Peter Dormayer (Dunmyer): Cambria, Bedford, and Somerset county gunsmith

An overview of the Dormayer/Dunmyer family of gunsmiths
The Dormayer/Dunmyer family was a prolific group of Somerset County gun makers. Although the family is commonly referred to as "Dunmeyer", Robert Duppstadt's booklet "The Rifles made by Peter and Jonathan Dormayer..." reports that Peter and his son Jonathan used the spelling "Dormayer". This is supported by the use of "Dormayer" in several estate-related documents that are included on this web page.

Peter, the patriarch of the family, is known as a gunsmith from tax rolls, census records, and surviving examples of his work. He appears in the 1820 census of Conemaugh township, Cambria County as Peter Dunmire, Jr., a young married manufacturer. He appears on the 1834-35 tax roll of Union Township, Bedford County as Peter Donmire. In 1839 he appears as a gunsmith in the tax roll of Somerset Township, Somerset County. In the 1850 census of Somerset Township, he is enumerated as a 55 year-old gunsmith living with his 55-year-old wife Barbara, his 22-year-old gunsmith son Jonathan, and his 18-year-old son David, a laborer.

Jonathan was enumerated as a 33-year-old individual in the 1860 census of Somerset Township, living with his 33-year-old-wife Barbara and a 21-year-old apprentice Eli Knupp. Eli was Jonathan's brother-in-law. Jonathan was listed as a 36-year-old gunsmith when he entered the Union Army in 1864. That same year, David was identified as a gunsmith serving as a Private in Company D of the 102nd Regiment of Pennsylvania volunteers. Both men were members of Sheridan's army in the fall of 1864. David was severely wounded September 19, 1864 near Winchester and received an invalid pension but is said to have assisted the family gunsmithing operation after the war. Jonathan lost his left leg due to a gunshot wound received in battle on October 19, 1864 at Cedar Creek. Click here to read the military history of that fateful one month period.

David's tombstone at the Christ Casebeer Lutheran Church Cemetery, Sipesville, Somerset County gives his surname as Dunmyer, and indicates he was born in 1825 and died in 1913. Jonathan's tombstone at the Pleasant Hill Methodist Cemetery in Somerset Township gives is surname as Dormayer, and indicates he died in 1885 at age 58. Jonathan had no sons to carry on the surname Dormayer.

Only a small number of rifles are attributed specifically to Peter Dormayer. Since he remained a gunsmith all his life, it seems reasonable to believe he worked in the trade with other family members. The family developed a distinctively styled rifle that continued to be made by Jonathan's nephew Charles Monroe Knupp after the deaths of Peter and Jonathan. These rifles are easily identified whether signed or unsigned, due to their unique patchbox, lock, lock bolt plate, engraving, carving, and relatively short length. The locks often carry the initials "JD" or "CMK". Some Dormayer rifles have hooked barrel lugs that allow the barrel to be slid forward and removed once the tang screw is removed.

The following diagram illustrates that the gunsmith Peter Dormayer is a father of the gunsmiths David Dunmyer and Jonathan Dormayer. It also illustrates how Jonathan Dormayer is a brother-in-law of the gunsmith Elias Knupp and an uncle of the gunsmith Charles Monroe Knupp.

Information relating to Peter Dormayer
Circa 1795: Based on the age given in the 1850 census, the gunsmith Peter Dormayer was born circa 1795.

1810: A Peter Dornmeyer is included in a transcript of the 1810 federal census of Conemaugh Township, Cambria County, Pennsylvania. In his household are one male and one female in the 16 to 26 age group, one male in the 10 to 16 age group, and two males and one female in the up to 10 age group. I believe the male in the 10 to 16 age group would be Peter Dormayer, Jr., who became a gunsmith.

As shown by the 1817 Melish-Whiteside manuscript map of Cambria County, Conemaugh Township is the southernmost township of Cambria County and adjoins Somerset County.

1820: A Peter Dunmire, Jun'r is included in a transcript of the 1820 federal census of Conemaugh Township, Cambria County, Pennsylvania. In the household are one male in the 26 to 45 age group, one female in the 16 to 26 age group, and one female under the age of ten years. One individual in the household is engaged in manufacturing. I believe this is the household of the gunsmith Peter Dormayer, Jr.

