While walking through a museum, or looking at the historical monuments of the American Revolution, you may observe the rifle carried at that time. While you may see merely an antique flint lock. That one item exhibits an incredible story. A story of American pioneers, their ingenuity, craftsmanship, and art that changed the world.
The early settlers in York and Lancaster County brought with them their short Jaeger flintlocks. These men soon found the weapon insufficient for the vastness of the Pennsylvania frontier. In York and Lancaster County, Pa these early Americans tooled spiral grooves into barrels, and lengthened them by an additional 10 inches. They combined the length of the smooth bore Fowlers with the rifiling of the Jaeger. Between the rifled barrels and added length these “Long Rifles” increased the accuracy and distance from between 50-80 yards to 100-200 yards. These rifles are easily recognizable by a brass patch box Inlayed into the stock which is strictly an American invention.
The Long Rifles were more than weapons, they were works of art. The merging of wood, stone, brass, and steel in perfect harmony. A beautiful curly maple stock adorned with brass inlay, and fine rococo relief carvings. Rococo an art style consisting of swirling vines, leaves, pedals, and flowers that was developed during the French Baroque era. It is the embodiment of the beauty and wisdom inherent in nature.
One historic example of a Long Rifle, can be found in the Frazier Museum, and was produced by Lancaster County’s notorious gunsmith John Philip Beck. After all, it was one of Beck’s rifles that was selected and presented to General George Washington, following the war. Many of J.P. Beck’s rifles feature rococo relief carvings and silver inlays. His nephew, Christian Beck III, and J. P. Beck’s son Christian Beck jr, became known as some of the greatest gunsmiths of the Golden Era. The Beck’s rifles are considered fine art held in museums and galleries across the globe.
A Pennsylvania built Long Rifle would follow Davey Crocket on his many wilderness adventures and military exploits. Davey Crockett would take his rifle with him all the way to the Alamo.
Though it would be another who would make the Long Rifle so famous it was rebranded “The Kentucky Rifle.” The Long Rifles became famous by Daniel Boone’s exploits in the Revolutionary War, his hunting expeditions, and excursion into the Kentucky wilderness. Daniel Boone made the first trail into Kentucky, through the Cumberland Gap, and founded the first settlement of Boonesboro pushing Westward into the frontier.
When the Revolution began, it was this tool that gave the colonist fire superiority. George Washington in his infinite wisdom ordered the PA Gun Smiths in York and Lancaster County to began mass production of the rifle for the war effort.
In 1775 General Washington requested 8 regiments of Pennsylvania Longrifleman, volunteers who were unpaid, to aid the war effort. Pennsylvania raised 10 regiments of the finest sharpshooters. To understand the magnitude of this; reference the London Chronicle, August 17-19, 1775, "This province has raised 1000 riflemen, the worst of whom will put a ball into a man's head at the distance of 150 or 200 yards, therefore advise your officers who shall hereafter come out to America to settle their affairs in England before their departure".
Many of these rifles were produced by first generation German Immigrants who were pacifist and refused to fight but aided the Revolution with the best gunsmiths of the period.
For example: John Philip Beck, my 7th generation ancestor took the oath of allegiance to the Continental Army in 1778 and was paid to repair arms in Lancaster County for the militia from 1777-1781. J. P. Beck was also a member of the Committee of Safety and Arms for the war effort. He was instrumental in establishing the regional style, and his rifles are often embellished with bold rococo scrollwork and beautiful engraving. As the rifle traveled further west from Lancaster it took on new shapes and designs of the area, these styles are referred to as “schools.”
The greatest war in our history, the War of Independence, was comprised of farmers and craftsman against the World’s strongest army of professionally trained soldiers. History would show the English Brown Bess Rifle, was no match for the American craftsmanship an ingenuity of the Pennsylvania Long Rifle.
Common citizens with their hunting rifle, paved the way for freedom world wide, to change the course of history. They were motivated by a profound philosophy: “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness….”
Our Founding Fathers wrote into the Bill of Rights, specifically “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” It is imperative to remember that 1776 exists because the common American’s hunting rifle was superior to the professional military rifle of the British Army. This legacy and foundation established here in Pennsylvania, more specifically in The Susquehanna Valley, is a reminder for us to continue the pursuit of liberty.
From the Men who built it, to the Men that used it, and Washington who truly harnessed it: it appears as if this rifle was divinely inspired—to save the nation, and may be best called The American Rifle.
Many of the descendants of these gunsmiths still celebrate this timeless tradition and history by building Long Rifles. For example pictured above is a rifle I built with similar styles to my ancestors and a custom patch box of a coiled serpent. I build rifles in my spare to continue this story.
1. “Thoughts on the Kentucky Rifle in its Golden Age” by Joe Kindig
2. Heal, Bridget (1 December 2011). "'Better Papist than Calvinist': Art and Identity in Later Lutheran Germany". German History. German History Society. 29 (4): 584–609.
3. Beck, John Philip (c. 1751/2 – 1811). Flintlock long rifle, presented to George Washington, 1791. Colonial American (Lebanon Township, Pennsylvania), 1791. Iron, brass, and maple. Frazier History Museum’s Permanent Collection.
4. The Beck family of gunsmiths : Lancaster County, Pennsylvania by Dyke, Samuel E
5."The Pennsylvania-Kentucky Rifle: a Lancaster Legend," by J. Wayne Heckert and Donald Vaughn
6. My Father, Daniel Boone- The Draper Interviews with Nathan Boone." Lexington, Kentucky: The University Press of Kentucky, 1999. p. 139.)
7. Official history of the militia and the National guard of the state of
Pennsylvania” by Clarke, William Packer
8. London Chronicle, August 17-19, 1775