Additional Notes Concerning Peter Neihart

of Whitehall Township.




    To quote George Shumway in his monumental text Rifles in Colonial America:


    "The name is variously spelled in the old records:  Neihart, Neyhardt, Neihardt, Neuhard, Newhard, Newhart, Newhardt.  Peter's father settled along the Lehigh River in North Whitehall Twp. in 1738 and Peter was born in 1743.  With whom he apprenticed is not known, but it is probable that he at least was influenced by the work of Andreas Albrecht at Christian's Spring.  When Neihart was 21, in 1764, he joined the Egypt Reformed Church and settled in Whitehall Twp., a few miles north of Allentown.  Apparently he lived and worked there the rest of his life, dying at age 69 in 1813." 

(Shumway 238) 


    This rudimentary outline of his life touches upon most of the relevant information which will be of use to those studying the surviving firearms which bear this man's signature.
  He was one of a relatively large family, the names of whose members can be found to thoroughly permeate the extant records pertaining to old Northampton and Lehigh Counties.  His father Michael Neuhard was one of three assumed brothers [Georg Neihart, Georg Freidrich Neihart and Michael Neihart] who arrived at the port of Philadelphia on September 26, 1737 aboard the St. Andrew Galley.  (Rupp 108)  There exists a small degree of confusion on the point of the exact relation of the three men, as church records still extant in their place of origin [very specifically Rumbach in the Rhennish palatinate, not Zweibruecken as stated in the Anniversary History of Lehigh County] would seem to indicate that Georg is a cousin to brothers Johan Michael and Georg Friedrich.  (Kastens 126)  Another man named Conrad Neuhart who, according to Rumbach church records, was allegedly a younger brother of Michael and Frederick, arrived aboard the Edinburgh in 1754 (Strassburger 220).  Regardless of the exact relation of the men and their subsequent offspring, the family as a whole evidently prospered and secured large tracts of real estate. 
    There currently exists no signed specimen of Peter Neihart's work which would appear to date earlier than the piece illustrated by Shumway (page 238); this piece is boldly signed and is dated 1787, well after the Revolution.  Additionally, there are three additional known rifles actually signed by Neihart of which I am aware as well as a small handful of pieces which are unsigned but attributed to this man with varying degrees of certainty.
  His style (at least within the post-Revoltuionary War years) is very recognizable, three prominent details being (1) a long and unusually low cheekpiece, especially when compared to practically every other known gunsmith in the Lehigh County area, (2) an abundance of gouge-cuts utilizing a larger-than-normal gouge for such a purpose (approximately 3-4 mm is common) and practically always found in repetitive sequences of five or more cuts [quite unlike the common two or three tiny 'blunted V' cuts], and (3) a great abundance within both the wood carving and engraving of sinuous tendrils emanating from multiple points.  Of the unsigned rifles which can be attributed to Neihart with a fair degree of believability, only one or perhaps two might date earlier than the 1787 example.
One issue which needs to be addressed immediately is the old myth, carefully skirted by Shumway (above), that Peter Neihart as well as a number of other known gunsmiths of Northampton County were trained or worked to some degree with the Moravians at Bethlehem and/or Christian's Spring.  Shumway was very judicious in his choice of words concerning Peter (italics added):  "...he at least was influenced by the work of Andreas Albrecht at Christian's Spring."  (Shumway 238)  This, of course, is a valid possibility as any early gun work undertaken by the Moravians at Bethlehem and later Christian's Spring (see Hillanbrand 115-19, Hollenbaugh 120) would have been - to some extent - in the hands of county residents, and Neihart's home in Whitehall township was within approximately fifteen miles of both Moravian enclaves.
  The speculation that Neihart may have been completely or partially trained at either enclave, however, is a relatively unsound theory.  The Moravian elders kept extremely tight reins upon the members of their communities and referred repeatedly to outsiders as "Strangers."  Anyone desiring to live with the brethren at Bethlehem or Christian's Spring was brought before a commission of elders and questioned:


    "9th February 1760.  Present. Bechtel, Schropp, Weber, & Okely.   Gottfried Böttger, a Nail Smith from Philadelphia, having come up for a Visit to Bethlehem, desired Leave to stay here altogether, which being granted, he was spoke with by us, & told the Terms on which he might stay, he answered, that he knew our Oeconomy well, had also well considered the Matter before he had form’d the Resolution to come here, & was determined to go thro’ all Difficulties. The Declaration he was to sign on
this occasion being read to him he declared himself well satisfied with the Contents & sign’d it accordingly."

