engraved on the sideplate but a very similar fowling gun is known with a different name on the side plate. It is unlikely Faber was the maker and there were many Johannes Fabers throughout the colonies in the 18th century so pointing to any one of them is a problem and none were identified as gunsmiths. The gun was found in Staunton, VA without provenance. There is no definitive way to date it so colonial American is probably as good as anyone will do. There is no way to tell if it was made in Virginia, and even if it is an early Virginia gun, one gun does not define a style for a time place, much less an entire state.

dave
 

rich pierce

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Between 1740 and 1770 the population of the American Colonies doubled. It tripled from 1740 to 1780. So there were not so many colonists in the 1750s. Fewer people, fewer guns, fewer rifles, less business, fewer gunsmiths.

How many people are listed as gunsmiths in court documents and in census in the 1750s compared to 1770s? Few. Darn few.

Next, who wanted or needed a rifle in 1750? Seems Native Americans who were trading deerskins. In the 1750s colonists were rarely venturing west of the Appalachians.

So what we are looking for was rare in the day. And early gunsmiths rarely signed their work. There have been a great many discussions of early rifles here. Here is one. https://www.muzzleloadingforum.com/threads/american-jaeger-w-early-virginia-furniture.117177/

Another https://www.muzzleloadingforum.com/threads/american-jaeger.117179/page-3
 
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Rudyard

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I have a curious piece had it over 50 years ,it is plain other then a nice bit of tang apron carving it once had a rear sight it is full stocked in Walnut with keyed barrel with a false breach oct to round ,Iron guard with husk finial no return at rear of bow like a 1760 LI . All rest brass inc the large oval wrist escuetion the bore is 28 bore . While the work is excellently stocked it bears no proof mark and aIl mounts are severely plain , like the maker couldn't engrave or considered it vanity ? .Needs a pic Ile prevail on Dave Person with one. If he,s agreeable . Russ Young thought it unlikely any Virginia connection I've always wondered since it fits Colonial and not the UK norms Barrel is 42" and stouter than a fowler I've termed it a Fusil' maid of all work' smooth bore . Could be nothing & Russ is right but may be of interest turned up in UK now in NZ . Rudyard
 

dave_person

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Hi SMO,
Keep in mind, the British government forbade a lot of industry in their American colonies. The colonists shipped raw materials like wood, pig iron, copper, tobacco, etc to England where it was turned into products sold back to the colonies. Most barrels, locks, and hardware for guns were imported.

Hi Rudyard, just send the photos to my e-mail, the address of which you have.
dave
 

Spence10

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We have reports of rifle use in the F.&I. but no solid "clearly identifiable rifles from PA," which is supposed to be the birthplace of the American rifle.
Some circumstantial evidence from the journal of Warren Johnson, brother of Sir William Johnson. He spent the winter of 1760-1761 with his brother in the Mohawk Valley of New York, and said in his journal:

"They are remarkable at Philadelphia for making rifled Barrell Gunns, which throw a Ball above 300 yards, vastly well, & much better than any other Barrells."

Spence
 

Artificer

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Hi SMO,
Keep in mind, the British government forbade a lot of industry in their American colonies. The colonists shipped raw materials like wood, pig iron, copper, tobacco, etc to England where it was turned into products sold back to the colonies. Most barrels, locks, and hardware for guns were imported.

dave
What Dave described was called the "Mercantile System" in that native countries in Europe set up colonies to provide raw materials to send back to their mother country, so the workers at home could be employed making/manufacturing things. They in turn sold the manufactured things to the colonies. Sort of a way of having a controlled market for goods made in the home country.

Also and expanding on what Dave wrote, gunsmiths here in the American colonies before the AWI had to make one lock and one barrel (and the rest of one scratch built gun) during their apprenticeship to become a journeyman, BUT that was probably the last lock they ever made from scratch and it was cheaper to buy rough bored or even completely bored smooth bore or fully rifled barrels from Europe. Heck, there was even a significant trade in brass furniture parts from Europe. The reason for that was gunsmithing even by the end of the 17th century and early 18th century was often broken down into between 13 and 21 distinctive trades, though of course there were still some shops that made the whole gun. There was no way a colonial gunsmith could hope to make a lock anywhere near as cheap as were being made by the small factories that specialized in lock making or barrel making in Europe. So it wasn't that materials were not available here in the colonies, it was just too expensive to compete with the European shops that specialized in different parts of the guns.

