Peter White, gunsmith in Bedford and Uniontown, Pennsylvania

Introduction: Peter White is one of the better-known Pennsylvania long rifle makers and one of only a handful of Bedford County gunsmiths who made rifles in the flintlock era that have survived. One theory is that he may have learned gunsmithing from John Armstrong in Emmitsburg, Frederick County, Maryland.

1778: Calculating based on information reported to be on his now-missing tombstone, Peter White was born circa 1778.

1790: Quite a few families named White are listed in the Frederick County section of the transcript of the 1790 census of Maryland (23 MB) including a John White household. I don't know which households, if any, were located at or near Emmitsburg.

The gunsmith John Armstrong would have been about 17 years old at the time of the 1790 census. There are three Armstrong households in the 1790 census of Frederick County, Maryland: John, James, and Priscilla. The John Armstrong household had three males aged 16 and over, one male under age 16, and two females. The James Armstrong household had two males aged 16 and over, three males under age 16, and three females. The Priscilla Armstrong household had seven individuals, sex and age not recorded.

1793-1841: Hartzler's book "Arms Makers of Maryland" puts the gunsmith John Armstrong in Emmitsburg, Maryland from 1793 to 1841.

1794: The following image is from page 246 of the Bedford County warrant register. It shows that Bedford County land warrant no. 472 was to a Peter White. The April 10, 1794 warrant was for property adjoining the Maryland line. Since no survey information is listed, it appears that Peter White never had the property surveyed or patented.

There is no way of knowing for sure if this is a record of the gunsmith Peter White, but it is difficult to reconcile with his calculated birth date of 1778. If he was really born circa 1778, he would have only been about 16-years-old in 1794. One potential way to reconcile it would be if an older family member was intending to patent the property in Peter's name. The 2017 book "Arms Makers of Western Pennsylvania" reports that an April 10, 1794 warrant identified adjoining Bedford County tracts in the names of John White and Peter White. Considering that Peter White gave the name John to a son, one can certainly wonder if the John White who warranted property next to the property warranted to Peter White was a close relative of Peter White.

Gill's book "The gunsmith in colonial Virginia" reports that there was an individual named John White who was compensated for repairing Virginia militia arms in 1780. Hartzler's book "Arms Makers of Maryland" reports that there was a gunsmith named Nicholas White in Fredericktown, Maryland in the 1775 to 1788 and 1797-1807 timeframe who was in Berkley County, Virginia in 1788. The 2017 book "Arms Makers of Western Pennsylvania" mentions these individuals as potential candidates to be the father of Peter White. I am publishing an article that conclusively proves who the father of Peter White was, using original manuscript documents. After the article publishes, I will post my conclusions and my photographs of the documents here.

Peter White in Bedford County warrant list in 1794.

1794: Plate 127 of Hetrick's "The Bedford County Rifle and Its Makers" shows a 44 caliber smooth rifle that is marked "1794". The lock plate is engraved "P.W." It has the broad buttstock of the Emmitsburg school, an octagonal barrel that is 44-1/2 inches long, and an overall length of 60-1/2-inches. This firearm is said to have been owned by Jacob Snowberger who settled in the vicinity of Woodbury after emigrating to Bedford County. The initial owner is said to have been Swiss immigrant Johannes Snowberger, who settled at Snow Hill in what is now Franklin County, Pennsylvania. If I understand things correctly, Snow Hill is about 17 miles from Emmitsburg on modern roads. After being passed down to Jacob Snowberger, the rifle remained in the Snowberger family for generations, and the ownership story was apparently passed down with the rifle. In summary, the style of the rifle and the family ownership tradition are harmonious with the theory that Peter White began his career in the vicinity of Emmitsburg, Maryland. As noted above, if Peter White really was born circa 1778, he would have only been about 16 years old in 1794. Based on the Emmitsburg style of some of Peter White's rifles and the 1794 date on one of them, it seems safe to assume he worked as a Maryland gunsmith before becoming a Pennsylvania gunsmith.

