Johannes Moll of Allentown.



    No documentation has yet been discovered regarding the origins of gunsmith Johannes (John) Moll Sr. of Allentown.  Various tentative theories have been put forth but unfortunately all are speculative and without any basis in documentation.  As of the time of this writing, there has yet to materialize any concrete information relating to this man which pre-dates his first appearance upon the tax assessment of 'Northampton Town' for the year 1764.  [See update below which now pins him down to Rockland Township, Berks County ca. 1751-1763]  He is not upon the list for 1765, however this is not a particularly odd occurrence within the context of eighteenth century assessments.  He is once more enumerated upon the lists for 1766 and 1767 (HSP MFilmXR 700), and is present upon the 1772 Proprietary Supply assessment which was apparently taken just prior to his marriage to Lydia Rinker [“John Mohl,” Marriage Records of the Zion Reformed Church, Allentown, 1765-1861; marriage was on 28 April, 1772.  (Irish, pg. 3-4)]:  he is listed with the "Single Men" and no trade is given.  (3 PA Archives XIX, 35)  He continues to be present in Allentown on a 1773 list and a 1773 Northampton County deed book entry [see previous segment, "John Tyler, Ebenzer Cowell..."] whereupon he is noted as a “gunsmith” as well as the 1776 - 1779 assessments (HSP MFilmXR 702)and various surviving records from 1780 through his death in 1794.

   

    *****UPDATE!  A few additional puzzle pieces have surfaced which now permit us (myself and the handful of other nerds who thus far have made it to this point without losing consciousness...) to know, with certainty, where Johannes Moll was prior to his settlement in Allentown!  (Is the exclamation point a bit much?)  Thanks to work by Bruce Moyer, Bob Angstadt and Dave Madary, it can now be said with certainty that Moll spent the period ca. 1751 through 1763 as a property owner in what is now Rockland township, Berks County.  Of much additional interest is the fact that he was nearly a direct neighbor of George Angstadt, patriarch of the Angstadt family of gunmakers!  Documentation has been found including survey maps and tax lists indicating a “John Moll,” [Georg Ongstadt survey Jan. 21, 1750, book C156, p. 274 and Lazarus Weidner survey Jan. 1, 1751, book C233, p. 62] as well as an indenture involving the same parcel of property and describing this same John Moll as “...Johannes Moll of the Township of Rockland in the County of Berks in the Province of Pennsylvania Gunsmith...”  [Rockland Township, Berks County, Instr. No. 1763-00AB0134, recorded October 3, 1763]  As a side note, the terms of the indenture make it clear that he was required to fulfill his obligation in Rockland Township by September 5, 1765, the same year in which he is coincidentally absent from the Northampton Town tax records.   This conglomeration of findings now offers a bit more information and allows us to realize that (1) John Moll was already a gunsmith prior to his arrival in Allentown, and (2) he was of at least approx. 18 years of age by 1751, which renders him older than has been previously speculated.  These findings on their own unfortunately do not offer any concrete information relative to his importance as a regional gunsmith, but we can factually say that he does hold a somewhat interesting and unique position: he was active as a gunsmith in Berks County as well as - subsequently - Northampton Town, and additionally was a contemporary of Andreas Albrecht at Bethlehem/Christian’s Spring.  I do not feel it to be an outrageously speculative stretch to theorize that he possibly was of supreme importance in the development of the Allentown “school” or style and may have exerted a notable influence over a wider area...*****