Of course all that changed with the AWI when the colonies HAD to resort to American gunsmiths to make arms in the early stages of the War, as they had a hard time getting guns and gun parts past the British Navy. Colonial leaders and in some cases the Colonial governments invested in setting up gunsmiths for larger scale production of Arms. This diminished a good deal when the French began giving/supplying us with arms and then the French Alliance in 1778 led to a flow of guns to the colonies. Still if we are looking for the birth of major Arms manufacturing in the Colonies, it was the AWI that caused it.

Gus
 

Stophel

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Rich pretty much said all I was going to say. Why do we find a bunch of rifles from the 1780's, but we don't find a bunch of rifles from the 1750's? 'Cause there weren't that many to begin with.

The gun Rich showed is the perfect example of what people desperately WANT to be an "Early Virginia rifle", along with the "Faber" gun, and others. And while they could have been made in Virginia, they could also have been made in New Hampshire... or New York.. or just about anywhere else.
 

Artificer

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The 1750s Virginia Rifle exists mostly in the imagination and creativity of builders over the last 30 or 40 years. There’s a demand for it. People build based on back- dating or “early-ifying” 1770s guns. I wish builders would’ve stop labeling their creative works as historical.
This is the only rifle I know of that is documented to the 1750's in Virginia, but it was used in Piedmont Virginia (not the foothills or mountains) and it was not made in Virginia.

Col. Phil [Phillip Ludwell Lee of Stratford] also enjoyed hunting. The inventory of his possessions included “1 Rifle new made by Turvey” and “1 new Turvey,” as well as a fowling piece and a gun.57 The rifle and unspecified firearm were probably made by gunsmith William Turvey (II) of London.

https://www.stratfordhall.org/collections-research/staff-research/a-virginia-gentleman-on-the-eve-of-the-revolution-philip-ludwell-lee-of-stratford/

Gus
 

dave_person

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Hi,
Something else to consider. There were 4 major waves of immigration into the British American colonies. The first 2 were to tidewater Virginia and Massachusetts. The Virginia wave came to be dominated by those David Hackett Fischer called "displaced cavaliers". The spawn of landed gentry, some chased out by the English Civil War, who came with their servants. The Puritans and their associates came to dominate New England. Both groups were steeped in British culture and material. In the late 17th century and early 18th, the Quakers arrived along with proprietor, William Penn. Although Dutch and Swedish colonists were already here, it was not until the Penns that the waves of Germanic people arrived including gunsmiths familiar with a rifle culture. Most of that immigration happened during the first half of the 18th century. Finally, the last wave during the 1740s-1760s came from the Scottish-English border areas and these "Scotch-Irish" folks settled the frontiers because the first 3 waves filled up the coastal areas more or less. Purveyors of rifle culture really did not arrive in America until the 1st quarter of the 18th century, and other than native Americans, their primary customers largely were not here until mid-18th century. So, the pieces that made up our "long rifle culture" really were only in place 20 or so years before the Revolution. Moreover, from the end of the 17th century until the Revolution, the British government discouraged settling new frontiers and expanding into native lands. Large frontier expansions were features of the years close to the AWI and then after.

dave
 

dave_person

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Hi,
Thanks to those looking at my last post. At times we all need to look at events and trends from a broader perspective rather than just the details of a place and time. The economies that supported rifle making were not (like all economies) a function of the place the guns were made, rather the larger community of buyers and suppliers. Ask yourselves a few simple questions. Why was there no big community of rifle makers in Philadelphia? Why was Lancaster and Reading such centers? Why is there a huge proliferation of identified gunmakers and gun making immediately after the Rev War and yet so few before? I believe, the answer to those questions gets at the heart of why so few pre Rev War rifles are known and why so few examples exist from any areas outside the Lancaster radius.

dave
 

Stophel

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It seems there were more known gunsmiths at any one time in Lancaster county, PA alone than in the entire colony/state of Virginia....
 

Brokennock

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Kind of "thinking out loud," here so to speak, while I digest all the cranial nutrition in Dave's last few posts.

Kind of trying to think in a different direction regarding the look and style of "early rifles." Maybe we have been going the wrong way in looking for what an early (F.&I. Period) rifle may have been. Could this rifle, if it is from that early period be trying to point us in another direction. If trade guns, fowling pieces, and muskets were the common gun of the day, and this rifle has more elements of those than what we normally expect of a rifle, would it not stand to reason that maybe early longrifles were more like a fowling piece with a rifled barrel than they were a stretched out Jaeger rifle? Especially those in areas with a population of more British extraction than German?
Again, just kind of wondering "out loud." Not arguing for or against anything.
 

smo

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Sounds like a smoothrifle too me....

It would appear too be easier to put sights on and rifle the barrel vs building a rifle.

Now I’m thinking out loud.....

It’s a shame there’s not better documentation.
 
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