B.H. Walker, Bedford County, Pennsylvania gunsmith

Introduction: B.H. Walker is known as a St. Clair Township, Bedford County gunsmith from an 1856 tax record. There was more than one B.H. Walker in St. Clair Township, as well as a gunsmith in Illinois. I think there is a lot that remains to be sorted out. I have included information on several individuals to show how confusing the subject is. I have refrained from indicating which of these individuals was the Bedford County gunsmith because, frankly, I just don't know.

1808: Calculated from the information on his tombstone, an individual named Benjamin H. Walker of St. Clair Township who is celebrated for his involvement in the underground railroad was born in 1808.

1827-1882: Page 293 of the 1884 book "History of Bedford, Somerset and Fulton Counties, Pennsylvania" describes a Benjamin H. Walker of Pleasantville who came to St. Clair township in 1827, helped to operate the underground railroad for escaped slaves, and served as the Postmaster of Alum Bank from 1869 to 1882. Pleasantville is in present-day (2021) West St. Clair Township. A historical marker erected in Alum Bank in 2006 by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission is titled "Benjamin Walker Homestead" and states "Before and during the Civil War, Benjamin Walker, Abner Walker, Sr. and George Harbaugh worked closely with African American Underground Railroad conductors John Fiddler, Elisa Rouse and Joseph Crawley. Hundreds of fugitive slaves were led from the PA border through Bedford County via the Walker Homestead, across the mountain and north to freedom. Participation in the UGRR was dangerous, due to the proximity to the MD border". This individual does not fit the description of the gunsmith B.H. Walker in the Whisker's 2017 book "Gunsmiths of Bedford County, Pennsylvania" who allegedly moved to Galesburg, Knox County, Illinois.

1831-1914: A web page about Corporal Benjamin Harris Walker of Company G of the 57th Regiment of the Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry indicates that he was a son of the Benjamin H. Walker of underground railroad fame, was born in Bedford County, Pennsylvania on March 4, 1831, died on November 12, 1914, and is buried in the Union Cemetery in Beaver County, Pennsylvania. The web page has an image of a military burial record card based on information provided in 1936 that says he his buried in the Union Cemetery, but the 1936 informant could not locate his tombstone. At least one other website indicates that Corporal Benjamin H. Walker was born in Bedford County, Pennsylvania in March of 1831, was a son of Benjamin H. Walker Sr., died in November of 1914, and is buried in the Union Cemetery in Beaver County, Pennsylvania.

1834: The Whisker's 2017 book indicates that the gunsmith B.H. Walker was born in 1834. The basis of this birth date is not given. I wonder if this birth date is based on the listed age of B.H. Walker in the 1860 census of Galesburg, Illinois.

1840: There is a Benjamin Walker household in the 1840 census of St. Clair Township, Bedford County. It consists of one male and one female in the 30 to 40 age group, one female in the 20 to 30 age group, one male in the 10 to 15 age group, three males in the 5 to 10 age group, and two males in the up to five age group. The gunsmith described in the 2017 Whisker book as being born in 1834 would have only been about six years old in 1840, and not the head of a household. This seems obviously to be the household of the Benjamin H. Walker of underground railroad fame who was born in 1808.

1850: In the 1850 census of St. Clair Township, the household of 42-year-old Benjamin H. Walker does not include a son named Benjamin Walker, or a son with a name that could be referred to as B.H. Walker. There is a 15-year-old individual living in the household with the name B. Thomas Walker. There is also no B.H. Walker listed in the household of the 39-year-old gunsmith George Fay in the 1850 census of Blair County.

1856: Based on tax records, the Whisker's 2017 book identifies B.H. Walker as a St. Clair Township, Bedford County gunsmith in 1856. I would sure like to know if there was more than one Walker in the 1856 tax list whose first name began with a "B".

1860: The Whisker's 2017 book also reports that B.H. Walker appears in the 1860 federal census of Galesburg, Knox County, Illinois as a gunsmith. A correspondent reports that the B.H. Walker of Galesburg is listed as 26-years-old and Pennsylvania born.

1861: The 1861 City Directory of Galesburg, Illinois is said to identify a Benjamin H. Walker on the west side of Boon's Avenue, two doors south of Main Street, who was doing "gunsmithing, repairing and lock manufacturing". That individual is said to be a Civil War Veteran. I can't find Boon's Avenue on the maps in the Galesburg portion of the 1870 Knox County atlas.

1861 to 1865: Volume 2 of Bates' "History of Pennsylvania volunteers, 1861-5" indicates that a Corporal Benj. H. Walker enlisted in Company G of the 57th Pennsylvania Volunteer infantry on January 1, 1864 and mustered out with the company on June 29, 1865. It indicates he was a Veteran who enlisted in Bradford County, and I believe that means he reenlisted on January 1, 1864. That was in the timeframe when about two thirds of the Veterans of the Regiment re-enlisted. Since this individual enlisted in Bradford County, I am not sure how the creator of the aforementioned web page knows this individual was the son of the Benjamin H. Walker of underground railroad fame. If he did join the Regiment in 1861 as I suspect, then it seems less likely that he is the 1861 Galesburg, Illinois gunsmith.

1877: Click here to see an excerpt from the Pleasantville (Alum Bank P.O.) portion of the 1877 book "County Atlas of Bedford Pennsylvania" that shows two properties that are labeled "B. H. Walker".

1896: The Benjamin H. Walker of underground railroad fame is buried at the Friends Cemetery (40.15385625, -78.58311954) in East St. Clair Township, Bedford County, Pennsylvania, 2.6 miles southeast of Pleasantville/Alum Bank. His tombstone indicates he died on March 11, 1896 at the age of 87 years, six months, and ten days, which translates to being born in 1808.

The 1953 edition of "American Gun Makers" mentions a percussion over and under Kentucky style rifle with octagon barrels by B. H. Walker, and also mentions a Bedford County style rifle where the barrel is marked "G. Fay" and the stock is by B. H. Walker.

I have read about an over and under combination gun that was made by Benjamin H. Walker of Galesburg, Illinois. It was originally made with a swivel breech, but eventually a second lock was added and the swivel was locked so it could not move.

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