1800: Several of Peter White's rifles are in the style of the Emmitsburg school. One of these is shown on page 541 of Kindig's book "Thoughts on the Kentucky Rifle in its Golden Age" and another is shown by plate 127 in Hetrick's book "The Bedford County Rifle and its Makers." This is harmonious with the 1800 federal census of Emmitsburg, where a young Peter White is enumerated as heading a household. This would have been near the gunsmith John Armstrong, who wrote that he was "born in the year 1772 the 5th day of September". The 1983 Whisker booklet "Gunsmiths and Gunmakers of Bedford and Somerset Counties Pennsylvania 1770-1900" speculates that Peter White may have apprenticed with or worked for John Armstrong. John Armstrong would have only been about 21 years old when the 1794 rifle engraved "P.W." was made. The following image is a composite from two different pages of the 1800 census of Maryland. The tabular data is the Emmitsburg town portion of the 1800 Frederick County, Maryland census, and the header is from the beginning of the 1800 census of Caroline County, Maryland.

Peter White in the Emmitsburg portion of the 1800 Frederick County, Maryland census.

Here's what the 1910 book "History of Frederick County, Maryland" has to say about John Armstrong:

This excerpt from the 1910 book 'History of Frederick County, Maryland' describes the gunsmith John Armstrong.

Here is what Helfman's 1906 book "History of Emmitsburg, Maryland" has to say about John Armstrong:

This brief excerpt from the 1906 book 'History of Emmitsburg, Maryland' describes the gunmaker John Arnold.

1800: The 1983 Whisker booklet indicates that John White, son of Peter White, was born in 1800 in Maryland. The basis for this statement may be a census record where John White is enumerated as having been born in Maryland.

1803: According to the 2001 book "Gunsmiths of Bedford, Fulton, Huntington, & Somerset Counties" by James B. Whisker and Larry W. Yantz, an 1803 store record mentions Peter White as living in the Cumberland Valley of Bedford County, on property belonging to a Christman. This is a confusing reference. In the September 1983 issue of the newsletter of the Association of Ohio Longrifle Collectors, James Whisker mentions the Christman property and the store, but seemingly in the context of an advertisement, and indicates Peter White was located approximately two miles south of the town of Bedford, in Bedford Valley. The 2017 book "Gunsmiths of Bedford County, Pennsylvania" clarifies the matter, stating that the Christman reference is from the records of a store that were in the possession of gun collector R. A. Farber.

1806: In 1806, Peter White placed a recurring advertisement in the "Bedford Gazette" newspaper that ran from July 7, 1806 through at least January, 1807. It states, "WANTED IMMEDIATELY A GOOD, sober, industrious Journeyman Gunsmith, to whom will be paid five pounds per month, and found; and employment as long as he wishes to stay. Also will be taken, as an apprentice to the above business, a smart active lad, from fourteen to sixteen years of age The terms will be in proportion to the age and ability of the youth. July 7, 1806 PETER WHITE".

The 2001 Whisker & Yantz book suggests that Moses Wright was a gunsmithing apprentice of Peter White, based on a Pennsylvania long rifle that is signed Moses Wright on the barrel and P.W. on the lock.

1807-1809: The 1807 Colerain Township assessment lists Peter White as a gunsmith, with a valuation of $30.00. He had the same valuation in 1808, and in 1809 he owed a tax of $0.15.

1808: A set of 1815 documents linked below show that Andrew White of Emmitsburg, Maryland was the father of the gunsmith Peter White. The 1808 plot of Emmitsburg shows that Andrew White owned lot 4 and (the gunsmith) John Armstrong owned lot 1 and 2. Joseph Hughes owned lot 3, which separated lot 2 from lot 4.

1810: In the Cole Rain (Colerain) Township portion of the 1810 manuscript census records of Bedford County, Pennsylvania Peter White is identified as the head of a household that had one male and one female in the 26 to 45 year age bracket, one male in the 10 to 16 year age bracket, and three males and two females in the under ten year age bracket. The following image is a composite; The table heading is from a different page than the table excerpts.
Peter White in the 1810 census of Colerain Township, Bedford County, Pennsylvania.

1811-1814: The 1811 Colerain Township assessment identifies Peter White as a gunsmith with one cow and one horse and a valuation of $38.00. In 1812 he owed a tax of $0.19, In 1813 he owed a tax of $0.19, and was listed as having a horse and a dog. In 1814 he was enumerated as a gunsmith with one horse and a valuation of $20.00. In 1814, he owed a tax of $0.10, and had a valuation of $20.00.

