-Thomas Oldham, Bedford County, Pennsylvania gunsmith

Thomas Oldham, Bedford County, Pennsylvania gunsmith

Thomas Oldham is difficult to research because there were clearly at least two individuals by that name in Bedford County, Pennsylvania. After the gunmaker Thomas Oldham reportedly left Bedford County, Pennsylvania for Iowa, another Thomas Oldham appears several times in Bedford County newspapers. The 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.

1829-1833: The 2001 book "Gunsmiths of Bedford, Fulton, Huntingdon, & Somerset Counties" 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 book 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 here 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 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 1983 booklet "Gunsmiths and Gunmakers of Bedford and Somerset Counties Pennsylvania 1770-1900" 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.

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.

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.

1853: The 1983 booklet "Gunsmiths and Gunmakers of Bedford and Somerset Counties Pennsylvania 1770-1900" 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 book "Gunsmiths of Bedford, Fulton, Huntingdon, & Somerset Counties" 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, 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.

1856: The 2001 book "Gunsmiths of Bedford, Fulton, Huntingdon, & Somerset Counties" 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.

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 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 book "Gunsmiths of Bedford, Fulton, Huntingdon, & Somerset Counties" 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 1983 booklet "Gunsmiths and Gunmakers of Bedford and Somerset Counties Pennsylvania 1770-1900" indicates that Thomas Oldham learned gunsmithing from George Slonaker. The 2017 book "Gunsmiths of Bedford County, Pennsylvania" 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 book "Gunsmiths of Bedford, Fulton, Huntingdon, & Somerset Counties" mentions a lock that is marked "T.O. / J.G.B." that gives the impression of some type of relationship between the two men.

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