William W. Blain, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania gunsmith

Scottish immigrant William W. Blain is known as a Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania gunsmith from newspaper advertisements and tax lists. I suspect he is the gunsmith who is reported by Kauffman as appearing on the 1823 Brothersvalley Township, Somerset County tax list as William Blair. William Blaine died in 1851 during the California gold rush, leaving a widow named Catherine. William and Catherine Blain had nine children, the eldest of which was born in 1827 and learned gunsmithing in Westmoreland County.

Webster County, Iowa biographical publications:
The following excerpt from the 1902 book "The Biographical Record of Webster County, Iowa" is critical to understanding the gunsmith William Blain, and indicates that:

  • William Blain was the oldest child of Robert and Elizabeth (Johnson) Blain and came to America from Scotland at the age of one with his parents in 1802.
  • William Blaine's father Robert settled in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, was a farmer and blacksmith, and died at the age of 80.
  • William Blain spent most of his life in Westmoreland County, but moved to California to pursue mining at the age of 50, and died there at the age of 52.
  • William Blain married Catherine Weih who lived to the age of 84 (I suspect that the "h" in "Weih" may be a typographical error).
  • William and Catherine Blain had nine children, and eight of the children lived to adulthood.
  • Only two of William and Catherine Blain's children were still living when the book was written in 1902: Emily Graig of Chicago, Illinois and Robert Wilson Blain of Webster County, Iowa.
  • Robert Wilson Blain was born in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania on November 9, 1827 and there learned the trades of gunsmith and machinist.
  • After living in Clayton County, Iowa, Robert Wilson Blain moved to Webster County, Iowa in 1858.

    The following excerpt is from the 1896 book "Illustrated Fort Dodge". It provides the middle initial "W" of the gunsmith William Blain, the middle name "Wilson" of William Blain's father Robert Blain, the parentage of William Blain's wife Catherine, and biographical material on William Blain's son Robert Wilson Blain.

    In the above excerpt, the reference to prohibition pertains to the constitution of Iowa. Click here to see a photo of Robert W. Blain and his family from the 1896 book "Illustrated Fort Dodge". Click here to see an excerpt from an 1875 map of Webster County that identifies the location of Robert W. Blain's Douglas Township property.

    Chronologically organized information
    Circa 1799: Bits of information incorporated elsewhere herein provide a few points of reference for estimating the year of William Blain's birth:

  • Reportedly, he was one year old when he immigrated to America in 1802. Based on this, he could have been born as early as January 2, 1800 or as late as December 31, 1801.
  • Reportedly, he was 50 years old when he moved to California in April of 1850. Based on this, he could have been born as early as April 2, 1798 or as late as April 30, 1800.
  • Reportedly, he died at age 52 on August 28 or 29, 1851. Based on this, he could have been born as early as August 29, 1797 or as late as August 29, 1799.

    Not all of the above date ranges overlap. Together, they suggest that William Blain was born somewhere in the April 29, 1797 to December 31, 1801 timeframe. The median of this timeframe is approximately August 30, 1799.

    1809-1892: A web page about Catherine (Wein/Wayne) Blain indicates she was born on April 15, 1809 in Hagerstown, Maryland, died on January 18, 1892, and is buried in the Forest Home Cemetery in Cook County, Illinois. The web page does not list her husband's name, but does list two children: Robert Wilson Blain who was born in 1827 and died in 1907, and Margaret J. (Blain) Horner who was born in 1837 and died in 1922.

    1810-1811: The 2017 book "Arms Makers of Western Pennsylvania" indicates that an individual named Robert Blain is on the 1810 and 1811 tax rolls of Donegal Township, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, and speculates that this Robert Blain was probably the father of the gunsmith William Blain.

    1823: According to Kauffman's 1960 book "The Pennsylvania - Kentucky Rifle", William Blair (sic) is identified as a gunsmith on the 1823 tax list of Brothersvalley Township, Somerset County, Pennsylvania. Blair and Blain are difficult to distinguish from one another when written in cursive, and I know of an official Westmoreland County record (shown below) that lists William Blain as William Blair. At least one book (Volume 1 of Hartzler's 2015 book "American Silver-Hilted, Revolutionary and Early Federal Swords") reports that the gunsmith William Blain worked in Brothersvalley Township, Somerset County before working in Donegal Township, Westmoreland County. I suspect that Hartzler's book is right, because I have searched diligently for documentary evidence regarding a gunsmith named William Blair without success.

    1827: The 2017 book "Arms Makers of Western Pennsylvania" indicates that the 1827 tax roll of Donegal Township, Westmoreland County, lists an individual named William Blain.

    1827-1907: Robert Wilson Blain is buried in the Oakland Cemetery in Webster County, Iowa. His tombstone is inscribed, "R.W. Blain Nov. 9, 1827 Mar. 23, 1907."

