John, Whetstone, Bedford County, PA gunsmith(s)

Introduction: A 1986 magazine article puts the gunsmith John Whetstone, Jr. in Bedford County, Pennsylvania, Hagerstown, Maryland, and Martinsburg, (West) Virginia. Based on the information presented below, there may have been more than one early gunsmith (or smith of some kind) named John Whetstone who had ties to Bedford County, Pennsylvania.

Circa 1770-1778: Bower's 1979 book "GUNSMITHS OF PEN-MAR-VA 1790-1840" seems to be the source of most published information about the gunsmith John Whetstone, Jr. Bower's book reports that John Whetstone, Sr. was the blacksmith son of Peter Whetstone, and indicates the estate of Peter Whetstone was finalized on December 29, 1778. From context, I suspect that the estate was settled in Washington County, Maryland, because the book indicates that the Whetstone family came to that county circa 1770. The fact that the blacksmith John Whetstone is the son of Peter Whetstone is probably based on the deed on pages 508 to 511 of Washington County, Maryland Deed Book D.

Circa 1779-1781: Based on Bower's 1979 book, the 2008 edition of Sellers' compendium "American Gunsmiths" indicates that the gunsmith John Whetstone was born in 1779. The Whiskers' 2017 book "Gunsmiths of Bedford County, Pennsylvania" reports that the gunsmith John Whetstone, Jr. was born in 1781. Bower indicates that John Whetstone, Jr. was indentured at age 16 in 1796, which suggests a circa 1780 birth.

1785: Bower's 1979 book reports that John Whetstone, Sr. obtained land in Washington County, Maryland in October of 1785. This seems to be based on the deed on pages 508-511 of Washington County, Maryland Deed Book D. In that deed, John Whetstone sells the land of his deceased father Peter.

1790: I did not find a John Whetstone in the transcript of the 1790 census of Maryland. The only John Whetstone I found in the transcript of the 1790 census of Pennsylvania was in Cumberland County. I don't know whether it is relevant.

1796: Bower's 1979 book reports that 16-year-old John Whetstone, Jr. and his 15-year-old brother David Whetstone were indentured to the Hagerstown, Maryland gunsmith John Gonter by their father John Whetstone, Sr. on January 11, 1796. The indenture term was to age 21. A photo of the official copy of David Whetstone's indenture follows [Washington County Register of Wills (Indentures) 1794-1805, C1953-1, 01/63/03/030]:

Before 1799: James B. Whisker's article "Gunsmiths of the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia" in the December, 1986 issue of "The Gun Report" magazine indicates that the gunsmith John Whetstone, Jr. was in Bedford County, Pennsylvania before 1799. This conflicts with the reported terms of the aforementioned indenture.

1800: A 1930 book excerpted farther below indicates that a gunsmith named John Whetstone who had ties to Bedford County moved to Coles County, Illinois. The Coles County tombstone of that John Whetstone indicates he was born in 1800.

1800-1801: Whisker's 1986 article puts the gunsmith John Whetstone, Jr. in Hagerstown, Maryland during 1800 to 1801. I did not find a John Whetstone in a transcript of the 1800 census of Washington County, Maryland, or in a transcript of the 1800 census of Bedford County, Pennsylvania. I don't have access to the 1800 census of Cumberland County, Pennsylvania. The 1800 census of Bedford County lists Abraham, Daniel, Henry, Henry, and Jacob Whetstone.

1801: Bower's 1979 book indicates that the records of a Lutheran church in Hagerstown document a September 21, 1801 marriage between Elizabeth Renner and an individual named John Whetstone. As reported below, the name of the wife of John Whetstone, Sr. was Carrie in 1805, so this 1801 marriage is probably that of John Whetstone, Jr.

1804-1805: Supposedly based on Bower's 1979 book, the 2008 edition of Sellers' compendium "American Gunsmiths" indicates that the gunsmith John Whetstone was in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania during 1804 (tax) to 1805. This is incorrect. Bower's book actually uses a tax record to put John Whetstone in "Air" (Ayr) Township of Bedford County, Pennsylvania in 1804, and indicates that the 1805 tax record lists him as being gone. Ayr Township of Bedford County became a part of Fulton County in 1850, as shown by this excerpt from the 1884 book "History of Bedford, Somerset and Fulton Counties, Pennsylvania"..

1805: Bower's 1979 book indicates that an individual named John Whetstone either used his equipment as collateral for a loan of £30, or sold his equipment for £30 in a transaction that took place on October 23, 1805. Bower further reports that John Whetstone's wife Cary Ann witnessed the transaction before John Whetstone moved to Virginia. I interpret that to mean the transaction took place in Hagerstown. The deed on pages 508-511 of Washington County, Maryland Deed Book D shows that the blacksmith John Whetstone who was married to Carry Whetstone was the son of Peter Whetstone.

1806: The December 5, 1806 issue of the "Berkeley and Jefferson Intelligencer" newspaper includes a lengthy advertisement by John Whetstone for gunsmithing and gun making services that indicates he recently moved to Martinsburg, Virginia from Hagerstown, Maryland. The article states:

"JOHN WHETSTONE,

Gunsmith,

INFORMS the inhabitants of Berkeley County, that he has removed from Hagers-Town to Martinsburg, and now occupies a house belonging to Mrs. Houseman, (near Mr. Snyder's tan-yard) where he is carrying on the Gunsmith's business. He will make Rifles, Smooth-bores, Fowling-pieces and Pistols, in any manner they may be wanted by his employers; he will stock, mount and repair guns, and do every other thing belonging to his profession.

