David Deshler’s Rifle

[Note:  this rifle has been excessively polished and waxed as will be evident in the photos.  At the time these photos were taken, I was unable to convince the owners to rectify this situation  However, it is possible that a better re-restoration will be undertaken in the near future at which point better photography may be possible.]


    When this rifle came to light in 2006, it had apparently gone unnoticed by students of the American rifle for over thirty years.  (Photos 1, 2)  It initially surfaced at a small estate auction in Bucks County, Pennsylvania ca. 1974 at which point it was purchased by Frank Grafly of Doylestown.
  Prior to the sale, the piece had been in the possession of David Deshler's descendants for the preceding one hundred fifty years.  Unfortunately, the rifle can not currently be documented within the family in the 18th century save by oral tradition alone.  Perhaps additional, documentable information remains to be uncovered.
    David Deshler - or Deschler - was the son of immigrant Adam Deschler and was born in 1733 or 1734.  [His father, Adam, had settled in Egypta, or upper Whitehall township, along the Coplay Creek at a very early date (prior to 1740) and became a respected, successful farmer there.  It is not clear exactly when he arrived from Switzerland although most regional histories assign an immigration date of approximately 1730-1734.  It is therefore not presently clear whether son David was born in Switzerland or at the Egypt settlement.  Adam Deshler's impressive, two-story stone house served as a place of safety during the French and Indian War and was known as "Deshler's Fort."  Additional information regarding this 'fort' and Adam's service to the local miltia is given in Montgomery's Frontier Forts of Pennsylvania, pages 174-176.] He initially owned a "brew house" in Northampton Town in the early 1760s (Northampton Co. Deed Book B1, 169) and in 1768 purchased a property in Salisbury township [immediately adjacent to the town of Northampton, or Allentown] on the "Little Lehi Creek" for the erection of a grist and saw mill.
  (Northampton Co. Deed Book B1, 181-183)  Also found within the Northampton County deed books are evidence of numerous property transactions in Salisbury, Allen and Whitehall townships.  All of the deed book entries list him as a miller variously of either Salisbury township or Northampton Town.  During the Revolution, as a prosperous and prominent citizen of the region, he played a variety of important roles:  in 1774 he was appointed to the Northampton County Committee of Observation (2 PA Archives III, 549); in 1776, at a meeting of the general Committees of Observation and Safety, it was resolved that "...a Magazine of Powder, Lead & Arms be immediately collected and prepared...in Northampton Town under the care of David Deshler, for the defense of this County against the incursions & depredations of the Indian Enemy..."  (2 PA Archives XIV, 613) and was also during that year elected to be one of the judges of elections for his district, which was "Allen's Town" (2 PA Archives III, 571); in 1777 he was elected to be one of the Northampton County Justices of the Peace (2 PA Archives III, 665) and in the years 1778 through 1782 "Colonel David Deshler" variously served as Commissioner of Purchases, Assistant Commissary of Purchases and Assistant Forage Master for Northampton County whereby large, repetitive sums of money were entrusted to his care in order to acquire supplies.
  (Colonial Records XI, XII and XIII; 2 PA Archives III)  In 1787 he was a delegate from Northampton County to ratify the Federal Constitution and he died in 1796 at one of his large homes in upper Allen township near Biery's Bridge [now Catasauqua].  (Egle 72-73) 

    Turning back to the rifle in question, it is known that some degree - if not all - of the restoration was performed ca. 1980-85.  The stock was cut through the forearm approximately 8 1/2 inches forward of the breech, and the original lock was missing.  It would appear that the forearm cut was executed many years ago and it is also likely that the barrel, likewise cut-down, was also shortened at that time.  Fortunately, there was only minor damage to the stock from the butt through the forearm cut, so we are presented with a very accurate portrait of the most important area of the rifle.

