-Thomas Oldham, Bedford County, Pennsylvania gunsmith

Thomas Oldham, Bedford County, Pennsylvania gunsmith

Introduction: Several individuals named Thomas Oldham lived in Bedford County, Pennsylvania, which complicates research. The Whiskers' 1983 booklet "Gunsmiths and Gunmakers of Bedford and Somerset Counties Pennsylvania 1770-1900" reports that in the 1800 to 1900 timeframe there were five men named Thomas Oldham in Bedford County, but the one who died circa 1811 and the one who died during the 1920s can be eliminated. After the gunsmith Thomas Oldham reportedly left Bedford County for Iowa, another Thomas Oldham appears several times in Bedford County newspapers.

1809: Calculating from the information on his tombstone, the gunsmith Thomas Oldham who is buried in Iowa was born in 1809.

1812: The 1978 book "Blackburn and Allied Descendants of John Blackburn, Sr., who came from Ireland to Pennsylvania in 1736" indicates that there is a Bedford County will for a Thomas Oldham that was probated on September 26, 1812. In the will, this Thomas Oldham mentions a wife named Lydia, a son Thomas who was the stepson of his wife Lydia, a son William, a daughter Alice Garretson, a brother John, and John's daughter Mary Oldham. Clearly, the Thomas Oldham whose will was probated in 1812 is not the gunsmith Thomas Oldham who was born in 1809.

1820: A Thomas Oldham household in a transcript of the 1820 census of St. Clair Township, Bedford County has one male and one female in the 16 to 26 age group and one male and two females in the up to ten age group. One individual in the household was engaged in manufacturing. Obviously, the Thomas Oldham born in 1809 was not in the 16 to 26 age group 11 years later, in 1820.

1830: In a transcript of the 1830 census of St. Clair Township, a Thomas Oldman (sic) household has one male in the 40 to 50 age range, one female in the 30 to 40 age range, one female in the 15 to 20 age range, one male and one female in the 10 to 15 age range, two males in the five to ten age range, and one male in the up to five age range. The only candidate to be the named head of this household was in the 40 to 50 age group, which is too old to be the Thomas Oldham who was born in 1809.

1829-1833: The 2001 book "Gunsmiths of Bedford, Fulton, Huntingdon, and Somerset Counties" by Whisker & Yantz identifies this gunsmith as Thomas Oldham, Jr., who was working as a gunsmith in Greenfield Township (now part of Blair County) in 1829 and moved near his father in St. Clair Township in 1833.

I suspect the 2001 Whisker & Yantz book is wrong about the gunsmith Thomas Oldham being the son of a Thomas Oldham who lived in St. Clair Township. I suspect the gunsmith Thomas Oldham was the son of William Oldham, and the grandson of a Thomas Oldham who lived in St. Clair Township. Bear with me as I present the following information from the 1884 book "History of Bedford, Somerset and Fulton Counties, Pennsylvania", which indicates that William Oldham had a son named Thomas:

Now have a look at the following excerpt from the 1906 book "History of Bedford and Somerset Counties Pennsylvania", which indicates that William Oldham's son Thomas was born around 1810, married a woman named Elizabeth Bone, and had five children (which is harmonious with the 1850 census).

The circa 1810 birth date is harmonious with the 1809 birth date calculated from the tombstone of the gunsmith Thomas Oldham who is buried in Iowa.

The Findagrave entry for Thomas Oldham's wife gives her name as "Elizabeth Bowen Oldham", and gives the names of Thomas Oldham's parents as William and Elizabeth Oldham, who are buried in Shade Township, Somerset County, Pennsylvania. This isn't proof, but it certainly indicates what the interested party believed who created the Findagrave memorial.

1832-1852: The Whiskers' 1983 booklet identifies Thomas Oldham as a gunsmith of St. Clair Township, Bedford County, from 1832 to 1852.

1832: A Thomas Oldham appears in the 1832 tax list of St. Clair Township with 95 acres, one horse, three cows, and a property valuation of $225.

1834: Mary Oldham died in 1856 and is buried in the Brown Cemetery in Clayton County, Iowa, where she shares a tombstone with Thomas Oldham's wife and her mother Elizabeth, who died shortly before Mary. The tombstone indicates that Mary is the daughter of Thomas and Eliz. Oldham and was born in 1834.

1837: The memorial on findagrave.com (107561561) for Enoch Fisher Oldham indicates he is a son of Thomas Oldham and Elizabeth (Bowen) Oldham, and was born in Bedford County, Pennsylvania in 1837.

1840: I could not find a Thomas Oldham in the 1840 census of Bedford County, Pennsylvania.

1844: Omar B. Oldham is buried in the Brown Cemetery in Clayton County, Iowa, where his tombstone indicates he was born in 1844 and died in 1937. His memorial on findagrave.com (31569289) indicates he is a son of Thomas Oldham and Elizabeth (Bowen) Oldham, and was born in Bedford County, Pennsylvania.

Circa 1845: According to A. Merwyn Carey's 1953 book "American Firearms Makers" Thomas Oldham was a maker of percussion rifles in St. Clair Township of Bedford County circa 1845.

1847: Sellers' 2008 book "American Gunsmiths" puts the gunsmith Thomas C. Oldham in Bedford (presumably meaning Bedford County) in 1847 based on a tax record, and reports his source as Hetrick.