1820: Another Peter Dunmire is also included in the transcript of the 1820 federal census of Conemaugh Township, Cambria County, Pennsylvania. The household includes one male and one female in the age 45 and up group, one male and two females in the 10 to 16 age group, and one male and one female in the up to 10 age group. One individual in the household is engaged in manufacturing. I believe this household is that of Peter Dormayer, Sr., father of the gunsmith.

1821-1832: The Whiskers' 1983 booklet "Gunsmiths and Gunmakers of Bedford and Somerset Counties Pennsylvania 1770-1900" locates Peter Dunmeyer in Conemaugh Township, Cambria county from 1821 to 1832, and indicates that Peter Dunmeyer was an apprentice to Jacob Pringle of that county. According to Kauffman's 1960 book "The Pennsylvania - Kentucky Rifle", Peter Dunmeyer is identified as a gunsmith on the tax rolls of Conemaugh Township in Cambria County for the years 1826, 1828, and 1832.

1830: Peter Dormayer, Sr. is enumerated on page 175 of the 1830 federal census of Conemaugh Township, Cambria County, Pennsylvania:

1830: Peter Dormayer, Jr. is enumerated on page 170 of the 1830 federal census of Conemaugh Township, Cambria County, Pennsylvania:

1832-1835: Page 10 of the 2001 book "Gunsmiths of Bedford, Fulton, Huntington, & Somerset Counties" by Whisker & Yantz indicates that Peter Dunmyer was on the tax rolls of Union Township from 1832 to 1834. According to the 2017 book "Gunsmiths of Somerset County, Pennsylvania, Peter "Donmire" is found on the 1834 and 1835 Union Township, Bedford County tax lists. Page 223 of the book "A History of the old Greenfield Township Historical Society" indicates that George King and Peter Donmire were identified as gunsmiths on the 1835 Septennial (every seven years) enumeration of the then recently formed Union Township, Bedford County, Pennsylvania.

1839-1859: According to the 2017 book "Gunsmiths of Somerset County, Pennsylvania" Peter Dunmeyer first appears on the Somerset Township, Somerset County tax list (as a gunsmith) in 1839. The Whiskers' 1983 booklet locates Peter Dunmeyer in Somerset Township of Somerset County from 1839 to 1859. According to Kauffman's 1960 book, Peter Dunmeyer is identified as a gunsmith on the tax rolls of Somerset Township, Somerset County in the years 1844, 1849, 1852, 1853, 1856, and 1859.

1840: In a transcript of the 1840 census of Somerset Township, the Peter Dormyer household has one male and one female in the 40 to 50 age group, two females in the 15 to 20 age group, one male and two females in the 10 to 15 age group, one male in the 5 to 10 age group, and one female in the up to five age group.

1850: In the 1850 federal census of Somerset Township, Peter Dunmire is enumerated as a 55-year-old Pennsylvania-born gunsmith. Also living in his household are 55-year-old Barbara Dunmire, 26-year-old Elisabeth Dunmire, 22-year-old gunsmith Jonathan Dunmire, and 18-year-old laborer David Dunmire, all Pennsylvania born. A 5-year-old Daniel Whalin is also listed in the household.

1860: The 1860 census lists Peter Dormayer and David Dunmyer near one-another and near Josiah Meyers, which suggests all three individuals lived near one-another:

1860: The following image is from the 1860 Walker map of Somerset County. I believe the circled residences are those of the gunsmiths Peter Dormayer and David Dunmyer. The basis for this belief is (1) Peter died in 1873 and (2) the P. Dunmeyer residence that is identified on the 1860 map is not present on the corresponding map in the 1876 county atlas, and (3) Peter and David are listed near one another and Josiah Meyers in the 1860 census. I suspect that the J. Meyers residence on the 1860 map is the residence of Josiah Meyers. The distinctive turn in State Road 4015 near the residences is at 40.0821319, -79.0788220 and the nearby fork in the creek is at 40.0830485, -79.0777398. On modern roads it is about 7.4 miles from the home of Peter Dormayer to the home of his son Jonathan Dormayer.