    As will be immediately evident, this is a very large and early rifle that is associated with both the Leyendecher box lid as well as "Rifle Gun no. 42" [see George Shumway's Rifles of Colonial America Vol. 1, 182-187]:  all three boxes evidence a side-oriented, concealed hinge.  (Photos 3, 5)  Both 42 as well as the Deshler piece carry boxes which are somewhat larger than Leyendecher's box, however it is generally believed that both rifles are also slightly earlier than the 1771 date upon Leyendecher's piece.
  This is a speculative assumption.  The Deshler rifle is noticeably larger than 42, and despite the obvious similarities it displays some noteworthy differences which lead this author to the conclusion that it was stocked by a different hand:  different, yet of the same region or at the least very aware of the stylistic influences wrought by the hand that stocked 42.  (Photo 4)  Despite the larger butt dimensions of the Deshler rifle, I feel that it and 42 - as well as Leyendecher's signed box lid - were stocked at approximately the same time (or at the least within a five-year span).  The extreme similarities in box construction and design, alone, would tend to reinforce this notion, especially given the rapid pace at which brass boxes are believed to have been evolving.
    The box lid on David Deshler's piece is 6 1/4" in overall length [compared to the 6" overall length of 42 and the even shorter 5 1/4" length of the 1771 Leyendecher box], 1 13/16" wide at the base and 1 7/16" wide across the top just shy of the stepped, rounded portion.  The concealed, internal hinge is formed entirely of folded sheet and is 4 1/2" long.  It consists of three knuckles, the central portion being riveted to the box lid with no evidence of solder.  This central section is 2 1/2" long.  In keeping with the 'over-engineering' of the Leyendecher box hinge [both rivets and screws through folded portion], the hinge portion which is riveted to the box lid with three rivets also carries three additional, redundant rivets which secure the folded sheet in a stand-alone manner.
  Each of the outboard knuckles are reinforced with two rivets each and the entire stock attachment tab is pierced by three screws.  The entire box is surrounded with a single line of brass ribbon.  This ribbon was part of the restoration process, however surviving photos of the rifle which were taken prior to restoration clearly display the deep, empty channel and so the restoration is in keeping with the originality of the piece.  [It is probable that the original ribbon was slightly thicker than the restoration material.]  The stock wood at the edges of this channel remains ever-so-slightly raised [barely perceptible, approximately .002" - .003"] due to the original inlaid ribbon, obviously of harder material than the cherry stock, protecting the adjacent edges from wear.

    The box mortise is extremely interesting (photo 6), being a full one inch deep and cleared in entirety to the inside of the buttplate.  There are numerous gouge tracks indicating that a shallow gouge was used to clear the waste.  The forward (head portion) of the mortise wall was cut somewhat angularly, very much as per that of 42, with a gouge also.  Surprisingly, the floor of this box contains ten holes, apparently bored with a spoon bit, each approximately of the proper diameter to accommodate a ball complimentary to a .54 caliber bore.  This is a very rare trait, occasionally seen upon German arms but never previously known upon an American rifle.  It is my understanding that in order to utilize these storage cavities effectively, a naked ball can not be simply pushed into one else it can not be removed; the round balls must be pre-patched in order that excess patch material can be grasped in order to extricate the ball.  I have been told that in Germany, it was common for these pre-patched balls to be essentially sewn into a small encircling 'pouch' of patching, but while it makes sense I have not verified this claim.

    The release latch appears to be original to the arm, however at some point it's head - which was likely rather large and peined out of the same piece of steel - was either worn or broken off.  A replacement piece has been brazed in place.
  This spring lever is attached to the side wall with small screw [also original] which pierces the inner end of the latch, it having been flattened somewhat to create a tab expressly for this purpose.  This is a different arrangement than that present upon 42:  the manner of operation is essentially the same, yet 42 possesses a latch which was driven into the wood near the forward portion of the mortise and actually rides within it's own channel.  The arrangement upon the Deshler rifle allowed for additional wood to be cleared from the mortise, but necessitated a screw attachment as there was no wood remaining to secure a 'spiked' latch.  As will be evident in the photos, the release stud upon Deshler's rifle is attached to the lid via a double-rivet arrangement.  This is a very rare characteristic, one which typically is associated with John Bonewitz of Womelsdorf (1758-1828); this extremely rare form of stud attachment certainly creates a somewhat interesting if not confusing association.

The kick spring within the box mortise is obviously a rather flimsy replacement, however it fits within the original channel [which was cut along the floor of the mortise to accommodate such a spring] and so I feel confident that the replacement spring is almost identical - in shape and operation - to the lost original.  It is a C-shaped strip of spring steel which rides against the buttplate (to maximize mortise space, one would assume) and is held to the floor of the box mortise with a single screw [also a modern replacement].  The open portion of the "C" is oriented towards the comb, so the majority of the spring tension is concentrated along the rear of the lid closest to the hinge.