Having now in his employ two good workmen, he will be able to execute in a handsome manner, any commands he may be favoured with, at the shortest notice. He hopes he will meet with encouragement, as he is determined everything shall be done on his part to merit it.

Martinsburg, December 5, 1806."

1806-1824: Whisker's 1986 article puts the gunsmith John Whetstone, Jr. in Martinsburg, Berkeley County, Virginia (now West Virginia) during 1806 to 1807. Edwin N. Gewirz's article "Long Rifles of the Valley of Virginia" in the American Society of Arms Collectors Bulletin No. 60 puts the gunsmith John Whetstone at Martinsburg from 1806 to 1824, and reports that Whetstone employed advertisements extensively.

1807: Bower's 1979 book reports that an individual named David Whetstone (assumed to be John's brother by Bower) was listed in "Air" (Ayr) Township, Bedford County (from context, presumably in tax records) in the 1807 to 1824 timeframe.

1808: John Whetstone placed an advertisement in the "Berkeley and Jefferson Intelligencer" newspaper that states:

"Wanted immediately,

A lad from 16 to 17 years of age, to learn the Gun-Smith's business.

JOHN WHETSTONE.

Martinsburg, Nov. 11, 1808."

1810: In the 1810 census of Berkeley County, (West) Virginia, the John Whetstone household has one male and one female in the 26-45 age group, one male in the 10 to 16 age group, and one male in the up to 10 age group. The 1810 census of Bedford County lists Abraham, Daniel, David, and Henry Whetstone.

1814: The following notice from the November 10, 1814 issue of the "Martinsburgh Gazette" newspaper mentions the sale of the smith tools of John Whetstone, deceased.

1820: The 1820 census of Bedford County lists Abraham, Daniel, Jacob, and Samuel Whetstone.

1831: A 1930 book excerpted farther below indicates that a gunsmith named John Whetstone who had ties to Bedford County moved to Coles County, Illinois. The following excerpt from the 1879 book "The History of Coles County, Illinois..." indicates that a John Whetstone moved to Coles County, Illinois in 1831. I have found bits of other information about this John Whetstone that I did not include on this page, such as being chosen as a road viewer.

1836-1840: The Pleasant Grove Township portion of the 1906 book "Historical Encylcopedia of Illinois and History of Coles County" includes the following statement:

"The natural wonder of the township is the cluster of ten mineral springs on a half-acre tract about two and a half miles south of Lerna, near the middle of Section 23, known as the Coles County Mineral Springs, whose properties vary. Each of these springs is different in quality, one being impregnated with sulphur, another with chloride of sodium, another with iron, etc.

A postoffice was established here under the name of Springville, with Henry Wilson as Postmaster, in 1847 but was later moved to a store which was started about 1852 by James Milton True and Thomas A, Marshall, near the middle of the south line of Section 10. Town 11 N., R. 8 East, on land owned by Thomas Jeffries, This store was quite a prominent trading point, and was sold about 1853 by True and Marshall to George Diehl and Isaiah M. Johnston,

Here, from 1836 to 1840, a general merchandise store was conducted by John Whetstone, who was also a mender of clocks."

1840: The 1840 census of Bedford County lists David, Henry, Jacob, and Samuel Whetstone.

1840: The following excerpt is from E.H. Diehl's 1930 book (published in Berlin, Somerset County, Pennsylvania) that is titled "Addenda to Diehl Genealogy of 1915". Judging from the way the rest of the 1930 book is organized, I think the author of the book was trying to indicate that Henry had sons named John, Solomon, Samuel, and Jacob, and Henry's son John Whetstone (Senior) also had sons named John, Solomon, Samuel, and Jacob. In other words, I suspect the book is indicating that the referenced gunsmith John who moved to Coles County, Illinois was John Whetstone, Jr. and I suspect that when combined with information about the 1840 Bedford County gunsmith David Whetstone the book is providing enough information to deduce that John Whetstone Senior's son Samuel was the father of the 1840 gunsmith David Whetstone.

1849: A tombstone in the Lower Muddy Cemetery in Pleasant Grove Township, Coles County, Illinois is inscribed, "John Whetstone died Mar 15, 1849 aged 48 ys. 10 ms. 11 ds.", indicating he was born in 1800. A website indicates that this John Whetstone was the son of Peter Whetstone who was born in Bedford County, Pennsylvania in 1773, and is buried in the same cemetery with a tombstone inscribed, "Peter Whetstone died Oct. 15, 1838, aged 65 yrs.". Because the name Peter Whetstone is in tension with the information in the 1930 book that is included above, I have to wonder if the individual buried as Peter Whetstone was named John Peter Whetstone. I could imagine a genealogist calling such an individual John, not knowing that his contemporaries knew him by his middle name. Likewise, if father and son were both named John Peter, it wouldn't surprise me if one generation went by John and the other generation went by Peter. These are just educated guesses with no proof, and very well may be wrong. I only mention them as theories to stimulate further research.

Of course, the author of the 1930 book may have simply been mistaken about the genealogical information he published. Given the detailed "dropped dead at his shop door" story, however, I suspect that the information about the Illinois gunsmith named John Whetstone is substantially true and based on information known by the extended family.

Work product:

  • Edwin N. Gewirz's article "Long Rifles of the Valley of Virginia" includes photographs of a flintlock rifle made by John Whetstone.
  • A gun made by John Whetstone, Jr. is pictured in Kindig's book "Thoughts on the Kentucky Rifle in its Golden Age".
  • A full stock flintlock rifle by John Whetstone is shown in the Whiskers' 2017 book "Gunsmiths of Bedford County, Pennsylvania". The rifle has no patch box.

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