The Controversy Surrounding 'Rifle Gun Number 42,' cont’d.



            The July, 2005, installment of Wallace Gusler's extensive examination
of rifle 42, and the reasons which he believes indicate a North Carolina provenance, focused almost exclusively upon a myopic examination of the carving present to the fore of the cheekpiece and wrist.  The particular style of carving which is present upon 42 compares somewhat closely to the carving present upon the Musician Rifle (illustrated within Mr. Gusler's article) which he previously had attributed to Bethlehem.  He then proceeds to illustrate a rifle attributable to east Tennessee of ca. 1791 (dated and signed) and presents it as "...the closest American relative to the wrist carving..." of the two much earlier rifles.  However, another example of this same carving orientation can be seen upon a signed swivel-breech rifle of William Antes which likely dates to the 1780s and furthermore makes use of a side-opening box (photo 31).  The unattributed  Allentown-area rifle which was examined in part 8 of this series [see "An Unknown Master Near Allen's Town"] likewise possesses the strongest connective links to the carving present upon RCA 42 and would seem to indicate a gunstocker or carving style which was retained in the region for at least twenty years (photo 32). Finally, an unsigned rifle strongly attributable to William Antes [and featuring a side-opening box once again] also makes bold use of this "rebounding scroll" orientation in relation to the carving ramping off the comb, albeit upon the box side (photo 33)
Mr. Gusler subsequently ignores the similarities of much of the remainder of the carving upon 42 with the assumed-train of Bethlehem/Christian's Spring rifles as well as other rifles of the Northampton County and upper Bucks County areas.
  [Author's note:  there as yet is no evidence to definitively link Edward Marshall's rifle to Bethlehem or Christian's Spring, although it certainly would seem to be possessive of a Northampton County association and the known facts of Marshall’s life (see part 12) strongly reinforce this association.]  Gusler also utilizes a later 1800-1810 rifle attributed to Tennessee (his attribution and dating) to illustrate comparative carving details purported to relate to RCA 42, however in this particular instance the argument is quite weak as the illustrated carving surrounding the entry pipe does not evidence any more of a comparison in design than many later Pennsylvania pieces which likewise share the same layout; the illustrated carving to the rear of the cheek displays the common Federal Period "C-scroll" which again does not bear a particularly close connection to RCA 42 - certainly not to the intimately close degree of connection that can be viewed upon large numbers of Northampton County (PA) rifles of the same period.  Comparative analysis of Southern-attributed rifles of the post-Revolutionary War period can not be viewed as a means towards attribution of a much earlier rifle, as by the early Federal Period a huge number of Pennsylvania Germans had moved South [witness the Leytentecker/Leidecker family already discussed in detail] including every  variety and type of artisan, gunmakers being no exception; furthermore, in this particular comparative situation, the enormous leap of faith requisite in order to announce familial relation between the much later rifles (which are two or three generations removed) and early rifle number 42 knows no bridging to fill the interstices as is copiously present within the Pennsylvania body of work presented within this text.
            Within the final installment of the article presented by Mr. Gusler in November of 2005, he revisited the excavated materials of unknown provenance and pointed out two additional details which require thorough examination.  While briefly mentioning an unsigned iron-mounted rifle which he attributes to Virginia, he states that it "...also has a wraparound butt piece and probably represents early influence of Bethabara."  (Nov. 2005, pg. 9)  The implication here is misleading, as it notes a comparison in buttplate shape to rifle 42 which Gusler is proclaiming a North Carolina rifle; because 42 displays a buttplate with radiused curve, it therefore represents a southern or Bethabara-inititiated 'type.'
  This refusal to accept the possibility of non-lineal progression as well as a selective refusal to consider Pennsylvania or Pennsylvania-attributed examples essentially skews the conclusion.  There are numerous examples illustrated herein which represent Pennsylvania rifles with "wraparound" buttplates, signed rifles by Christian Oerter at Christian's Spring among them (photo 34).  Oerter certainly offers a direct stepping-stone in the chain of development as a documented next-generation gunstocker, he having been trained by Andreas Albrecht ca. 1761/2 through 1766.  This progression then continues to disseminate outward into  Northampton County and leads to the development of the ultimate in "wraparound" buttplates as evidenced by 'sheath' type utilized by contemporaries (of Oerter) John Moll and Peter Neihart as well as many younger men including brothers Herman and John Rupp.  It thence can be seen to continue onward occcasionally into upper Bucks County.

