Henry Topper, Bedford County, Pennsylvania gunsmith

Introduction: This is a collection of biographical information on the gunsmith Henry Topper, who at one time worked in Bedford County, Pennsylvania.

1777: Based on several secondary sources, the gunsmith John Henry Topper was born in 1777.

1802-1840: James B. Whisker's article "Gunsmiths of the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia" in the December 1986 issue of "The Gun Report" puts Henry Topper at Gettysburg in Adams County, Pennsylvania from 1802 to 1812, in Hampshire County, Virginia from 1814 to 1830, in Napier Township of Bedford County, Pennsylvania from 1832 to 1835, and at Youngstown in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania from 1838 to 1840, and reports that he died in 1840. The article reports that the only known gun made by Topper was a fowler that was very poorly made.

1802: The 2001 book "Gunsmiths of Bedford, Fulton, Huntingdon, & Somerset Counties" places Henry Topper in Adams County in 1802.

1810-1812: The 1983 booklet "Gunsmiths and Gunmakers of Bedford and Somerset Counties Pennsylvania 1770-1900" puts Henry Topper in Gettysburg (Adams County) from 1810 to 1812.

1810-1813: The 2001 book "Gunsmiths of Bedford, Fulton, Huntingdon, & Somerset Counties" places Henry Topper in Adams County from 1810 to 1813.

1813: The 1995 book "Arms Makers of York County" indicates that the birth of Henry Topper's son Josiah Topper occured in 1813.

1814: The 1995 book reports that Henry Topper acquired 107 acres of property in Hampshire County, Virginia on March 10, 1814. The book reports that the tract is located on the Great Cacapon River, and the transaction is recorded in Deed Book 19 of Hampshire County.

1815-1830: The 2001 book places Henry Topper in Hampshire County, Virginia from 1815 to 1830.

1819-1830: The 1983 booklet puts Henry Topper in Hampshire County, Virginia near the town of Romney from 1819 to 1830.

1820: The 1983 booklet indicates that the Industrial Census of 1820 indicates that Henry Topper had two employees and was producing a dozen guns annually that were valued at $18.00 a piece. West Virginia House Concurrent Resolution 33, introduced March 2, 2017 by Delegates Rowan and Cowles, reports that the 1820 Industrial Census of Virginia states that the gunsmith Henry Topper produced 12 firearms a year, had one helper, lived along the Cacapon River, and in addition to making firearms also repaired clocks, firearms, and other mechanisms.

1827: The 1995 book reports that Henry Topper sold his Hampshire County property to another gunsmith, Christopher Slonaker, on March 7, 1827, and references Page 377 of Deed Book 25. Page 130 of "West Virginia History", Volumes 45-46 (1984) also reports this property transaction.

1828: Page 176 of the 1903 Pittsburgh "Registry of Deaths" pertains to the November 1903 death of Thomas Topper at the age of 75 years, two months, and 24 days, which means he was born in 1828. His parents are listed as Henry and Mary Topper, and his birthplace is recorded as Bedford, Pennsylvania.

1830: Page 130 of "West Virginia History", Volumes 45-46 (1984) reports that Henry Topper is listed in the 1830 census of Hampshire County, Virginia.

1830: The Henry Topper household is enumerated in the 1830 federal census of Napier Township, Bedford County, Pennsylvania. Living in the household are one male in the 5 and under age group, one male in the five to ten age group, two males in the 15 to 20 age group, one male in the 20 to 30 age group, one male in the 40 to 50 age group, one female in the 5 to 10 age group, two females in the 10 to 15 age group, and one female in the 40 to 50 age group.

1832-1835: The 1983 booklet puts Henry topper in Shellsburg (Napier Township) from 1832 to 1835 and reports that Henry Topper is recorded as a gunsmith with a value of $9.00 in 1835.

1833-1835: The 2001 book puts Henry Topper in Shellsburg in Napier Township, Bedford County from 1833-1835, and traces him in other areas outside of Bedford County in other years.

1835: The 1953 edition of "American Gun Makers" puts H. Topper in Napier Township of Bedford County in 1835, and mentions a flintlock rifle.

1835: According to the 1960 book "The Pennsylvania - Kentucky Rifle", Henry Topper is identified as a gunsmith in the 1835 tax roll of Napier Township, Bedford County.

1838-1840: The 2001 book places Henry Topper in Youngstown, which is in Westmoreland County, from 1838 to 1840.

1839: Henry Topper is buried at the Saint Vincent Cemetery (40.29350105, -79.40761363), which is about 3.5 road miles from Youngstown, Westmoreland County. There is an old slab-type tombstone laying flat in the ground with the name Henry Topper visible. The tombstone, although eroded, appears to indicate that he died on July _4, 1839. There is also a pillar-type tombstone that is still standing. Although this tombstone is badly eroded, the name Henry is visible and the date of death seems to clearly be July 24 18__. A secondary source indicates that George Dapper Topper's half-brother the gunsmith John Henry Topper was born May 18, 1777 and died July 24, 1839.

1839-1851: The 1995 book indicates that Henry Toppers's son Josiah Topper practiced gunsmithing in Youngstown during the 1839 to 1851 timeframe.

1840: Page 130 of "West Virginia History", Volumes 45-46 (1984) reports that the gunsmith Henry Topper died in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania in 1840.

Work product

  • A flintlock long gun by Henry Topper is shown on page 165 of the 2001 book "Gunsmiths of Bedford, Fulton, Huntingdon, & Somerset Counties" by Whisker & Yantz. The same rifle is pictured in the Whiskers' 2017 book "Gunsmiths of Bedford County, Pennsylvania".

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