    The buttplate is quite large, measuring 2 3/16" wide and 5 3/16" in height.
  It is very thin - no more than approximately 1/16" at any point - and my first impression is that it was formed from a piece of sheet.  The inside of the buttplate is visible when the box lid is opened, and it bears witness to almost complete coverage with cross-pein markings (running lengthwise along the long axis - toe to heel).  The heel protrudes quite bulbously, and surrounding the lower portion of the heel, below the rounded protrusion, there can be seen noticeable scarring left by what appears to have been a circular depression within a swage block.  The upper portion of the buttplate, the comb, carries five filed flats and a small band which is remarkably similar - identical, in fact - to the band present upon RCA 42.  A single countersunk screw serves as attachment.  The transition from the upper flats to the heel is then effected by three semi-circular 'steps' which are filed in slight relief; for a comparable example, see Shumway's Rifles of Colonial America Vol. 2, rifle number 109 (470-473).  The back portion of the buttplate is rather roughly-filed and is rendered even more interesting given that it is secured with two screws, both possessing convex heads and neither appearing to be countersunk.  The domed head of each screw is nearly 7/16" diameter.  It would appear that these screws are first work and are not some form of repair or replacement.  This method of buttplate attachment is most similar to German and Dutch infantry muskets ca. 1720-1780 [see George Neumann, Battle Weapons of the American Revolution, 108-120].
    It is extremely unfortunate that part of the restoration process involved the reduction of the buttplate edges to more closely match two centuries of wood shrinkage.  The 1970s-era restoration photos clearly illustrate the toe of the buttplate protruding to a greater degree than it now does, and the edges were filed-out to a slightly more refined level than is now evident.
  Further evidence for this reduction can be seen in the smooth and undamaged edges of the buttplate which display none of the same level of patina present upon the remainder of the furnishings [unfortunately heavily cleaned and polished, but not filed] and the fact that the original inset for the lid of the box is now nearly flush with the adjacent edges.  I would speculate that approximately 1/16" of material was removed somewhat uniformly, at least along the rear or butt portion of the brass if not along the comb portion as well.  

The lower toe 'flat' is 1 1/8" wide at the toe of the buttplate and 5/8" wide at the forward portion [where the rear extension of the triggerguard is attached].  This flat does not extend forward under the guard rail but rather the wrist is rounded-under in this area.  The wrist itself is not completely round but rather is very slightly egg- or diamond-shaped; this is not readily visible but can be faintly felt when holding the piece.  The wrist dimensions at its smallest point are 1 9/16" wide and 1 7/16" in height.

The cheekpiece upon David Deshler's rifle is large and bold, standing fairly well above the plane of the stock and measuring four inches in length.  The thickness of the stock through the rear of the cheek is difficult to measure, however as best as I can determine it is 2 15/32" thick.  It would seem to share the same approximate length, orientation and edge-molding as that of rifle number 42.  Also comparable to 42, this stock bears a slightly longer-than-average trigger reach, 13 7/8" [compared to the 14" reach upon 42], although it utilizes a single trigger only and not a set-trigger mechanism.  The triggerplate is particularly interesting as there is no evidence of the tang screw passing through it:  I did remove the trigger and drop the triggerplate, and what can be found is a large stud brazed to the inside of the plate that is blind-threaded to accommodate the tang screw.
  A hidden stud is sometimes seen upon rifles utilizing set triggers - both "Edward Marshall's Rifle" [Shumway RCA Vol. 1, 178-181] and 42 are constructed in this manner - however this a virtually unique arrangement upon a single-trigger American arm as far as I am aware.  It is a common feature, though, within the context of German rifles.  The single trigger itself is also curious in that is displays a tiny, raised 'boss' upon the back of the trigger pad.  This is definitely a purposeful feature and would seem to be there purely for decorative reasons, however it knows no parallels upon American work.

    The stock measures 1 7/8" across the tail of the lock panels and the lock mortise, which fortunately was not much-modified when a replacement lock was installed, measures 5 5/8" long and 1 1/8" tall at the widest portion immediately to the rear of the breech.  It possesses specific inletting for a bridle, which is generally taken to be evidence of quality work within an American context, and it also at one time [I believe] retained a web of wood between the mainspring and the barrel which would have closed-off the mortise from fouling infiltration.  The sideplate may possibly be a replacement as, very often, when the original lock has been lost, the original sideplate is lost also.  The mortise for the sideplate is fairly shallow, and the sideplate itself is not particularly thick brass [approximately 3/32"] but rather appears to have been created from a piece of planished sheet with a modest bevel, so my first impression is that the sideplate is original (photo 12); the level of wear seems to match the rest of the furnishings, despite the excessive polishing.  It makes an interesting comparative study in relation to 42, as both share a similar finial shaping at the tail.  The cheek-side lock panel (photo 12) is shaped slightly differently than that of the lock side:  the upper edge of the panel drops towards the tail at a steeper, straighter angle than that of the lock side.  This is an odd characteristic and is noticeably present upon only two other early rifles of which I am aware:  the so-called "Lion and Lamb" rifle (photo 20) which was thoroughly covered by George Shumway in "Muzzle Blasts" magazine, March 1998 (part 1, 4-7) and October 1998 (part 2, 78-82), and a second rifle carrying a carved lion/dog (photo 21) which was illustrated in Shumway's column ("Muzzle Blasts") in March of 1997 (pages 40-43).  Furthermore, the Deshler rifle shares one additional lock panel/breech area characteristic (photos 11, 17) with these two early rifles in that the wood between the upper edge of the lock panels and the breech tang is shaped in a slightly concave or "fluted" manner.  This is a construction trait which was very often utilzed by Peter Neihart and is in fact strongly evident upon his 1787-dated rifle (photos 32, 37).  (Shumway RCA Vol. 1, 238-241)