(Moravian Archives, Bethlehem)


Again, two days later:


    "11th March.  Present. The same Members as above.  George Hartman & Christina his Wife, having at their repeated Instances, at last obtained Leave to live in the Oeconomy of the Brethren, They were sent for & the Matter laid before them, with the Difficulties &c.  But they persisting in their Purpose the Declaration usual on Admittance was read to them, & they sign’d the same gladly. He is to bind his Daughter upon Br. Horsfield’s Return. He was also told to make an Inventory of his Household Goods &c. & fix the lowest Price to each Article, when the Breth.n will see if it be suitable for them to take them or not."

(MAB)


It can be seen that in order to live with the Moravians, one was called to join the church, probably initially as a Society member, and the 'Oeconomy' [which prior to 1762 was a communal manner of living and working].
  Furthermore, non-Moravians joining the Oeconomy were asked to essentially give over their wordly possessions into the care of the Oeconomy as evidenced above in the entry for March 11th, "He was told to make an Inventory of his Household Goods..."  The only instances in which non-Moravians were bound to either the Oeconomy in general or a particular shop/tradesman are situations in which non-Moravian residents of the area basically gave over their children to the brethren to be educated and apprenticed (February 17, 1755):


    "A letter was read from Friederick Weidel & his Wife, seting forth their Satisfaction & Pleasure in having their Son Henry Balschbach in Bethlehem, & desire that he might be bound to the Brethren by an Indenture.  Agreed That the same be done accordingly."

(MAB)


    It also would not have been possible for a non-Moravian such as Neihart to casually or surreptitiously work amongst the brethren, as the commission was certainly well-aware of all activities transpiring within their community.  Witness, a journal entry of May 27th, 1754:


    "Having been told that Francis Seiffert, some time Since arrived from England, had hitherto liv’d here without having been regularly spoke with by Us.  Agreed that he sho.d be sent for to that End.  Being come & ask’d if it was his Mind & Purpose to continue here longer (which he had Time enough to consider of) on the Footing of the rest of the Brethren, Viz.t to work for the Oeconomy without Wages & be content with such Things as the Oeconomy could provide him with, & whether he would sign an Instrument to that Effect, being usually done by all such as are permitted to live in our Oeconomy?  To all which answering in the Affirmative, the s.d Instrument was read to him & he sign’d accordingly."

(MAB)


Not only were the elders quite vigilant in monitoring the comings and goings within their communities, but they also maintained strict control over all business transactions as can be seen in an entry for November 12th, 1754:


    "Having heard of some disorderly Dealings between our Br. Ginter & a Weaver living at Solomon Jennings’s, Agreed that he be sent for & spoke with ab.t it as soon as he returns Home.
    —That an End be put to all private Dealings in our Oeconomy &
    —That y.e same be notified at y.e next Congregation Council."

(MAB)


Here, the commission resolved as early as 1754 that absolutely no private dealings were to be undertaken between members of the Oeconomy and "Strangers."  Furthermore, at the transition of the Oeconomy to partial privatization in 1761-62, there were particular regulations which were put into effect "Concerning Masters and Trades:"


    "No master, he may be married or single, is allowed to engage an unconverted person, to teach him the profession and lodge him in his house and let him sleep there, because through that the Congr. and Choir Plan will be ruined." 

(MAB)


Following this transition, however, those trades which were semi-privatized were permitted some degree of leeway in ordering their own affairs and it is obvious that after that time some day-laborers or outside workmen were being utilized on an irregular basis:


    "In case of a daily workman who works outside and goes home every evening, one may if one wishes, in case there are no other reasons existing because one should not have any civic association with such a person in the congregation, engage such person for all kinds of work." 

(MAB)


It is not clear exactly what is meant by the phrase, "...works outside...," but it would on its face seem to be indicating farm or field laborers [which of course would always be in full view of the brethren] rather than shop laborers.
  It is therefore a fairly safe conclusion that there is little possibility that Neihart, a reformed Lutheran and non-Moravian, could have somehow 'trained' under any of the locksmiths or gunstockers within the Moravian communities of Bethlehem and Christian's Spring.

