Joseph Mills, Jr., Bedford County, Pennsylvania gunsmith

Introduction: Joseph Mills, Jr. is one of only a handful of Bedford County gunsmiths who made rifles in the flintlock era that have survived. He migrated to Coshocton County, Ohio in 1823, and is known to have made at least 350 long rifles.

1789: The 1952 book "Genealogy of the Exline and Axline Family" by Thoesen, Exline, and Holz indicates that Elizabeth Exline was born on January 18, 1789 in Loudoun County, Virginia and married Joseph Mills, who was a son of Eve Harclerode and an unknown Mills. The book indicates that Elizabeth Exline was a daughter of Phillip Henry Exline, who was living in Bedford County, Pennsylvania by 1796, and who received a farm in Colerain Township from his father Adam in 1817.

1790: In an article in the September 1983 issue of the newsletter of the Association of Ohio Longrifle Collectors (AOLRC), James B. Whisker wrote that the gunsmith Joseph Mills, Jr. was a son of Joseph Mills, Sr., was a brother of the gunsmith Issac Mills, and was born in Providence Township, Bedford County in 1790.

The will of Joseph Mills Sr. lists sons Joseph and Isaac, which is harmonious with the 1983 article. I have not seen any evidence that Joseph Mills, Sr. was living in Bedford County, Pennsylvania in 1790. He doesn't appear in Bedford County in the 1790 census, and the property he applied for in 1792 contained no improvements.

The Whiskers' 2017 book "Gunsmiths of Bedford County, Pennsylvania" indicates that the parents of the gunsmith Joseph Mills, Jr. were Joseph Mills, Sr. and Margaret (Harkleroad) Mills of Providence Township in Bedford County, and indicates that Joseph Mills, Jr. was born on July 11, 1790. (The 1983 newsletter article -- mistakenly in my opinion -- reports that Joseph Mills, Sr's wife Catherine was the mother of Joseph Mills, Jr. I haven't seen any evidence that Joseph Mills, Sr. ever had a wife named Catherine.)

1808: The September 1983 AOLRC newsletter reports that Joseph Mills appears in the 1808 tax list of Woodbury Township as a single freeman.

1814: Joseph Mills appears in the 1814 tax list of Colerain Township, Bedford County as a gunsmith.

1814: The September 1983 AOLRC newsletter reports that Joseph Mills obtained a patent for 100 acres of land in Southampton Township, Bedford County in 1814, and was still a single freeman.

1814: A website indicates that Joseph Mills, Jr. had a son named William Mills who was born in 1814.

1815: The September 1983 AOLRC newsletter reports that Joseph Mills appears in the 1815 tax list of Colerain Township as a gunsmith owning two horses.

The 1953 edition of Gluckman's "American Gun Makers" identifies Joseph Mills as a resident of Colerain Township in Bedford County.

1817: The September 1983 AOLRC newsletter reports that Joseph Mills appears in the 1817 tax list of Colerain Township as a gunsmith owning a horse and a cow.

1817: An individual named Catherine Crowther is buried at the Wilson Chapel Cemetery in Coshocton County, Ohio who died in 1909. A website indicates she was a daughter of Joseph Mills, Jr. and was born in 1817.

1819: The September 1983 AOLRC newsletter reports that Joseph Mills appears in the 1819 tax list of Colerain Township with a house.

1819: According to the 1881 book "History of Coshocton County, Ohio: its past and present, 1740-1881" Joseph and Mary (Exline) Mills had a son named Samuel who had a wife named Pricscilla. Samuel and Precilla Mills share a tombstone at the Workman Cemetery in Knox County, Ohio. His tombstone inscription states, "Samuel Mills died Mar. 3, 1900 aged 80y, 9m, 29d." Based on the inscription, Samuel was born in 1819.