Mr. Gusler also illustrates an excavated triggerguard which is presented as a link to RCA 42 and therefore Bethabara, this again allegedly representative of a typology.  However, similar examples present within a Pennsylvania context are not included for comparison and they again present a major flaw in this lineal logic.  Shumway's RCA number 43 presents the same form of chevron decorative filing as is present upon 42, and in addition the guard upon the Lion and Lamb rifle - for many reasons, almost assuredly attributable to Oerter - displays such uncanny similarity to that of rifle 42 as to raise the very likely possibility that their origins lie within the same master casting pattern (photo 35).

            Wallace Gusler's treatise falls profoundly short of proving a North Carolina origin for RCA number 42 and is not inclusive when presenting the evidence intended to support this assertion.
  It is extremely valuable in exposing the existence of at least three brass boxes of nearly identical shape but completely different construction, and likewise it presents a line of similar sideplate shaping.  However, one can not legitimately utilize hardware similarities multiple generations removed to 'back-date' an earlier piece, certainly not when a vast majority of the documented connective strands are so completely entwined within the Northampton County region.  Quite frankly, when examinations and attributions are made in regards to some of the earliest rifles, a very large portion of speculative thought must unfortunately enter into the fray:  lacking a signature, it is most often seen that definitive answers to the many questions posed concerning a particular piece simply can not be answered to satisfaction.  This is especially true of the majority of early pieces whereby attributions are attempted via the 'back-dating' process, and this then typically results in either failure or multiple interpretations due to the lack of contemporaneous pieces to use in the creation of a benchmark.  In the discussion of the origins of RCA 42, the strongest benchmarks can be solidly planted in Northampton County, Pennsylvania, as have been detailed above.
  I will of course concede that a Moravian gunstocker - or any gunstocker for that matter - who for example worked in January in Bethlehem and in July in Bethabara, would most probably create two pieces that would be for all intents and purposes indistinguishable from the other.

            In addition to the migration of Moravian gunstockers (amongst other artisans) themselves from Bethlehem to Bethabara, necessary components of their trade as well as completed arms were making the journey:  within the accounts receivable for the Bethlehem lock shop on May 31, 1757, for example, the following entry can be found:  "Abraham Steiner for a Gun for Jacob Steiner in Wachovia, 3 pounds 10 shillings."  (Lienemann/Moravian Archives, Bethlehem)  This was not a cheap gun.  For the sake of comparison, Johanna Miller Lewis offers a discussion concerning the Wilmington merchant Robert Hogg who was represented by an agent in Cross Creek, Rowan County, North Carolina.  Lewis states that in June of 1764, six fowling pieces "...all with different prices, were sent to Robert Hogg from England via Charleston...for Wilmington and Cross Creek."  (Lewis 70)  Lewis states that the lowest-priced piece was 18 pence and the highest priced piece, a "top of the line fowler [that] probably featured a higher quality barrel, bridled frizzen and tumbler on the lock...brass or silver mountings..." cost 2 pounds 10 shillings.  (Lewis 70)  At 3 pounds 10 shillings, the 'gun' that Steiner sent to Wachovia seven years previous must have been a relatively fine piece itself, perhaps of comparable quality to RCA 42. 

