The Controversy Surrounding 'Rifle Gun Number 42.'

Part II:  A Preliminary Discussion of Known

Moravian Smiths.




            William Hillanbrand has written an excellent treatise which serves as a general summation of the locksmithing and gunsmithing in both Bethlehem and Christian's Spring ca. 1743-1776 [see bibliography], and he likewise touches upon the few men who prior to the Revolution were sent from Bethlehem to work in Bethabara (North Carolina).  It would be redundant to repeat it here, and I strongly urge all who read this to carefully study the text of Hillanbrand's work.  Stan Hollenbaugh has likewise composed an excellent addendum to Hillanbrand's piece [see bibliography] which offers a bit of added information regarding Andreas Albrecht.  When focusing upon the assumed work of the Moravians, first at Bethlehem and later the gunshop established at Christian's Spring ca. 1761-62, it becomes enormously difficult to fit together the puzzle pieces (i.e., the surviving rifles which have been variously attributed to this group) with no firm benchmarks save the early Revolutionary War-period work of Oerter, ca. 1774-1776, and the single signed piece of Albrecht (RCA V. 1, no. 46) which is usually assumed to be of the same period.  The earlier rifles which also are generally attributed to either Bethlehem or Christian's Spring are ascribed as such solely on the basis of back-dating the aforementioned mid-1770s rifles, a very tenuous and sometimes flawed means of attribution:  the initial assumption inherent in this process is that pieces similar to Moravian work must therefore represent Moravian work, however can not be conclusively proven at this time.  The earlier rifles in Shumway's sequence - rifles 41 through 43 - as well as the two known lion-carved rifles may be earlier Moravian rifles which predate Oerter's [although as of this writing it would seem that a near-certain attribution to Oerter can be made for the 'Lion and Lamb' rifle] however this can not be definitively stated.   There currently are no known pieces which can be placed in the 1750s or 1760s signed by Albrecht, Oerter nor any of the men known to have been working at Bethlehem or Christian's Spring.  Likewise, there are no signed rifles extant which can be proven to have originated within the North Carolina Moravian communities prior to approximately 1800.  This is therefore the basis of the unending debate and speculation regarding these rifles.

Bob Lienemann will be publishing a very detailed work concerning the Moravian locksmiths and gunstockers, and furthermore has already published an excellent treatise concerning the life of William Antes (KRA v. 31 no. 2, 2-11).  William's father, Henry Antes, was intimately entwined with the early Moravians at Bethlehem ca. 1730s-1750, and William was educated and - it is assumed - apprenticed there.  Utilizing Mr. Lienemann's piece concerning Antes in addition to notes kindly provided by him which are drawn from his as-yet unpublished research, and likewise utilizing Hillanbrand's work, it is possible to construct a somewhat simplified checklist of the various locksmiths, blacksmiths and gunstockers of Bethlehem, Christian's Spring and thence Bethabara and Salem prior to the Revolution.  As the controversy involving Rifle 42 would seem to be somewhat intertwined with these Moravian communities, it therefore would behoove all of us to preliminarily familiarize ourselves with the cast of characters involved.  This study will always be considered a work-in-progress, as hundreds [if not more] of pages of meticulous records have yet to be translated and/or published. 

William Hillanbrand offers the following list of men who worked in Bethlehem throughout the 1740s:  Matthew/Mathias Wittke, Marcus Kieffer, Daniel Oesterlein, Anthony/Anton Schmidt, Jacob Wuest (sometimes 'Schoen' via a name-change) and Andreas Betz were all locksmiths.  Phillip Wesa, George Schmid/Schmidt, George Huber and Abraham Steiner were blacksmiths.  [Abraham Steiner was noted as "Master Blacksmith" in the Journal of the Commission, November 28, 1758:  "Peter Steiner, the Brother of Abraham Steiner Master Blacksmith, was by consent of both Parties, put to his Brother on Trial to learn the Smith’s Trade."  (Moravian Archives Bethlehem)  In 1759 he was listed as "Huf-Schmidt," indicating primary work as a farrier.]  Daniel Kleist, designated a master locksmith, arrived in 1749.  Christian Boemper was apprenticed in the locksmith shop under Andreas Betz in 1748.  William Antes was also living in Bethlehem ca. 1745-1750 and was approximately 13-14 years of age at the time he arrived there with his father in 1745.  (Lienemann)  It is generally assumed that he was apprenticed to the lock shop, although currently documentation to this effect has not materialized.  Another interesting note which both Lienemann and Hillanbrand point out is that during this period, a number of these men were periodically sent to serve at the smithies in Gnadenthal [a church farm near the future site of Christiansbrunn] and Shamokin [the indian village at the forks of the Susquehanna River, in present Northumberland County, Pennsylvania].    This created a situation whereby the designated "Master" of the lock shop - primarily during this early period - was something of a rotating affair:


"Br. Antone Schmit was sent for & spoke to about his being Mast:r of the Lock Smiths Shop in the room of Br. Kleis who is gone to Shomoco, & that he would have more to do then he had before when he was Master & therefore should take care to instruct his Apprentice well, in his Buisiness, & be carefull of the 2 Brethren who help'd him as Journeymen. that he should take nothing to do from any B.r to do himself without Br. Pezolds leave & knowledge. & that no stranger work should be neglected but rather ours might stay utill that was done if possible.  Then Xti. [shorthand for 'Christi/Christy'] (Apprentice) D. Esterlien [Oesterlein] & Janker (a Journeyman) was sent for to let them know that Br. A. Schmit was now Master & they were desir'd to be deligent & Obedient to him &c." 

(MAB, Dec. 26, 1752)


During the early period of the 1740s, it is not known to what extent any of these men spent time engaged in work upon firearms.  The majority of the work throughout the 1740s would have been farm and tool-related smithing work although it can safely be assumed that a good deal of firearm repair - not necessarily new construction - was being conducted, especially amongst the smiths periodically employed at the indian missions.

In 1750/1751, Henry Antes left Bethlehem and returned to his large farm at Frederick Township in what is now upper Montgomery County.  (Lienemann)  It would seem he purposely ended his close association with the Moravian elders:  "It having been resolv'd to continue Br. Antes a Member of this Commission, notwithstanding his not residing at Bethlehem, & the same notified to him, he declined it."  (May 1, 1753, MAB)  Documents do not indicate if William Antes left Bethlehem with his father at that time, at some time prior or some point after, but he did leave and it is assumed that he must have completed an apprenticeship (again, unknown whether locksmith, blacksmith or ???).  There is a considerable amount of documentation to indicate that Antes was living at or near Frederick throughout the 1750s and 1760s, now upper Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.  This was part of Philadelphia County at the time.  Within the records of the Falckner Swamp Reformed Congregation, 1748-1854, the following records are found:  Elizabeth Antes, daughter of William, baptized April 10, 1757; Christina Antes, daughter of William, baptized March 14, 1759; Anna Marie Antes, daughter of William, baptized November 5, 1768;  finally, William Antes, son of William, baptized April 7, 1776.  (Falckner Swamp Reformed records)  Additionally, Bean's 1884 History of Montgomery County yields the following information in chapter LV concerning Frederick Township:  "At the term of court held September 1, 1766, was presented the return of jurors or viewers who had laid out a road from the Bucks County line to Turkey Point, in Chester County, which passed through the entire width of Frederick township from east to west, through land of...Frederick Antes, Henry Antes, William Antes..."  (Bean 844)  Roth's History of the Falckner Swamp Reformed Church notes within a donation list for March 9, 1772, that the church "Received for building expenses and wages...William Antes, 1/16/6."  (Roth 30)  

In October 21, 1775, the Minutes of the Committee of Safety evidence the following:


"Resolved, That Mr. Wilcocks, Mr. Wharton & Mr. Nixon, apply to the Commissioners and Assessors of this County [Philadelphia], to know if they have contracted for the whole of the Firelocks, and what forwardness they are in, And to inform them that the following Gun Smiths are unimployed in this County, viz't.:  William Antis, of Frederick Township...."