1819: The Margaret Mills who is buried at the Zion Lutheran Church Cemetery is believed to be the mother of the gunsmiths Joseph and Isaac Mills. Her tombstone states, "Margret Mills was born in the year of our Lord June 12, 1757 died in the year 1819 aged 62 years". Joseph Mills, Sr. is buried in the same cemetery.

1820: Joseph Mills was enumerated in Colerain Township, Bedford County, Pennsylvania in the 1820 Federal Census. In his household were two males and one female less than 10 years old, 2 males and one female in the 16-25 age group, one male in the 26-44 age group, and three of the individuals were engaged in manufacturing.

1820: An individual named Nathanial B. Mills is buried in the Newcastle Cemetery in Coshocton County, Ohio. His tombstone indicates he was born in 1820 and died in 1896. A website indicates that this individual was a son of Joseph Mills, Jr. A rifle was sold at auction in 2015 that had Nathan Mills" engraved on the top barrel flat, and JM" engraved on the rat tail lock.

1821: According to Kauffman's 1960 book "The Pennsylvania - Kentucky Rifle", Joseph Mills is identified as a gunsmith on the 1821 tax roll of Colerain Township, Bedford County and made quality guns, some with silver inlays and relief carving. In the September 1983 AOLRC newsletter, James Whisker wrote that Joseph Mills appears in the 1821 tax list of Colerain Township as a gunsmith with property valued at $28.00.

1821: The September 1983 AOLRC newsletter reports that in 1821, Joseph Mills was remunerated for five miles of travel by the Court of Oyer and Terminer, which means that he did not live very far from the town of Bedford.

1822: The September 1983 AOLRC newsletter reports that Joseph Mills appears in the 1822 tax list of Colerain Township as a gunsmith with a house, and was remunerated for six miles of travel by the Court of Quarter Sessions.

1822: The obituary of Mrs. Sarah Cochran was published in the December 1, 1913 issue of the "Decatur Daily Democrat" and includes the statement, "Mrs. Cochran was born in Bedford County, Pa., February 2, 1822, and was the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Mills, being one of a family of twelve boys and girls. Her early childhood was passed at her birthplace, where she also secured her education." If the obituary is accurate concerning her birthplace, it suggests that Joseph Mills was still in Bedford County in 1822. The statement about Sarah securing her education in Bedford County conflicts with the obituary of Joseph Mills, which says he moved to Ohio in 1823.

1822: An arrest warrant for Isaac Mills, a brother of Joseph Mills, Jr., was issued on the charge of fornication and bastardy in 1822.

1823: The September 1983 AOLRC newsletter reports that Joseph Mills appears in the 1823 tax list of Colerain Township as a gunsmith with property valued at $100.00.

1823: The obituary of Joseph Mills (included below) states that he "came to Coshocton County with his wife and family in 1823".

1823: The following item is from the book "Historical collections of Coshocton County, Ohio:"

1824: The September 1983 AOLRC newsletter reports that in the 1824 tax list Joseph Mills' name is crossed out.

1824: An individual named Henry Mills is buried at Saint Johns Cemetery in Knox County, Ohio, where his tombstone indicates he was born on September 17, 1824 and died on February 10, 1902. A website indicates this individual was a son of Joseph Mills, Jr.

1826: The following excerpt from the 1881 book "History of Knox County, Ohio" identifies a daughter of Joseph Mills who was born in 1826.

Elizabeth (Mills) Severns is buried in the Mount Vernon Cemetery in Knox County Ohio, where her tombstone indicates she was born in 1827.

1830: Joseph Mills was not enumerated in Colerain Township in the 1830 census. Joseph Mills was enumerated as a 43-year-old individual in Perry Township, Coshocton County, Ohio in the 1830 Federal Census. The age is incorrect, and may be a transcription error.

1830: The following excerpt is from the New Castle Township section of the 1881 book "History of Coshocton County, Ohio..." As noted above, Joseph Mills, Jr. had a son named Samuel who was born in 1819. As noted below, that Samuel Mills had a son who was born in New Castle Township in 1844.

