George Piper, Bedford County, Pennsylvania gunsmith

Introduction: Peter Piper's son George Piper is known as a Bedford County, Pennsylvania gunsmith due to 1842 and 1843 tax records. From the slim record that has been found to date, some may wonder if he was a bit of a ne'er-do-well who didn't stay in one place very long.

1783: The 2001 book "Gunsmiths of Bedford, Fulton, Huntingdon, & Somerset Counties" indicates that George Piper was born in 1793. This birth date seems scarcely plausible for an individual who started serving as an apprentice in 1801 (see below). Based other secondary sources I've seen, I think the authors intended to write 1783. For example, the 2018 book "Lock, Stock, and Barrel: The Origins of American Gun Culture" indicates that an individual George Piper was 18 years old when he started his apprenticeship with John Armstrong in 1801. For another example, the March, 2015 issue of the "Muzzle Blasts" magazine includes an article about George Piper that was written by Jim Whisker, and that article indicates that George Piper was born in Franklin Township of Adams County, Pennsylvania in 1783. In that article, Whisker lists his reference as Hartzler's book "Arms Makers of Maryland".

1799: In the Franklin Township, Adams County portion of the 1886 book History of Cumberland and Adams Counties, Pennsylvania, Peter Piper is included in the 1799 township assessment (taken in 1798) as a joiner with a valuation of $1,081.00.

1801: On August 31, 1801 George Piper's Cumberland County, Pennsylvania father Peter bound George to Emmitsburg, Maryland gunsmith John Armstrong for two months shy of three years to learn gunsmithing. Emmitsburg is 84 miles east-southeast of Bedford on present-day roads, and less than a mile south of the southern border of Adams County, Pennsylvania. The official copy of the indenture follows: [Frederick County Register of Wills (Indentures)].

Whisker's March, 2015 article indicates that George Piper was working in York County, Pennsylvania after finishing the apprenticeship. Based on a footnote, Whisker's source for this bit of information appears to be Bowers' book "Gunsmiths of Pen-Mar-Va".

1817: The 2001 book "Gunsmiths of Bedford, Fulton, Huntingdon, & Somerset Counties" reports that an individual named George Piper is recorded as a gunsmith and a single freeman in Shippensburg in 1817. Shippensburg is 68 miles east of Bedford on modern roads, and straddles the border between Franklin and Cumberland counties.

1823: The 2001 book "Gunsmiths of Bedford, Fulton, Huntingdon, & Somerset Counties" reports that George's father Peter died in 1823, and explicitly excluded his son George from his will. The book puts Peter Piper in Franklin Township of Adams County. Whisker's March, 2015 article identifies Peter Piper's will as being an Adams County document, and provides a brief quote from it concerning the exclusion of George.

1830: A George Piper household appears in the Quemahoning Township portion of the 1830 census records of Somerset County, Pennsylvania with one male in the up to five age group, one male in the 20 to 30 age group, and one female in the 15 to 20 age group. This is not the gunsmith George Piper, who would have been about 47 years old in 1830.

1834-1843: In his 2018 book "Lock, Stock, and Barrel: The Origins of American Gun Culture" Cramer indicates that an individual named George Piper was working at Shippensburg in the 1834-1843 timeframe. Mr. Cramer notes that he is not sure if this is the same individual who was an apprentice of John Armstrong in 1801.

1838: The February 4, 1838 issue of the "Adams Sentinel" includes an advertisement that states, "FIVE DOLLARS REWARD. About four years ago I borrowed from Mr. Joseph Rife, a gun, and placed it in the hands of Mr. John Settel for repairs. Shortly afterwards, a man named George Piper, under pretense of having an order from Mr. Rife, obtained the gun, and has not been heard of since. Therefore I offer the above reward for the return of the gun to me or Mr. Rife. ANDREW RIFE."

1840: I did not find a George Piper in transcripts of the 1840 Bedford County census and I did not find a George Piper in the Hopewell Township portion of my copy of the 1840 manuscript census records of Bedford County. I did find a George Piper in a transcript of the 1840 census of Jenner Township, Somerset County. The household of that George Piper had one male and one female in the up-to-five age group, one male in the 5 to 10 age group, and one male and one female in the 30 to 40 age group. This is not the household of the gunsmith George Piper, who would have been about 57 years old in 1840.

1842-1843: The 2001 book "Gunsmiths of Bedford, Fulton, Huntingdon, & Somerset Counties" reports that an individual named George Piper appears on the tax lists of Hopewell Township of Bedford County, Pennsylvania as a gunsmith in 1842 and 1843.

1850: I did not find George Piper in the transcripts of the 1850 censuses of Somerset or Bedford counties, Pennsylvania.

Work product

  • Whisker's March, 2015 article includes photos of a percussion rifle that was made by George piper. It has an engraved patchbox, a single trigger, a checkered wrist, and what in the photograph appears to be incised carving rearward of the cheekpiece. The finial and simple side plates of the patch box are unpierced, and the side plates are separated from the patch box lid by regions of wood. Albert Manley Sullivan wrote an article titled "John Armstrong of Emmitsburg and his Rifles" for the winter 1977 edition of the newsletter of the Kentucky Rifle Association that may describe the same rifle. In the article, he wrote that he has only seen one rifle that was made by Piper, and it didn't have much similarity to the style of John Armstrong's rifles.

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