    In 1972, Earl S. Heffner, Jr., published a small book entitled The Moll Gunsmiths.  While this book offers some very valuable information, it also relies heavily upon oral tradition which of course is usually unverifiable (though not necessarily always inaccurate).  Heffner perpetuated the old tradition that a man named William Moll was allegedly the first of the Moll gunsmiths and was the father of Johannes Moll of Allentown.  Unfortunately, there has never appeared even the barest shred of evidence to support this notion.  As mentioned above, there were numerous Mohls/Molls/Mulls spread across a wide swath of Pennsylvania and tracking down Johannes/John, unfortunately a common name, has proven extremely difficult.  In light of the above update, it is now possible to note his whereabouts by 1751, however his familial origins and birth date remain a mystery; given his ownership of property by 1751, I believe that he must have been born no later than 1733 and if not born in America, could not have arrived any later than sometime in 1750.   I have seen modern texts dealing with early American armsmakers which assign a various birthdates to John Moll, or note that he was a Quaker based upon a small number of earlier naturalization records involving men named John Moll, however none of this information currently is supported by documentation directly tied to John Moll of Rockland/Allentown and his documented association with the Zion Reformed Church certainly indicates that he was not a Quaker.  Second, taking a different path and viewing extant immigration records, prior to 1764 there were three men named Johannes Moll who arrived as adult immigrants and who may possibly be John Sr. of Allentown.  Ships and dates of arrival are as follows:  Britannia, Sept. 21, 1731 (Rupp list 16); Friendship, Nov. 2, 1744 (Rupp list 106); Sandwich, Nov. 30, 1750 (Rupp list 158).  Unfortunately, these arrivals only indicate adult males of this name and do not take into consideration the possibility that he may have arrived as an immigrant minor accompanying any of the other twenty-plus adult male Moll immigrants arriving during the pre-1751 period.  As will be fairly evident, then, barring the emergence of any more specific documentation, it would seem to be (for the present time) a somewhat futile task to attempt to pin-down this man’s origins.

    Following his marriage to Lydia Rinker, John Sr. had three sons:  John Jr., born in 1773, John Jacob, born in 1776, and Peter who was born in 1779.  (Heffner 7)  It was John Jr., sometimes referred to as John II as he in turn likewise named a son John (John III), who assumed control of the Moll gunshop following his father’s death in 1794; he likewise marked his arms “John Moll” or sometimes “John Moll Jr.,” and as his signature upon some arms appears very similar to a small number of earlier arms believed to represent work of Johannes, a good deal of confusion has been cast into the already confusing cloud surrounding Johannes Moll’s life and work.  John Sr. was a member of the 8th class, 1st Battalion, 3rd Company of Northampton County militia, for one general muster roll for June 18, 1777 [not long prior to Brandywine] notes ‘John Mull’ as a member of the 8th class, his father-in-law Abraham Rinker as a member of the 4th class, Jacob Newhart [joiner in Allentown and brother of Peter Neihart - see part 4] as a member of the 5th class, and original resident (since 1761-62) of Allentown Martin Froelich [blacksmith] as a Corporal.  (5 PA Archives VIII, 85)   Whether or not Moll ever served in active militia duty is unknown, but not long after this muster roll was taken the armories were established in the town of Northampton [October, 1777 - see part 4] and a likely assumption is that his services were more necessary within the realm of arms repair.  Perhaps the term ‘necessary’ is not quite strong enough, given that on July 13, 1776, a resolve was noted in the records of the Standing Committee as follows:  “Resolved, That according to the resolves of the Committee of Safety no Gun Smith or Lock Smith of this County enter into the Service of the Militia or Flying Camp.”  (2 PA Archives XIV, 609)  It would seem, then that while Moll may have been noted in the general muster roll a year later in 1777, he almost certainly was not required to actively serve.

    The issue as to whether or not Moll may have been somehow involved with the armories established at Allentown ca. 1777-1779 has been addressed in part 4, “John Tyler, Ebenezer Cowell and Sixteen Unknown Workmen.”  One oft-related incident pertaining to John Moll during this period which originally appeared in Charles Roberts’ History of Lehigh County, Pennsylvania was noted by Heffner (pg. 12-13); this incident involved the shooting of a Hessian prisoner who was attempting to steal honey from beehives kept by Moll.  Supposedly, Moll caught the prisoner-of-war [who was apparently not being closely watched?] raiding his apiary and shot the man dead, then buried the dead Hessian on his property.  Could there any truth to this?  An inventory of Moll’s estate [see below] noted “61 Bee Hives” and “40 Empty Bee Hives” which is surely no inconsiderable number.  Furthermore, Samuel Dyke and Earl Heffner, who published an article for the KRA Bulletin in 1968, noted that a local paper known as the “Friedenbote’ related the incident in 1886 and further explained that a man named Charles More, living on the same lot at the time of the paper’s publication, had for some reason or another excavated the dead Hessian’s remains which were identifiable by the “...metal trappings...” of his uniform.  (Bishop 408)  No further information is available concerning this occurrence, so ultimately the truth of the matter may never be known.