(Colonial Records X, 375-376)


This certainly offers proof that by 1775 Antes was known as a gunsmith, however what exactly is meant in stating that he was unemployed is not clear.  Is this indicating that by 1775 he was no longer working as a gunsmith?  It is probable that it is simply indicating that, as of October 21, he was not as yet actively engaged in gun repair and/or construction for the Revolutionary cause, being "unimployed" by the Committee of Safety.  Antes himself seems to clarify this matter within a letter to Council President Wharton of May 1, 1778 written from "Newhannover Township:"


Sir,

I have received your Letter of the 23rd of April past, wherein I am requested to give immediate information to Council what number of muskets well fitted are now in my possession, and how many more I could compleatly finish by the 20th of May Instant.  These are therefore to inform Council that I have twenty five in my possession, and as touching what number I can finish against the twentieth of May, I do hereby inforrm Council that I have none that will be finished against that time, as I am not at present in a proper situation to follow that Business, neither have I heretofore followed that branch of Business for the publick, excepting in the way of Cleaning and repairing of Arms, and that about 500 stand of Arms was sent to me last fall for that purpose by General Potter, which when cleaned and repaired 361 oof them were sent to the rear of the Army by order of his Excellency Genl. Washington, and the remainder was sent to Militia Camp by order of Major Cummings, and that 161 muskets was sent last fall to Col. Frederick Antes for the purpose aforesaid, which hath since been taken by order of Col. Wm. Henry to the Factory at Allentown, in order to be repaired there.  The above is all the Information I Can give at present respecting of public arms that have Come within my district.  I am Sir, with respect, your Humble Servant, William Antes."

(1 PA Archives III, 456)



It would seem that Antes was here indicating that he was not equipped to act in a manufactory capability regarding muskets, he having not "...followed that branch of Business for the publick..."  Given the large number of arms he had cleaned and repaired immediately prior, however, it would certainly seem as though he was at least somewhat established as a gunsmith. 

In June of 1750 Andreas Albrecht arrived at Bethlehem.  Albrecht is the first Moravian individual who can be documented as working at Bethlehem and/or Christian's Spring (later) who was trained as a gunstocker.  Some additional men who were smiths at Bethlehem and/or the various missions thoughout the 1750s were John Leonard Gattermeyer (who was killed at Gnadenhutten in 1755), Andreas Jencke and Jacob Heydecker (d. 1757).  (Hillanbrand)  Renatus Steiner, a brother of blacksmith Abraham Steiner, was apparently working as a smith at Christian's Spring prior to August 1755 before being called back to Bethlehem:  "Renatus Steiner having been removed from the Smith’s Shop at Xtian’s Brun to the Shop in Bethlehem, He was sent for & given over to his Brother Abraham to be subject & obedient to him as his Master, which he promised."  (MAB, Aug. 26, 1755)  Renatus, however, appears to have occasioned a bit of trouble for himself:  "Geo: Klein & A. Steiner, as Guardians, to be spoke with ab.t the situation & Behavior of Renatus Steiner."  (MAB, June 15, 1757)

According to a lecture given by Bob Lienemann at the 2007 KRA meeting, there is evidence to indicate that Albrecht was working as a gunstocker from the time of his arrival through approximately 1753-54.  Bob further noted that a notation survived indicating that Albrecht had stocked a rifle in 1754 for the chief of the Shawnee [or Shawanos, as it is usually spelled in the Moravian records].  (Lienemann)  The ledgers of the lock shop from ca. 1753 through approximately 1757 note "Locksmith and Gunstock Maker" (MAB) before being shortened to simply "Locksmith."  At the least, this indicates that somebody was either regularly or occasionally stocking guns while Albrecht was living in Bethlehem, this individual [or individuals?] operating in conjunction with the lock shop.  The general consensus is that this individual was Albrecht, the support for this theory being that in the January 16, 1759 trade list ( "Distribution of the Brethren in Bethlehem in their Various Trades and other Occupations" - Moravian Archives, Bethlehem) he was the only man noted as being a gunstock maker.  Kliest, Ant. Schmidt and Jenke were listed as locksmiths; Boemper [Abraham, father of Christian who had originally been apprenticed in 1748 to the locksmith shop under Andreas Betz] was listed as the only Silversmith; Abr. Steiner [married to Johan Buerstler's sister], Adam Loesch, Burstler [Johan Buerstler from Oley] and Henr. Bonn were listed as "Huf-schmidt" or farriers.  Albrecht was the 'Buchsen Schafter" or gun stocker.  Up at Christian's Spring, Steph. Blum and Henr. Steiner were listed as smiths.  (MAB)