    The triggerguard is 10 5/8" in overall length, 15/16" wide at the bow (three filed flats) and displays decorative elements comparable to a small number of known pieces.  (Photo 13)  The forward finial design compares very closely to an early rifle now in the possession of the Moravian Historical Society and pictured in Arms Makers of Colonial America by James Whisker, pages 148-149.  (Photo 30)
  It also merits a comparison to the guard upon the Marshall rifle as well as an early Lancaster rifle signed by Jacob Graeff [see Shumway RCA Vol. 2, no. 87, "J. Orre" 384-387].  (Photo 31)  The reverse curve to the grip rail is a notable and early characteristic, and as per both the Marshall guard and the guard upon 42, the bow return is quite wide with a squared termination which is only tapered slightly in width.  The guard upon the Deshler rifle appears to have been bent inward to a small degree at some point in the past [1980s restoration photos support this] and has since been restored to its assumed original configuration which stands nicely off the stock itself.  There is a soldered repair to the forward finial which appears quite old and the forward portion of the bow is pierced for a now-missing sling hanger.
    The barrel is impressively large, measuring 1 5/16" wide at the breech, but is not perfectly octagonal:  it carries something of a 'squashed' appearance, although the width and height are the same.  [The diameter as measured across the oblique flats is slightly different and the individual flat widths vary.]  This rather unique barrel was created from cast yellow brass, a characteristic which is of extreme rarity.
  Furthermore, I am absolutely convinced that this barrel is an American-made product:  its uneven shape, off-center breech and extensive casting flaws (photo 15) are in stark contrast to the much higher quality evident in European brass barrels which I have examined.  I also do not believe that this barrel was cast in a large-scale or commercial foundry:  the impression this barrel presents is that of an ambitious undertaking by an individual who did not quite possess the necessary experience/training to perform such a task.  This barrel was cut slightly forward of the forestock at 10 1/4", although it is possible that the 1980s-era restorer removed additional material.  Possibly, the cut through the forearm and rather stubby cutting of the barrel were a result of a barrel rupture, however I do not now see any evidence of this so it must remain a speculative notion.  Judging by the size of the breechplug (which was not removed), it would seem that the original bore size was in the neighborhood of .54 caliber.  The restoration process involved a sleeve in the barrel and a large replacement segment so I am completely unable to offer any definitive information as to the original length, shape or bore configuration.  Despite the extremely large breech and hefty weight due to the small [proportionately] bore, a somewhat noticeable concave taper is present and the diameter at the point of the square-cut [10 1/4" forward of breech] is approximately 1".
  Here also, as with the breech, it is slightly uneven when measured across varying flats.  Given the excessive flaws present upon the underside of the barrel, it is possible that the variations in flat width are a result of the maker attempting to remove them.

    There is no evidence that a rear sight was located within the original barrel segment, and likewise there was very definitely no tenon, or barrel loop, located within this primary segment either.  There is no signature or other marking visible upon any of the upper flats.  [Given the absence of rear sight or tenon within the original ten inch barrel segment, I would speculate that the barrel was not short but was likely a minimum length of approximately forty-two inches and probably smooth bored.  Taking into consideration the excessive breech size - and weight - I would also hazard a guess that the barrel may have been octagonal-to-round in configuration in order to avoid what surely would have otherwise been a very heavy gun.]  However, the most interesting and important characteristic of this barrel is to be found upon the underside, this being a marking stamped upon the bottom flat (photo 14).  The stamping is quite deep and remains clear; at some point previous, someone has apparently scrubbed through the tarnish with sandpaper and rendered it very readable.  What is presented therein are two linked circles, one smaller than the other, and each crowned with a pointed wedge which bisects each circle point-outwards.  I am unable to render any symbolic [and speculative] interpretation of this mark, but it is extremely similar to a decorative element which subsequently is found upon post-Revolutionary carving of Peter Neihart and which I often - in discussion - have dubbed the "Neihart Snowman."  The marking upon this brass barrel is similar to the point of being nearly identical to known Neihart examples, both signed and otherwise strongly attributed.