    To verify some of the details of Peter Neihart's life, the best place to initially begin is within the records of the Egypt Reformed Church which was near Neihart's home in what is now Lehigh County, Pennsylvania.  There are at least four different spellings of the name found scattered throughout the records, however Peter's baptismal record is easily found:


    "Neuhardt, Peter, s. Michel Neuhardt and w. Maria Barbara; b. Nov. 15, 1743; bap. Dec. 15, 1743; sp. Peter Traxel, Georg Kern, Friederich Eberhardt, Maria Margaret Neuhardt, Salome Gut, Hann Apel Teschler."

(Miller 1743)


The records only cover baptisms through 1807 however there are appendices of later, sporadic records to 1834.  There is a later notation regarding the death of Peter's wife which also makes mention of the year of his own death:


    "Magdalena Newhard was also a daughter of Jacob Kohler, Sr. She died in 1777. Her husband, Peter Newhard, married a second time and died Sept. 16, 1813."

(Miller app. 46)


These dates also match the dates given upon his stone in the Egypt Reformed Church cemetery.  This being the case, as we can be positive that he was born in 1743 we can then assume that - if he was bound to a gunsmith or blacksmith and was thus trained - he would have been working on his own as a journeyman probably by age 19-20 years, which would be approximately 1762-1763.  There is no evidence to be found in any surviving records, however, to shed light upon such an apprenticeship.

    Much of the pertinent information regarding Neihart has already been covered earlier in relation to surviving military records, census and assessment lists [see previous segment, "John Tyler, Ebenezer Cowell and Sixteen Unknown Workmen."]  A small number of additional documents to indeed firmly plant Neihart in Whitehall township ca. 1771 (NH Co. deed book B1 recorded release of May 27, 1771 mentions "Peter Neuhart, Whitehall township, yeoman") and 1773 (HSP MFilm XR 698, Petition to Court of Quarter Sessions for June term by residents of Whitehall township signed by twenty-one men including "Peter Neihart.").   As was noted, the earliest notation of him being a 'smith' survives in a 1767 asssessment, so at the least we can say for certain that he was engaged in some manner of smiths' work [whether black-, lock- or gunsmithing - or more than likely all three - is unknown] in the 1760s and prior to the Revolution.  However, whether or not he was actively stocking rifles during this period is also unknown.  Ron Gabel, in an article published in the KRA Bulletin entitled “Peter Neihart (1743-1813)...,” noted that Peter Neihart [along with brother Frederick] bought of his father Michael [in Whitehall township] approximately 43 acres in 1768 and another 160 acres in 1770 (Bishop 424), however I have not yet found this transaction listed within the early volumes of Northampton Çounty deed books; possibly it was recorded in a later deed book and back-dated, a common occurrence in relation to familial sales.  Purchasing family properties of this size would seem to infer the perpetuation of farming and more often than not Peter was, in fact, simply referenced as a “yeoman” within extant records (which generally indicates farming).  He is not noted as a “gunsmith” until the recording of the much later 1786 Whitehall township assessment (Northampton County archives, Easton).  A reasonable speculation, given the somewhat conflicting references, is that Neihart was probably engaged in some manner of smith work on a part-time basis while working a farm concurrently; possibly, he was not able (within the local economy) to support himself solely as a smith in the 1760s and 1770s, or perhaps simply did not have the desire to do so.  The current lack of additional documentation renders it impossible to say for certain.  As was previously discussed in the segment entitled, "David Deshler's Rifle," I believe that the particular rifle featured therein represents the earliest known work of Neihart and probably dates to the 1760s or early 1770s.    

 

Above:  typical later work of Peter Neihart.  Note the “snowman” in the lower portion of the carving and it’s remarkable similarity to the stamping under the barrel upon David Deshler’s rifle.  What could this symbolize?

Above:  work of Peter Neihart which probably dates to the 1790-1800 period.  This finely-decorated rifle typifies much of Neihart’s Federal period work:  characteristic furnishings, unique box and star design/engravings, his commonly used longer, lower [in relation to other regional makers] cheekpiece and of course his signature carving style.  Here, too, the “snowman” can be clearly seen despite many years of wear.  As with the much-publicized 1787 rifle illustrated above, this rifle retains a substantial amount of width and substance despite the Federal period-dating and, in fact, one of the most wonderful characteristics of Neihart’s extant body of work is that it is not of regional ‘cookie-cutter’ form but rather is quite individualistic while retaining a recognizable ‘Lehigh’ flair nevertheless.


[This rifle was previously published on page 2 of Kentucky Rifles and Pistols, 1750-1850.]