Arms components were being bought of non-Moravians, to be utilized upon arms which thence were sold or sent to destinations unknown:  "2 Doz. of Gun Brasses, the Locksmith Do. to Saml. Powell for 2 doz. gun brasses..."  (Dec. 15, 1755, Lienemann/MAB)
  This is clear proof that in 1755 the lock shop was buying brass gun mountings, a full twenty-four sets, which certainly indicates that much more than mere repair work was being undertaken.  This would mandate the presence of a gunstocker, or at the least somebody capable of stocking a rudimentary arm.  Following a brief investigation, it is easy to determine exactly who Samuel Powell was and where the mounts were coming from:  "SAMUEL POWELL, Brass Founder, at the three brass cocks, in Second street, near Sassafras (or Race street)..."  (Pennsylvania Gazette, June 26, 1755)  Again:  "Lately imported from LONDON, and to be SOLD, by SAMUEL POWELL, Founder, next Door to James Parrot's, in Second Street, Philadelphia..."  (Pennsylvania Gazette, May 19, 1743) 

There are records of freight - primarily tools - being brought from Amstersdam, much iron being purchased from Wm. Allen & Co. (Philadelphia), Union Iron Works (High Bridge, Hunterdon County, NJ), Yorke and Potts (Yorke an importer in  Philadelphia, Potts owned Colebrookdale Furnace in Berks County), Daniel Benezet (merchant and importer, Philadelphia) and others, as well as a large load of guns sent from Ebersdorf (Germany) in December 1761 and a "...chest with sundries for guns..." in February 1762.  (Lienemann/MAB)  It is curious that both of these large expenditures for guns and gun parts - all of European origin - were made at almost exactly the same time that the Christian's Spring gun shop was commencing operation. Conversely, this is also at the time that the Oeconomy was in the initial stages of semi-privatization and it is possible that Daniel Kliest was purchasing the German arms and sundry components for use and/or resale via the lock shop.

            Jacob Loesch, who was briefly the manager of the Christian's Spring gun shop from approximately October of 1779 through October of 1781, traveled to Salem and established himself
there as a locksmith and gunsmith.  When he began work in Salem, a very thorough inventory was taken which specified exactly what tools and supplies were already in Salem within the lock shop and what specifically Loesch brought with him from Christian's Spring; included in the materials which Loesch brought with him were "1 dz. sets Mountings" at 6 pounds as well as "1 dz. Riflings for Guns" at 12 pounds, likely indicating rifle barrels.  (Lienemann/MASP)  It can therefore be assumed that at least twelve rifles which Loesch stocked in Salem utilized barrels and mountings brought along with him from Northampton County.  How would we, in the 21st century, distinguish a piece made by Loesch in October of 1781 in Pennsylvania from one made in December 1781 in North Carolina?  This is the origin of many a severe headache.
By all conventional current wisdom, RCA 42 was constructed approximately or perhaps slightly prior to 1770.  Leyendecher's box lid dated 1771 offers a perfect benchmark with which to render comparison, as judging by the size it was incorporated into a smaller rifle than either 42 or the Deshler piece.  Additionally, viewing the rifle signed by Oerter ca. 1774 helps to refine to a greater degree the chain of development present within the Northampton County region as it would appear that the concealed, separate hinge - not the easiest method to utilize - had fallen by the wayside.  This continuum proceeds to be evident in the further refinement
of the side-opening box lid in upper Bucks and Montgomery Counties immediately following the Revolution, the hinge being formed integral to the lids themselves a valuable lesson in strength and durability learned from the cast boxes as typified by Oerter's rifles as well as the Berlin and Graef examples.  It would also appear that this lesson was well-heeded by the maker/makers of the two-piece cast boxes illustrated within Gusler's article, unknown in time or place though he may be, as the 'knuckle' bosses appear to have been cast integral to the lids and surround plates.

As RCA 42 has long been associated with the Moravian communities, and as I have briefly touched upon Moravian gunsmithing activities, additional chapters will address documentation relating to the known Moravian smiths.  Both Pennsylvania and North Carolina will be examined closely, yet preliminarily; many years of research within this field lie ahead, and individuals such as Bob Lienemann are much more deeply immersed within this particular study than I and can speak with greater authority on the subject.