1830: According to a Mills family researcher, Joseph Mills, Jr. had a son named Joseph W. Mills who was born on April 14, 1830, and Joseph W. Mills is the researcher's great-great grandfather.

1833: Joseph Mills' father Joseph Mills, Sr. died in 1833, and is buried in the Zion Lutheran Church Cemetery (39.85326216, -78.42076402) in Bedford County, Pennsylvania.

1834: The 1850 census indicates that Joseph Mills had a daughter named Mary E. who was born circa 1834. Her death certificate gives her date of birth as May 13, 1834.

1836: Joseph Mills' gunsmith brother Isaac Mills died on May 23, 1836 as the result of a fall that happened while he was building a barn, according to Isaac's descendant Twila Cowan.

1837: an individual named Perry Mills is buried at the Mound View Cemetery in Knox County, Ohio, where his tombstone indicates he was born on May 13, 1837 and died on April 21, 1901. The obituary of Perry Mills includes the statement, "The deceased was born in Perry township, Coshocton county, on May 13, 1837." A website indicates that he was a son of Joseph Mills, Jr.

1837: A website indicates that Joseph Mills' daughter Catherine married Gabriel Crowther on October 5, 1837.

1840: Joseph Mills was enumerated in Perry Township, Coshocton County, Ohio in the 1840 Federal Census.

1844: The following excerpt from the 1881 book "History of Coshocton County, Ohio: its past and present, 1740-1881" indicates that Joseph Mills had a wife named Mary Exline, a son named Samuel, and a grandson named Joseph who was born in 1844:

1850: Joseph Mills was enumerated as a 59-year-old Pennsylvania farmer in Perry Township, Coshocton County, Ohio in the 1850 Federal Census. Also living in his household were his 53-year-old Pennsylvania-born wife Mary and six children including 20-year-old Ohio-born Joseph W. Mills.

1850: The following excerpt from the 1850 map of Coshocton County identifies the location of Joseph Mills' Perry Township farm, near the village of East Union. The center of this property is approximately 40.297772, -82.153089.

1855: A website indicates Joseph Mills' daughter Marry Ellen married Jesse Eli Crowther on January 23, 1855.

1857: The obituary of Perry Mills (son of Joseph Mills, Jr.) includes the statement, "He was married in Knox county on April 28, 1857, to Miss Nancy Kemmer."

1859: According to the 2001 book "Gunsmiths of Bedford, Fulton, Huntingdon, & Somerset Counties", Joseph Mills is identified as a gunsmith in an 1859 Gazetteer. The Gazetteer lists his location as East Union, in Coshocton County, Ohio.

1859: A box lock half stock rifle with 21 silver inlays that was auctioned for $12,100.00 on November 8, 1999 has a brass inlay on the top flat of the barrel that states, "Joseph Mills, Age 70 years, total number of rifled guns made by me, 350, July the 4th, 1859".

1860: In the 1860 federal census of Perry Township, Joseph Mills is enumerated as a 71-year-old Pennsylvania-born gunsmith. Also in his household were 55-year-old Pennsylvania-born Mary and 16-year-old Ohio-born Lavina.

1860: The September 1983 newsletter describes an 1860 map of Perry Township, Coshocton County that shows a place known as East Union, and shows the farms of Joseph Mills and his nephew A. J. (Andrew Jackson) Mills adjoining one another. The Whiskers' 2017 book indicates that Joseph Mills, Jr. became the guardian of his Bedford County nephew Andrew Jackson Mills after Andrew's father died, resulting in Andrew moving to Ohio and making guns in some capacity.

1863: Joseph W. Mills, a son of Joseph Mills, Sr. had a son named Perry Exline Mills. The middle name "Exline" is harmonious with his grandmother's maiden name being Exline. Perry's obituary in the May 21, 1920 issue of the Calgary, Alberta newspaper "The Morning Albertan" includes the statement, "In this city, on Thursday, May 20, 1920, Perry E. Mills, aged 57 years...", which makes his birth circa 1863.