    A very interesting notation regarding Moll is found upon the 1780 tax asssessment for Northampton Town.  This is the only list upon which a trade is listed and Moll is not recorded as a gunsmith:  John Moll is noted as a “Tailor,” and curiously, his father-in-law Abraham Rinker [who previously had always been noted as ‘labourer’] is noted as a “Hatter.”  At first, this seemingly makes no sense whatsover until one digs a little deeper into the War effort for that year as well as the regional economy.  After the January, 1779 proclamation by the Supreme Executive Council to shut down the armories at Allentown [see part 4], the local employees must have felt a keen economic blow:  they and their families had, after all, been living on guaranteed pay and rations of the state and had been exempted from militia service.  Furthermore, the French entry into the War the previous year [1778] and subsequent importation of vast numbers of French arms [see Brecher, Frank W.  Securing American Independence:  John Jay and the French Alliance.  Praeger Publishers, 2003.]   had rendered the services of ‘armorers’ not necessarily obsolete [somebody had to keep all those muskets operable, after all] but of lesser importance as the crushing need to stock new muskets ground to a halt.  [Supreme Executive Council, Feb. 5, 1779:  “The heavy expense of the Gun factory, though we have no reason to complain of the management of it, we have wholly suppressed, from a view of our present stock of arms, & the belief that the State may now be supplied on cheaper terms.”  (Colonial Records XI, 687)]   The final nails in the regional economic coffin were driven by the shifting of much of the War theater in a southerly direction, and one can imagine the huge, near-bursting bubble of wagons, people and stores which had thoroughly filled Northampton County after the evacuation of Philadelphia in 1777, suddenly draining away to leave the area residents wondering, ‘what now?’

    There is some evidence to suggest that the region was not utterly depressed, economically.  Possibly due to the persistence and influence of men such as David Deshler and John Arndt, men who were still involved in materials acquisition as [variously] Commissioners of Purchases or Forage Masters etc., a number of smaller ‘factories’ and cottage-industry suppliers of martial goods appear to have been established to fill the void.  One of the first records of such is found in a letter from John Wetzel at Macungie to “...Mr. Duncan Clippen, conductor, shoe factory at Allentown, 30 April 1779.”  This letter requests an order for 400 pairs of shoes to be sent by Col. David Deschler's team to Col. Hooper, Jr., Deputy Quarter Master "without loss of time."  (HSP MFilmXR 698)  Roberts, in his 1914 History of Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, had briefly mentioned a ‘shoe factory’ supposedly established across the Lehigh River (i.e., east side) from Allentown but had unfortunately offered no documentation to back up the claim.  This letter is the first documented substantiation of this claim that I have seen.  Further verification can be subsequently found in a second letter from William Henry to Pres. Reed [then-President of the Supreme Executive Council] on April 25th, 1780:  "I am indebted at this Time to the State between Sixty & Seventy Thousand Pound, which I have laid out in purchase of Leather and Paying Workmens Wages at the Shoe-Factory at Philadelphia, Allentown and Lancaster."  (1PA Archives III, 207)  How many individuals may have been employed at this undertaking is not currently known, however regional tanners and leather-dressers must also have found it to some degree financially supportive.

    Additional evidence of other War-oriented activities in the Allentown area can also be found in a letter sent from the Supreme Executive Council to Capt. Joseph Stiles [overseer of the militiary stores at Northampton Town] on May 5, 1778:


    “Sir, Cornelius Sweer, Esq., D.C.G.M Stores at Lebanon, requests Council would lend or sell him, for the publick use, a quantity of Sail Duck belonging to this State, now in your possession.  Altho' it is not known how soon the State may want it, yet being desirous to serve the Publick, Council have consented to sell what the Commissary may have occasion for - reserving 10 or twelve pieces, which perhaps we may soon need - at the price of twenty shillings per Yd for the best, or No. 1 - and one shilling per yd less for each rising Number.