    1828: Survey C29-28 was performed on Powder Mill Road in Donegal Township for William Blain on February 9, 1828. Cook Township was formed from the northern portion of Donegal Township in 1855. The Cook Township map in the 1876 Westmoreland County Atlas shows that Powder Mill Run is entirely within Cook Township, and a road used to run along the stream. I imagine that is the road that was called Powder Mill Road on William Blain's 1828 survey. By my reckoning, using the modern "Cook Township Patent Map Index 44" and improvised triangulation, this tract of land would be at approximately 40.13742018, -79.24711108. At those coordinates there is a fairly flat piece of land above a steep hillside that drops down to Powder Mill Run. A dead-end road (Weaver Road) leads to the property, and it appears to be situated to be a surviving segment of Powder Mill Road. On modern roads it is approximately 14.1 miles from this property to the approximate site (39.997079, -79.140545) of the residence of Daniel Adams. The green circle on the following excerpt shows the approximate location of the 1828 survey. In a straight line, the closest part of Somerset County is about 2.3 miles southeast of the western end of Weaver Road (see inside the green circle).

    The name "Powder Mill Run" appears date from the early years of settlement because an old Westmoreland County deed describes a tract of land as "beginning at the point on Powder-Mill Run where Bill Jones killed the Indian." I would like to know the date of that deed, to help to date the powder mill the stream is named for.

    1828: The following excerpt is from the book "Journal of the Senate of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania". This may not be about the gunsmith William Blain because the 1902 book excerpted above indicates that Robert Wilson Blain's parents William and Catherine had eight children together after Robert Wilson Blain was born in 1827.

    1831: William Blain had property surveyed on Linn Run in Donegal Township of Westmoreland County on July 13, 1831 (C27-289) that was patented to Noah M. Marker, et al on June 13, 1870. The property adjoined land that was "unimproved and now claimed by William Blain". Linn Run is a tributary of Loyalhanna Creek. The headwaters of Linn Run are in Cook Township, and the mouth of Linn Run is in Ligonier Township. Ligonier Township was formed prior to Blain's survey (1822) and Cook Township was formed from part of Donegal Township after Blain's survey (1855) as discussed at this link. These township formation dates mean that Blain's 1831 Donegal Township survey C27-289 on Linn Run was in the portion of Donegal Township that became Cook Township in 1855.

    1832: William Blain is known to have been a gunsmith in Westmoreland County in 1832 from the following advertisement that appeared in the August 24, 1832 issue of the "Farmer's Repository" newspaper. The referenced runaway has long been assumed to be the gunsmith Daniel Adams of Somerset County, Pennsylvania.

    Circa 1832: In 1832 and/or 1833, Westmoreland County gunsmith William Blaine published an advertisement offering "a $0.06 reward for the return of Daniel Adams a runaway apprentice, along with expensive shotguns $0.50, rifle guns $1.50, wolf traps $1.50, sword and scabbard $0.50." Reportedly, this advertisement appeared in the February 24, 1832 issue of the "Farmer's Repository", but it is also reported as appearing in 1833.

    1837-1922: A web page about Margaret J. (Blain) Horner indicates her mother was Catharine (Wein/Wayne) Blain (1809-1892) and indicates that Margaret is buried in the Woodlawn Cemetery in Lodi, Medina County, Ohio. Margaret's portion of a tombstone she shares with her husband John Horner is inscribed, "Margaret His Wife Jan. 25, 1837 -- Apr. 1, 1922." The web page also lists a brother Robert Wilson Blain who was born in 1827 and died in 1907.

    1834-1837: The 2017 book "Arms Makers of Western Pennsylvania" indicates that William Blain appears on the tax rolls of Donegal Township, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania in the 1834-1837 timeframe, but his occupation is not specified.

    1838: The 1953 edition of the book "American Gun Makers" puts William Blaine in Ligonier Township of Westmoreland County in 1838. An article titled "List of Articles Presented to Historical Society" in an unidentified publication mentions a framed 1838 bill by the Ligonier Township gunsmith William Blaine for gun repairs.

    1841-1842: The 2017 book "Arms Makers of Western Pennsylvania" indicates that the 1841 and 1842 tax rolls of Donegal Township, Westmoreland County, list a gunsmith named William Blain.

    1847: William Blain had property surveyed in Grove Hollow in Donegal Township of Westmoreland County on February 11, 1847 (C27-290) that was patented to other individuals on June 13, 1870. The property adjoined "other land of William Blain". The key to understanding where survey C27-290 is located is the January 25, 1875 Cook Township survey A69-26 that surrounds survey C27-290. Survey A69-26 shows that C27-290 is in Cook Township near the mouth of Grove Hollow, which puts it near where Grove Run enters Linn Run (40.15408966, -79.22541346). William Blain's C27-289 and C27-290 properties on the waters of Linn Run were truly out in in the boondocks. The 1857 Barker map of Westmoreland County does not show anyone living along or near Linn Run. In fact, the nearly the entire eastern end of Cook Township is illustrated as being uninhabited.