The following image from a 1915 topographic map shows the terrain in the vicinity of the Dunmeyer residences that are shown on the 1860 map above. The blue dot is at the distinctive turn in State Road 4015 and the red dot is at the nearby fork in the creek. Click here to see a 1939 aerial photo of the area where Peter and David lived.

1870: In the 1870 federal census of Somerset Township, Jonathan Dunmier is enumerated as a 43-year-old Pennsylvania-born gunsmith with real estate valued at $2,000.00 and personal property valued at $970.00. Living with him are 43-year-old Barbara Dunmier keeping house, 18-year-old Sarah Dunmier, 14-year-old Adaline Dunmier, 12-year-old Delila Dunmier, 10-year-old Barbara Dunmier, 7-year-old Theresa Dunmier, 3-year-old Minerva Dunmier, and 77-year-old gunsmith Peter Dunmier with real estate valued at $300.00, all Pennsylvania-born.

1873: The 2017 book "Gunsmiths of Bedford County, Pennsylvania" reports that Peter Dunmyer's death occurred in 1873, and the value of his estate was $155.00. From the blurry copy of 1875 document that is included below, I think he died in July. I could not find a reference to his burial in a transcript of the WPA Cemetery Records for Somerset County, Pennsylvania.

1874: This February 21, 1874 Orphan's court document lists Jonathan and David Dormayer as lineal descendants of Peter Dormayer. Note the "Dormayer" spelling.

1874: The following legal notice concerning the estate of Peter Dormayer is from the March 25, 1874 issue of the "Somerset Herald". Note the "Dormayer" spelling.

1875: Here is a November 24, 1875 document regarding the estate of Peter Dormayer that identifies Jonathan Dormayer as the eldest son, and names the other children as David, Henry Claycomb's wife Rebecca, Jacob Enos' wife Catherine, John Holderbaum's wife Elizabeth, Fully Blackburn's wife Mary, John Claycomb's wife Lavina, and John Imhoff's wife Hannah. This appears to be the writ of petition that is referenced in the 2017 book "Gunsmiths of Bedford County, Pennsylvania" and described therein as being a November 24, 1873 document. Note the "Dormayer" spelling.

Work product:

  • DORMAYER, Peter, percussion rifle
  • Page 85 of the 2001 Whisker & Yantz book features a full stock percussion rifle by Peter Dormayer. The lock has a Dormayer-style rat tail lock plate with the initials "PD" and a Bedford County-style hammer. The buttstock is Dormayer-style, and has a 10-piercing patch box with a Q-shaped finial. Each of the 10 piercings contains a metal inlay. An elliptic inlay on the cheekpiece has a handsome engraved eagle. The area aft of the cheekpiece has very deep relief carving.
  • Page 116 of the 2001 Whisker & Yantz book features a Peter Dormayer rifle that is mislabeled "Jacob Meier". Clues that this is a Dormayer rifle is the capital-D-shaped inlay aft of the cheekpiece, an elliptic cheekpiece inlay with an eagle similar to the one shown on the page 85 Dormayer rifle, the Dormayer-style lock plate, the rod-type front trigger, an the engraving on the patch box lid. The rifle is also featured on page 36 of the Whisker's 2017 book "Gunsmiths of Somerset County, Pennsylvania", where it is mislabeled "Jacob Mier". The rifle is heavily decorated with metal inlays, and has an eight-piercing patch box, each piercing containing a metal inlay. Two piercings in the lock bolt plate also have metal inlays.
  • A Peter Dormayer rifle is featured on page 22 (Plate 136) of Calvin Hetrick's booklet "The Bedford County Rifle and Its Makers". The booklet lists the rifle as unidentified, but it says a Somerset County gunsmith named Dunmeyer might have made it.
  • Click here to see a photographs of a rifle that incorporates a relief-carved eagle on the cheekpiece, and is attributed to Peter Dormayer based on its various stylistic features.
  • Click here to see a photographs of a Peter Dormayer rifle that incorporates an incised carving eagle on the cheekpiece.

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