    You will therefore please to deliver the Duck to that Gentleman or order - make out the account for the same & receive the Money, which I beg you to take the trouble to send by a good opportunity to David Rittenhouse, Esq., Treasurer to this state.

    If you have not already recd directions from Council to employ a Number of women to make into shirts, all the Linen in your possession fitt for this purpose, I beg you to do it without delay, and forward them to this borough as soon as made up, as the soldiers are in great want of them.

    I am, with respect, Sr, your very Hum. Sert.

Directed, To Captain Joseph Stiles, Northampton.”

(1 PA Archives VI, 480)


While the letter states that Stiles should employ an indeterminate number of women to make shirts, I would suspect in cottage-industry fashion rather than a centralized ‘factory,’ following the removal of the armories the following year [1779] and Moll essentially being unemployed, it is possible that he turned to a ‘state’ job once more and began making shirts or other articles of clothing to support the Continental Line, his father-in-law following suit.  I have no documented evidence of this occurrence other than the odd assessment notations for 1780, however it does make a certain degree of sense.

    The year following the curious 1780 assessments, a letter was written from Allentown by David Deshler, Commissioner of Purchases, to Col. Jacob Morgan on January 8, 1781:


    “Dear Sir,

I have sent my Son in Law down after Cash.  I have applyed to Colo. [Colonel] Blain by Mr. Joseph Keyser, Condr [Conductor] of the Cooper Factory; have got no cash from him... If the Coopers is only to work for this State, as there is a good many Flour Casks on hand, I think about four hundred, there will be no occation for so many Coopers to be supplyed at this Factory...  Directed, Colo. Jacob Morgan, State Comy. [Commissary] in Philadelphia."

(1 PA Archives VIII, 702)


I have uncovered no additional information regarding a ‘cooper factory’ in the Allentown area but apparently such a place was in operation for at least the year 1781.  It is also apparent that some manner of resolution must have been passed, in a fashion similar to the 1776 resolution concerning gunsmiths and locksmiths, indicating that coopers were needed to work for the state and not privately.  It would seem that additional research is called for, probably within the Pennsylvania Archives, in order to determine exactly what War-oriented industries may have been undertaken within the Allentown area - and Northampton County as well, within a broader context - during the years of the Revolution.

    Johannes Moll died in 1794, the exact date of which I am not certain.  His estate was inventoried in January, 1795, and it is immediately obvious that he was operating a substantial gunsmithing operation at the time (probably in conjunction with his son John Jr., 21 years old at the time).  Items of relevant interest are noted as follows:

    

100 Riffle Stocks

18 Riffle Locks

1 New Riffle

1 Riffle Barrel

1 Smooth Riffle

2 Screw Plates and Pins

1 Bench Vize

1 Bench Vize

1 Hand Vize

32 Different Chisels & gouges

8 Moule Augers

5 different Planes

13 Cut files

3 Hammers

1 Cut Riffle

1 Riffle Barrel and Stock

1 New Riffle

1 Smith Bellows

1 Anvil

1 Anvil

1 Large Smith Hammer

7 Smiths Hammers

3 Smith Tonges

2 Nail Plates

1 Pig Iron

Sundry Iron

2 Setts Riffle

Sundry old Iron

3 Iron Augers

13 Riffle Augers

2 Pincers and 1 Plyer

1 Polish Steel Plyer

1 Breach Pin Iron

1 Brace and Bitts

2 Saws

2 Dressing Knives

1 Grindstone

5 tt [pounds] Sheet Brass

5 tt Old Brass

Also 1 Riffle which war forgot in the inventory

Riffle Augers

25 Files and Rasps

(Northampton County Register of Wills, file 1702)