1815: Kauffman's 1960 book "The Pennsylvania-Kentucky Rifle" indicates that an individual named Peter White appears in the 1815 tax records of Bedford County, Pennsylvania but is not identified as a gunsmith.

1815: In 1815, Peter White's name is crossed out on the Colerain Township assessment, and included on the Bedford Township assessment with a valuation of $98.00.

1815: In January and February of 1815, Peter White placed an advertisement in the "True American" newspaper that states, "LABORERS ATTENTION The subscriber wants to employ a sober hand to make rails, and do some grubbing-either by the month, day, or job. Liberal wages will be given in cash, or good rifle guns. PETER WHITE Cumberland Valley, two miles from Bedford. January 26,1815."

1815: A set of 1815 documents indicates that Andrew White, who owned a house and lot in Emmitsburg, died intestate and was survived by the following children:

  • Jacob White
  • Barbara, who was the wife of Jacob Dehoof
  • Magdalena, who was the wife of George Winters
  • Peter White, then living in Bedford County, Pennsylvania, who assigned his power of attorney to his brother Jacob White. The unique shape of the "P" in Peter White's signature matches the "P" of the initials engraved on the lock of a rifle he made that is pictured on this website.

    1816-1817: Peter White is included on the 1816 Bedford Township tax list in 1816, and in 1817 owed $0.45 in taxes and had a valuation of $90.00.

    1819: On April 5, 1819 Peter White began an advertisement in the "Genius of Liberty" newspaper indicating that he was in the gunsmithing business in Uniontown. The advertisement states, "PETER WHITE, GUNSMITH Respectively informs the public that he has commenced the Gunsmithing business in Uniontown near the market house; Where he intends making and repairing all kinds of guns, pistols, & c. He also intends sharpening and repairing Coffee Mills, Making Keys, & c. And other articles too tedious to mention. He hopes by strict attention to business to merit a share of the public patronage. Union, April 5."

    1820: In the Union Borough section of the 1820 federal census of Fayette County, Peter White is enumerated as the head of a household that had one male and one female in the 26-to-45-year age bracket, one male and one female in the 10-to-16-year age bracket, and two males and two females under ten years of age.
    Peter White in the 1820 census of Union Borough, Fayette County, Pennsylvania.

    1820-1934: Kauffman's 1960 book indicates that Peter White was working in Union Township of Fayette County, Pennsylvania in the 1820 to 1834 timeframe.

    1826: A notice in the June 13, 1826 issue of the "Genius of Liberty" states, "MARRIED: On the 21st ult. by James Bryant, Esq. Mr. James Lynch to Miss Martha White daughter of Mr. Peter White of this borough."

    1827: In his 1953 book "American Firearms Makers", A. Merwyn Carey indicates that the Emmetsburg (sic), Maryland gunsmith John Armstrong, Sr. died in 1827.

    1830: In the Union Borough portion of the 1830 census records of Bedford County, Pennsylvania Peter White is enumerated as the head of a household that had one male and one female in the 50 to 60 year age bracket, one female in the 20 to 30 year age bracket, one male in the 10 to 15 year age bracket, one male in the 5 to 10 year age bracket, and two females under five years of age.

    Peter White in the 1830 census records of Union Borough, Fayette County, Pennsylvania.

    1830: Page 252 of Fayette County Deed Book P contains the following article of agreement:

    "This Article of Agreement made and concluded by and between Ewing Brownfield, Everhart Bierer, Isaac Skiles, & Isaac Beeson of the one part and Peter White of the other part WITNESSETH that the before named Ewing, Everhart, Isaac S., & Isaac P. do agree to put into the possession of the said Peter all their tools & materials which are enumerated in the annexed schedule, and which were formerly owned by the said Peter to be used by the said Peter in the business of Gunsmithing which business he shall carry on as their special agent and in their names. They do further agree to furnish said Peter with all necessary tools, materials &c. for carrying on the aforesaid business and give the said Peter as compensation for his labor and Services two thirds of the clear profits after deducting the cost of materials. The said Peter on his part doth agree to take good care of the tools and all other property connected with the business committed to his care, so as to be able at all times to render a complete account of the property and whenever called upon, to restore the tools in as good order as when delivered to him. And further he doth agree to become merely the special agent of the before named Ewing, Everhart, Isaac S. & Isaac P. for the purpose of manufacturing the property put into his hands by them and of disposing of it when manufactured for them, to account to them for the proceeds without any power to contract debts except when specially authorized by them.