    1847: The following excerpts from the Westmoreland County Warrant Register reference the aforementioned property surveys of William Blain, referring to him as William Blair in one instance. The excerpts show that he also had another property (C44-1) surveyed on February 11, 1847. I have only ever seen the reverse side of that survey. I strongly suspect that C44-1 was located between and adjoining C27-289 and C27-290, encompassing the very mouth of Grove Run.

    The following excerpt from a 1915 topographical map incorporates a red circle to identify the mouth of Grove Run in Cook Township, and incorporates a green circle to identify the road traversing William Blain's 1828 survey. In a straight line, it is about 1.62 miles between the centers of the red and green circles. On the excerpt, you can also see where Linn Run enters Ligonier Township near Rector's mill. The excerpt also shows the border with Somerset County. In a straight line, the mouth of Grove Run is approximately 3.3 miles due west of Somerset County.

    1850: In an article titled "Historic Ligonier and the Valley" that was published in the May 7, 1913 issue of the "Ligonier Echo" newspaper, Colonel John R. Oursler wrote, "In my recollections of Ligonier and the valley I cannot overlook that wonderful family of David Boucher. He owned the farm and built the house and barn now owned partly by Harrison Galbreath and John N. Boucher, a grandson. Mr. Boucher raised a family of 8 boys, all muscular, athletic, and venturesome boys. Their names were Daniel, Joseph, Hiram, John, Isaac, David, Henry, and Simon. I knew them all and also their father. When the gold excitement broke out in California in 1849 Joseph, Isaac, and David with Wm. Taylor and Mr. Metzgar and I think some two or more others made up a party and started for the gold fields in April 1850. I can Well remember the excitement in the valley at that time. They left Ligonier with their teams, went to Pittsburgh, and took shipment on the Ohio river, then overland across the prairies and the Rocky Mountains to the gold fields and landed there in July. All brothers followed except Hiram and Simon. Isaac died. All the rest returned at various times.... In addition to the Boucher boys going to California gold fields in 1850, I know of the following brave men that were in the same company from Ligonier valley: John R. Mathews, William Blain, Joseph Blain, Timothy Buell, William Clark, Thomas Metzler, Jackson Fowler, and Simon Naugle, Fourteen in all. When these men left the valley it created great excitement and people from every section of the valley came in to see the boys off." I suspect that the referenced "valley" is the territory that is drained by Loyalhanna Creek.

    1851: The 2017 book "Arms Makers of Western Pennsylvania" indicates that William Blain's illiterate wife Catherine swore out an affidavit that he died on August 28, 1851 in the town of California, Pennsylvania. This conflicts with the excerpt from the 1902 book that is included above and indicates William Blain died in the state of California. The 2017 book reports that the appraisement of the estate of William Blain included woodworking tools, gunsmith tools, blacksmith tools, a rifle, a shotgun, and a sword.

    The town of California, Pennsylvania (home of my alma mater) is on the west bank of the Monongahela River in Washington County, Pennsylvania. It has been a long time since I attended college there but I remember being told that the town was founded by people attempting to go California during the gold rush. According the the story, after crossing the broad Monongahela River, they said something like "good enough", settled there, and named their new home California.

    1851: A genealogy-oriented web page about William Wilson Blain indicates he was born circa 1800, his parents were Robert (1776-1836) and Elizabeth (1756-1846) Blain, he died in San Francisco, California on August 29, 1851, he was married to Catherine Wayne, and was the father of nine children including Robert Wilson Blain who was born in 1827 and died in 1907, and including Margaret Blain who was born in 1837 and died in 1922.

    1880: The 1880 census of Douglas Township, Webster County, Iowa indicates that Robert W. Blain was born in Pennsylvania, his father was born in Scotland, and his mother was born in Maryland. The age of 53 that is given in the census indicates that Robert W. Blain was born circa 1827.

    Work product

  • In 2005, someone wrote a question about a percussion conversion long rifle with a tiger maple or curly maple stock that is signed William Blain on the barrel, between two heart-shaped inlays. The lock was marked "Earps and McMain".
  • In 2014, a percussion conversion rifle with a .40 caliber, 39" octagon barrel marked "W. Blain" on the top flat was auctioned by Poulin Antiques & Auctions, Inc. The lock was marked "W. Chance & Co./Warranted". The barrel was pinned to the full length maple stock, and had fixed sights. Th stock has an engraved patchbox with a daisy-shaped finial and has a German silver half-moon inlay on the cheek piece. The buttplate, trigger guard, and lock bolt plate are brass, and the rifle has double set triggers.

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