            The above rifle is signed, “John Moll.”  Without going into a lengthy ramble regarding the vagaries of various Moll signatures, I for the present will suffice it to say that I currently believe this rifle to be very late (ca. 1785-1794) work of Johannes Moll Sr.  The Moll rifles illustrated by Kindig [Thoughts on the Kentucky Rifle..., pgs. 182-183] are most assuredly John Jr., the swivel breech being dated 1815 and both rifles displaying a different level of carving quality as well as carving and engraving execution.  However, being later rifles, it is equally possible that they simply represent work by the same man 10 or 20 years down the road.  John Moll II sold the business he had inherited from his father to his son John III in 1820 (Heffner 18), and as he was only 47 years of age at the time of this sale, he may possibly have been suffering from failing eyesight or some other ailment.  The above rifle is a big gun, stylistically similar to Herman Rupp’s work but much larger.  The barrel is 1 1/16 across the breech and the wrist is a full 1 7/16” wide.  Note the heavy and dramatic ‘step’ at the wrist.  For all intents and purposes, this classic “Allentown” architecture seems an attempt to add grace to the earlier, heavy German step-stock and create a slender profile while retaining good breadth through the rifle in cross-section.  The carving present upon this rifle is very accomplished and quite well-executed, better than Herman Rupp’s more publicized work and evidencing an assured and experienced hand.  The obvious similarities present are only one reason why I believe that Johannes Moll may have trained both Herman and Johannes Rupp [both considerably younger than Moll], whose upbringing in the nearby Macungie farmland was in close proximity to Allentown.

            Upon the transfer of the gunsmithing business from John Jr. to John III, an interesting notation was recorded in the bill of sale:  “...all the apparatus belonging to oure Foundery.”  (Heffner 18-19, quoting Lehigh County deed book I, pg. 144)  What is most curious about the mention of a foundry is the obvious similarity of brass furnishings seen upon various rifles of the immediate region but built by different smiths.  This has often caused collectors to ponder the possibility that someone in the region was selling castings which a number of gunsmiths were purchasing.  While Johannes Moll’s estate inventory did not specifically note a foundry, it is obvious that he had a relatively large forge and could have been easily casting brass; the box upon the above rifle is a relatively heavy [certainly in relation to sheet] two-piece sand casting made from a hammered pattern.

            The pistol below was made for or purchased-by Colonel Levi Wells [and is so-marked upon the sideplate] and may have been made during the same period that the armories were operable in Allentown.  [Another proposed hypothesis is that the pistol was made by John Moll Jr. and was retroactively marked.  Again, no clear resolution is at-hand.]  The cast-brass locksplate is marked “MOLL” as is the top of the cast-brass barrel.  Along the lower side of the barrel is a second stamping, “I. MOLL,” this stamping flanked by two ‘liberty head’ figures.  It is generally beleived that the lockplate and barrel are American castings made by Moll, while the ‘grotesque’ butt cap and triggerguard may have been cast by Moll as well or they may have been imported components.  The stock is of black walnut and artificially striped.  The engraving of Wells’ name upon the sideplate appears original and the style of lettering seems to match the style of script used by both Molls when signing their names.  The piece is essentially an American copy of a British holster pistol.  According to the Historical Register of Officers of the Continental Army During the War of the Revolution, Levi Wells was a Captain of the 2nd Connecticut Regiment from May 1 to December 10, 1775; he then served as a Major in the 22nd Continental Infantry and was taken prisoner at Long Island on August 27, 1776 and not exchanged until December 9, 1777; he thence returned to service and served as a Colonel in the Connecticut Militia until being again taken prisoner at Horseneck in December, 1780.  (Heitman 581)  He was exchanged on February 25, 1781 [according to the testimony of Daniel Waldo - Library of Congress].  Following the War, Wells retired to his home in Connecticut where he died in 1803.  (Whisker, 110 and backplate)  Where Wells was serving between December, 1777 and December, 1780 remains unknown, as does how he may have come to acquire this pistol.  One other pistol marked “I MOLL” is known, however it too is controversial insofar as it is not clear whether it was made by Johannes or John Jr. 

The rifle illustrated below is yet another example of a signed Moll rifle which could be a late rifle made by Johannes [possibly 1790-94] or early work of John Jr.  It displays identical furnishings to the rifle pictured above with the exception that the sideplate lacks decorative filework at the tail.  This, too, is a rather large and sturdy rifle with slightly less of a wrist ‘step’ than that above.