1866: The following excerpt is from the Perry Township section of the 1881 book "History of Coshocton County, Ohio..."

1866: The following item is from the book "The Miscellaneous Documents of the House of Representatives, the First Session of the Fortieth Congress, 1867". It places Joseph Mills in Perry Township, Coshocton County, Ohio in 1866.

1872: The following image is from the Perry Township portion of the 1872 atlas of Coshocton County, Ohio. The properties formerly owned entirely by Joseph Mills, Jr. are now split between William Mills, A.J. Mills, and Joseph Mills.

1876: The September 1983 AOLRC newsletter reports that Joseph Mills died on September 8, 1876, and the cause of death was "inflammation of the stomach".

1876: Joseph Mills is buried in the New Guilford Cemetery (40.29014150, -82.17023423) in Coshocton County, Ohio. His tombstone states that he died on September 8, 1876 at age 86.

1876: The obituary of Joseph Mills appears in the September 26, 1876 issue of the "Coshocton Democrat" newspaper, and states: "Died, September, 8, 1876, Joseph Mills of Perry township, Coshocton County, Ohio in the 87th year of his age. Father Mills was born on the 11th day of July, A.D. 1790 and came to Coshocton County with his wife and family in 1823, and settled in Perry township where he has lived for fifty-three years. He was a blacksmith by trade, at which he worked most of his time, although at one time owning a large body of land and farming extensively until he divided his land among his children, giving to each of his twelve children which he raised, 80 acres. All of his children are with him except one. Father Mills was strictly honest in all his dealings, always wanting that which justly belonged to him, and paying the last cent to those he had dealings with. His nature and disposition was plain, and was always cheerful and fond of company; free and sociable about his home, and he taught his children to be strictly honest and religious. He had been a faithful member of the Church for about forty-five years, and during the last ten years of his life a member of the Christian Union Church -- Although past his three-score years and ten, his seat was seldom vacant in the house of God; he stopped not for cold or rain; when the hour of service drew near you could see father Mills cane in hand, making his way to the church, and when at church he was always ready to bear testimony in behalf of Jesus. He left a companion and a large circle of friends and relatives to mourn their loss, who will miss him from the family circle. His seat is left vacant, but they need not mourn as those that have no hope. His funeral was preached on Sabbath the 10th by Rev. James Reed, from Revelations 3:75; He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment: and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but will confess his name before my Father, and before his Angels -- to a large attentive congregation of neighbors, friends an relatives of the deceased, who all feel the loss of a dear father and brother in the church -- one that has fought the good fight of faith -- who in the last hours of his life feared not death, and testified to those who stood by his side that he was ready and willing to go. His last hours were peace and full of triumph. Jesus had taken away the fear of death and given him the victory; died in peace without a struggle and as calm and peaceful as if he were going to sleep. Blessed are they that die in the Lord. Oh that our end may be as his."

The obituary statement that Joseph Mills "came to Coshocton County with his wife and family in 1823" is harmonious with Joseph Mills disappearing from the Colerain County tax rolls after 1823.

The 1983 booklet "Gunsmiths and Gunmakers of Bedford and Somerset Counties Pennsylvania 1770-1900" states that the Court House for Coshocton County has the inventory of the Joseph Mills estate, and other (presumably estate) records.

The September 1983 AOLRC newsletter reports that Joseph Mills' gunsmithing tools were purchased at auction (presumably an estate auction) by his son, A. J. Mills.

Circa 1882: Joseph's wife Mary is also buried in the New Guilford Cemetery (40.29014150, -82.17023423) in Coshocton County, Ohio. To the best I can make out, her side of the tombstone states, Mary wife of Joseph Mills died Feb. 11, 1882 aged 85 y. 9 m."

Work product:

  • MILLS, Joseph, percussion conversion "smooth rifle"
  • MILLS, Joseph, percussion conversion rifle

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