Bob Lienemann's lecture [see above] also covered Albrecht's move to Nazareth in 1759, as in June of that year he had led a group of boys from the school in Bethlehem to their new school at the 'Manor House' or Nazareth Hall.  [This was the immense house which had initially been constructed ca. 1755-56 as a residence for Count Zinzendorf, it being converted into the school for boys in 1759 when it became clear that Zinzendorf would not be traveling to the colonies to live after all.]  (Lienemann)  He then arrived at nearby Christian's Spring - a farm and home for single brethren - in August of 1759 and his apprentice, John Christian Oerter, arrived there the following spring.  (Lienemann)  In late 1761/1762, about the time that Kliest bought the lock shop from the Oeconomy, the 'gun factory' was in operation at Christian Spring and Albrecht was put in charge with Oerter as his apprentice.  The first complete inventory was also taken in 1762 with annual inventories taken each year thereafter, and Lienemann noted [in the 2007 KRA talk] that initially no forge tools were present in the inventory and in fact none seem to have been present until 1766; the inventory for that year [1766], according to Lienemann, indicated for the first time two rifle locks which were actually made in the Christian's Spring shop.   On November 19, 1766, Albrecht was married and was 're-assigned' to manage the Sun Inn in Bethlehem, which coincidentally was very close to the lock shop.  However, there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that he was undertaking any type of gunstocking work while he was operating the inn, and Bob Lienemann has suggested [personal correspondence] that it would be very unlikely that he would have done so as this would have placed him in competition, so-to-speak, with his one-time apprentice Christian Oerter who was (upon Albrecht's departure) put in charge of the gunstocking shop up at Christiansbrunn.  The gunstocking shop and the Sun Inn were both still part of the Oeconomy, while the locksmith shop had been sold to Kliest and privatized in 1762.  Albrecht may have occasionally worked or 'helped-out' in the nearby locksmith shop, however there is no documentation to be found which would indicate this to be the case and it is therefore a speculative notion.  In May of 1771, after the Sun Inn was finally privatized, Albrecht moved to Lititz [another Moravian 'Gemein Ort' or closed congregational community] in Lancaster County, where he resumed the trade of gunstocker.

Johan Valentine Beck arrived in New York on October 24, 1761, and like Albrecht had also been trained in Germany as a gunstock maker.  He was thirty years old at the time of his arrival.  According to his "Lebenslauf," or a memoir which each congregation member wrote which was to be read at his passing, his background was thus:  John Valentine Beck was born in 1731 in Suhl to gunsmith/gun factory manager Johan Nicholas Beck, Nicholas having some relation with the Moravian Church.  [Valentine's father died the following year, however, so his son certainly did not receive any training from his father.]  It is not stated exactly where or to whom he apprenticed but it is assumed he was trained in Suhl itself.  In 1752, his twenty-first year, he states that he began his travels as a journeyman - the 'Wanderjahre', or wandering year - and went first to Frankfort am Main.  He there visited his brother [also a Moravian?] in Herrnhaag, and when he arrived "...the Gemeine had already gathered in the Saal, and the singing of the Gemeine sounded heavenly..."  (Moravian Archives, Southern Province)  It would seem he was then in the midst of a spiritual awakening.  He next traveled to Wurzburg for a short period, but then upon the journey home he was robbed and left with no money.  Beck states that "This event took place in 1753 during the Passion season, at Rothenburg on the Taube."  (MASP)  Several weeks later he visited a Moravian congregation at Ebersdorf, but though seeking permission to live there did not receive it.  He continued on his journey but felt strongly the urge to turn back, and so apparently returned to Rothenburg and "...adhered to the awakened ones there."  (MASP)  He was subsequently sent to Darmstadt, and next to Mainz, and at that point he states that he was suffering some manner of internal conflict and was told by his brother (via a letter) to return home [to Suhl], which he did.  He visited "meetings" in Neudietendorf and Barby, and in June, 1755 went to Neudietendorf to live where he stayed until October, 1756 at which point he finally was permitted to live in Ebersdorf.  In May of 1757 he was admitted to the Gemeine - the congregation - at that place.  [Throughout this entire period of travel there is no mention of his trade, although surely he must have been working to support himself.]  It was in November, 1760 that he "...was called to Herrnhuth, where it was proposed that [he] go to American with a company of Brothers and Sisters.  [His] heart was willing, of course, to do so."  (MASP)