    In testimony whereof the parties above named hereto set their hands & seals this the __ day of August A.D. 1830.

    Personally appeared before the Subscriber a Justice of the Peace in and for the County of Fayette Ewing Brownfield, Everhart Bierer, Isaac Skiles, Isaac Beeson & Peter White the parties to the foregoing Article of Agreement and acknowledged the same to be their Act and deed for the purposes therein mentioned WITNESSETH my hand and seal the Thirty first day of August 1830. Recorded 6th September 1830. Clement Wood

    Ewing Brownfield
    Everhart Bierer
    Isaac Skiles
    Isaac Beeson
    Peter White

    SCHEDULE of the tools etc. put into the possession of Peter White by Ewing Brownfield, Isaac Skiles, & Isaac Beeson according to the annexed article of agreement.

    2 Rifle Guns
    1 Smooth Gun not deliv'd
    108 Gun Barrels
    14 Gun Locks
    14 Gun Locks unfinshed
    126 gun stocks
    17 Bullet moulds
    20 Tin chargers
    1 Boring machine & 32 bits
    8 Maple planks
    40 Sets of Butts & Guards
    31 Ram rods in rough
    4 Brass guards & 17 butt pieces
    1 Large vice
    Grind stone
    1 Pair large shears
    1 Screw plate & taps
    2 Screw plates & 7 taps
    2 Small screw plates
    114 files
    14 12 inch files
    35 some round some flat
    3 Hand vises
    6 Drills & bits
    2 Drawing knives
    8 Hammers & sledge
    1 Stake
    4 panes
    1 Oil stone
    6 Pair tongs
    2 Hand saws
    2 tenant saws
    2 Braces
    2 Drill stocks
    2 Wire nippers
    18 Chizzels
    15 Small chizzels some larger than others
    Sundry hard chizzels
    2 Hardys
    2 Heading tools
    2 Sets of Crucibles
    5 lbs spelter
    15 lbs Sheet brass
    15 lbs of pig brass
    3 Pigs
    24 Pieces old Iron under bench
    Sundry pieces of Iron on the floor & in the rack
    40 pieces of Iron on shelf
    1 book of sand paper
    2 Small saws
    20 Bottles with contents
    1 Pair compasses
    1 Axe
    2 Hand axes
    1 Pair steel yards not delivered
    2 Boxes & contents
    2 Sythe nibs
    1 Drawer & sundries
    1 Shovel
    1 Dung fork
    2 hors & 1 spade
    1 Barrel flour
    1 Candle stand"

    1834: Peter White is listed as a gunsmith in the "Memorial of the Inhabitants of Fayette County Against the recharter of the Bank of the United States" that was read in the U. S. House of Representatives on April 14, 1834. The petition is included in Volume 4 of the "Executive Documents, 23d Congress, 1st Session, 1833-4" as Doc. No. 343:

    Peter White is listed as a gunsmith in the Memorial of the Inhabitants of Fayette County Against the recharter of the Bank of the United States.

    This excerpt from an 1834 book identifies Peter White of Fayette County as a gunsmith.

    1834: Peter White is buried in the Historic Presbyterian Public Cemetery in Uniontown. His tombstone indicates that he died at age 56 on August 25, 1834. The following is from page 664 of the 1913 book "A History of Uniontown: The County Seat of Fayette County, Pennsylvania":

    This excerpt from the 1913 book A History of Uniontown describes Peter White as a gunsmith in Uniontown, Fayette County, Pennsylvania.

    The following excerpt referencing the gunsmith Peter White is from page 149 of the same 1913 book. The referenced tavern is the White Swan. Click here to see and read about the White Swan Tavern and the buildings near it.

    This excerpt from a 1913 book identifies Peter White as a gunsmith living near the White Swan tavern.