1850: The 1953 edition of Gluckman's "American Gun Makers" places Thomas Oldham in East St. Clair Township of Bedford County in 1850. Thomas Oldham is the only gun maker in the entire book with the initials "T. O."

1850: Thomas Oldham was enumerated as a 42-year-old individual in the 1850 federal census of St. Clair Township, Bedford County, Pennsylvania. Living with him were 44-year-old Elizabeth Oldham, 17 -year-old Elmira Oldham, 15-year-old Mary E Oldham, 10-year-old Enoch Oldham, 6-year-old Oma Oldham, and 2-year-old Unah Oldham. This is harmonious with the circa-1810 birth date, five children, and wife Elizabeth that are mentioned in the 1906 history book (see above).

1853: The Whiskers' 1983 booklet indicates that a Thomas Oldham died in 1853, but the inventory of the estate reveals nothing related to gunsmithing. At the time the booklet was published, the authors (mistakenly) thought this might be the gunsmith. That misimpression is understandable, because the gunsmith would have disappeared from the Bedford County records at about the same time.

1854: The 2001 Whisker & Yantz book indicates that Thomas Oldham moved on to Iowa in 1854.

1855: The following excerpt from Volume 1 of the 1904 book "History of South Dakota" (page 764) indicates that Thomas Oldham moved to Iowa in 1855. Referring to the excerpted text, the Whiskers' 2017 book "Gunsmiths of Bedford County, Pennsylvania" incorrectly applies the statement, "...was a Whig until the dissolution of the party, when he joined the ranks of the Republican party" to Thomas Oldham; this statement clearly applies to Philip H. Risling .

1856: Thomas Oldham's first wife Elizabeth is buried in the Brown Cemetery (42.6530991, -91.2005997), Colesburg, Clayton County, Iowa (where Thomas is also buried). Her tombstone indicates she is the wife of Thomas Oldham, was born in 1806, and died March 26, 1856. This birth date is harmonious with the age of 44 that was given in the 1850 census (see above)

1856: The 2001 Whisker & Yantz book indicates that Thomas Oldham is identified in the 1856 Iowa state census as a 47-year-old gunsmith who resided in Mallory Township, Clayton County, Iowa.

1856: In the 1856 state census of Mallory Township, Clayton County, Iowa, Thomas Oldham is enumerated as a 47-year-old widower, living with 16 -year-old Enoch Oldham, 13-year-old Omer Oldham, and 8-year-old Uriah Oldham.

1860: By 1860, Thomas Oldham had remarried. In the federal census of Mallory Township that year, Thomas Oldham is enumerated as a 54-year-old individual living with 50-year-old Elisabeth Oldham, 19-year-old Enoch Oldham, 19-year-old Homer Oldham, and 13-year-old Uriah Oldham.

1870: In the 1870 federal census of Mallory Township, Thomas Oldham is enumerated as a 61-year-old individual living with 58-year-old Eliza Oldham, 26-year-old Homer Oldham, and 16-year-old Rachel Harbaugh.

1880: In the 1880 federal census of Mallory Township, Thomas Oldham is enumerated as a 71-year-old gunsmith from Pennsylvania who was living with his 68-year-old wife Eliza, also from Pennsylvania.

1885: In the 1885 state census of Mallory Township, Thomas Oldham is enumerated as a 76-year old individual living with 73-year-old Eliza Oldham.

1886: The following excerpt from the Mallory township portion of the 1886 "Plat Book of Clayton County, Iowa" identifies the location of Thomas Oldham's residence and blacksmith shop. The blacksmith shop was located approximately at 42.688709441, -91.21571229.

1891: Thomas Oldham died in Mallory Township at the age of 82 on June 17, 1891 and is buried in the Brown Cemetery (42.6530991, -91.2005997), Colesburg, Clayton County, Iowa. The tombstone gives his age as 82 years, one month, and I can't read how many days. This puts his birth in the year 1809.

Misc: The 1953 edition of Gluckman's "American Gun Makers" describes Thomas Oldham as a rifle maker who is known for producing excellent full-stock double barreled guns with well-proportioned locks.

In his book "The Bedford County Rifle and its Makers", Calvin Hetrick reported that he knew of six double rifles that were made by Thomas Oldham, which was the most Hetrick was aware of that were made by any gunsmith in Bedford County. Hetrick describes Thomas Oldham as being in East St. Clair township before moving west.

The 2001 Whisker & Yantz book shows various rifles made by Oldham, and all have rat tail locks with classic Bedford County hammers. Pag 191 of Kauffman's 1960 book "The Pennsylvania-Kentucky Rifle" shows percussion double rifle by Thomas Oldham. The stock has a patchbox with a typical Bedford County Q-type finial. The rat-tail locks have Bedford County-style hammers.

The Whiskers' 1983 booklet indicates that Thomas Oldham learned gunsmithing from George Slonaker. The Whiskers' 2017 book provides a more nuanced statement, indicating that George Slonaker and Thomas Oldham were in Greenfield township at the same time, George Slonaker was older than Thomas Oldham by approximately 10 years, and Thomas Oldham may have learned gunsmithing from George Slonaker.

The 2001 Whisker & Yantz book mentions a lock that is marked "T.O. / J.G.B." that gives the impression of some type of relationship between Thomas Oldham and the gunsmith Jacob G. Briggle.

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