Beck arrived in New York but very shortly thereafter traveled to Bethlehem.  He states that he "...worked at [his] profession for a while there, then went to Nazareth to serve the children in the Anstalt [boarding school]."  (MASP)  It was Albrecht's position as gunstocker in Bethlehem which Beck initially filled [Albrecht having left for Nazareth and thence Christian's Spring], then subsequently Albrecht's position as a teacher at Nazareth which Beck likewise took over following the completion of the gun shop at Christian's Spring and Albrecht's installation as master of the shop with Oerter as apprentice.  This occurred in Spring or early Summer of 1762, so it would appear that Beck could not have worked in Bethlehem for much more than few months at most.  Any work would have most likely been performed within the locksmith shop, a portion of it throughout the 1750s having been ‘set-up’ for a gunstocker.  He apparently was not too fond of his work with the children in Nazareth, at least not initially:  "This work was burdensome for me in the beginning, but thereafter I came to know and understand that it was a blessing for me."  (MASP)  As a single man,  he hypothetically might have lived or spent some time at Christian's Spring [Nazareth being a 'Gemeine Ort', or congregation town for married couples] although it is generally believed that those individuals who were teachers lived with the students - performing the function of guardians - in the boarding school at Nazareth.         

Beck was not long in Northampton County, however, and in 1764 traveled with a group of boys to Bethabara in North Carolina.  [Bethabara was the 'base of operations' whose sole purpose was provide living space and income while Salem was being built.]  "A couple of days later [previous entry:  "...at the end of October...."], the Bethlehem wagon arrived safely, bringing 12 Older Boys, who are here to learn trades from out master-workmen.  Most of them have already been in training, the rest are ready for it.  They have walked all the way from Bethlehem and have been well and happy, to the pleasure and amazement of all who met them.  With them came...the Single Brother Valentine Beck, who will here establish himself as gunsmith."  (Fries v1, 282)  It is not known if he immediately began work as a gunsmith, for the primary purpose of all the residents of Bethabara was the construction of Salem and all of the Bethabara artisans did what was necessary and required of them; however, an entry in the Bethabara Diary of Dec. 8, 1766 noted that "Valentine Beck moved into the third room in the New House [in Salem], his quarters at Bethabara not being suitable for his work as a gunsmith."  (Fries v1, 328)  Does this indicate that he had been working as a gunsmith there with smith Andreas Betz?  [Johanna Miller Lewis notes that permission was granted (from Bethlehem) in 1758 to establish a gunsmith's shop, and accordingly a volume of quality steel was sent to Bethabara "...as an inducement to start work."  (40)  She also notes that in 1761 a boy named Joseph Muller, a non-Moravian, was apprenticed to Betz as he "...would perhaps like to be a gunsmith, and would...be well adapted to this"   This apprenticeship was approved despite Bethlehem's specific notation that "It is not at all our policy to accept non-Moravian boys as our apprentices."  (82)

 

This lock is signed in the old European fashion, “Albrecht A Bethleh:” or ‘Albrecht in Bethlehem.   This lock was probably made sometime between Albrecht’s arrival in 1750 and his move to Nazareth in 1759.  It also is a testament to his skill, as he was generally noted in the records as a ‘buchsen schafter’ or gunstocker and not a ‘schlosser’  (locksmith).  The conversion to percussion is most unfortunate.

Below:  RCA #17.  This rifle is much more impressive when viewed first-hand than George Shumway’s photos would suggest.  Very likely, the walnut strip along the toe and accompanying walnut wedge added to the lower edge of the cheek are later additions.  The stock would appear to have been originally styled as a straight-stocked gun, and a very early gun at that.  The bore is not smooth, as was noted in Rifles in Colonial America Vol. 1, but retains very faint traces of straight rifling.  Additionally, the barrel carries an inlay which is entirely original and is engraved, “ANA A LVX” or “ANA A LVI” [the numerals are somewhat interlinked, making an exact determination difficult].  This indicates ‘Year of 55’ or ‘Year of 56’ and thus technically renders this piece the earliest dated American rifle.  The stock is of plain maple.  This rifle evidences many little hints at Moravian manufacture and in fact I feel very strongly that it was made at Bethlehem in 1755 or 1756, possibly by Albrecht or - during those particular years as the French and Indian War was smoldering - possibly even Joseph Haberland or an unidentified ‘joyner.’  It has also been suggested that the piece may have been made by William Antes at Frederick (upper Montgomery County).  Many possibilities, yet unfortunately no signature.  This rifle, as originally constructed and carved, likewise is somewhat reminiscent [albeit on a much plainer level]  in overall feel to the ‘Musician rifle’ as partially illustrated in Wallace Gusler’s aforementioned articles, raising the question of possible association.