    1835: Pages 47 and 48 of Fayette County Bond Book No. 2 contain the following:

    "KNOW ALL MEN by these presents the we Hanah White, John White & William P. Wells all of the County of Fayette and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania are held and firmly bound unto the said Commonwealth, in the sum of Two Hundred Dollars lawful money of Pennsylvania to be paid to the Commonwealth, To which payment well and truely to be mad we bind ourselves jointly and severally for and in the whole our heirs executors and administrators firmly by these presents. Sealed with our seals, dated the twenty ninth day of September in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and thirty five. THE CONDITION of this obligation is such that if the above bounden Hannah White Administratrix of all and singular the goods, chattels and credits of Peter White late of Union Town Fayette County, deceased, do make or cause to be made a true and perfect inventory of all and singular, the goods, chattels and credits of the said deceased, which have or shall come to the hands, possession or knowledge of of her the said Hanah White or unto the hands and possession of any other person or persons for her, the same so made do exhibit or cause to be exhibited in the Registers office in the County of Fayette, at or before the twenty ninth day of October next ensuing; and the same goods chattles and credits and all other goods chattles and credits of the said deceased at the time of his death which at any time after shall come to the hands of and possession of the said Hanah White or unto the hands or possession of any other person or persons for her do well and truly administer to law, at or before the twenty ninth day of September in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and thirty six or when thereto legally required; and all the rest residue of the goods chattles and credits which shall be found remaining upon the said administration account, the same being first examined and allowed by the Orphans Court of the County of Fayette, shall deliver or pay to such person or persons respectively as the said Orphans Court by their decree or sentence, pursuant to the true intent and meaning of the several laws now in force in this Commonwealth, shall limit and appoint. And if it shall hereafter appear that any last will and testament was made by the said deceased, and the executor or executors therein named, do exhibit the same unto the Registers office making request to have it allowed and approbated accordingly. And if then the above bounden Hanah White her Executore or administrators being thereunto required do render and deliver the said letters of administration approbation of such testament being first had and made in the Registers office then this obligation to be void and of none effect or else to remain in full force and virtue.

    Memo. that letters were granted to Hannah White on the 29th day of September 1835, She having been first duly qualified according to law.

    her Hannah X White mark
    John White
    Wm. P. Wells"

    1843: The January 19, 1843 issue of the "Genius of Liberty" newspaper contains the following advertisement: "GUN-SMITHING The subscriber respectfully informs his friends and the public in general, that he continues to carry on the GUNSMTH Business, in all its branches, at the old stand near the court-house, and one door West of the hotel of MATTHEW ALLEN, Esq., where he will be always ready, except in case of sickness, to promptly execute all work in his line of business, in a neat and substantial manner, and on the most reasonable terms. ALL KINDS OF REPAIRING, &c. will be done on the shortest notice, so that persons from a distance can have their work to take home with them. He hopes, by the most diligent attention to business, and an earnest desire to please, to receive a share of the custom of the public. Uniontown, November 16, 1842 JOHN WHITE, Successor to PETER WHITE".

    1924: In the "Identification of Kentucky Rifles" section of the first edition (1924) of Dillin's book "The Kentucky Rifle" the gunmaker Peter White is described as "Location unknown. Highly decorated rifles."

    Peter White-related excerpt from Dillin's 1924 book The Kentucky Rifle.

    1953: The 1953 edition of "American Gun Makers" puts Peter White in Colerain Township of Bedford County in 1825 (sic), and poses the question as to whether this is the same Peter White who Uriah Fisher said was the first gunsmith located in Uniontown and someone who made flintlock rifles that were highly ornamented. (The same book reports that Uriah Fisher was a Greene County, Pennsylvania gunsmith who learned gunsmithing in Brownsville and was still working at the trade in 1948.)

    1982: The 1983 Whisker booklet indicates that the gravestone of Peter White was stolen in 1982.

    Peter White work product:

  • WHITE, Peter, percussion conversion rifle

  • WHITE, Peter, unpierced patchbox

  • WHITE, Peter, percussion conversion rifle, 1924 halftone images

  • WRIGHT, Moses & WHITE, Peter, percussion conversion rifle

  • A pair of silver-decorated flintlock pistols by Peter White are on display at the Henry Ford Museum. Even the nose caps and side bolt plates are silver on these 14.75-inch-long muzzle loading pistols.

    This graphic is angled toward an important link relating to early gunsmiths of Pennsylvania. Visit the Gunsmith Index for biographies of western Pennsylvania gunsmiths and pictures of the long rifles they fabricated.

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