This photo of a John Border rifle is courtesy of the NRA Museums, NRAmuseums.com and is included here with their express permission.
This project documents the early gunsmiths of Somerset and Bedford counties, Pennsylvania, and the distinctive firearms they produced. A key objective is to provide more detail than can be accomplished in a print publication. This project is intended to be a collaborative effort with gun collectors, historians, genealogists, etc. who may have documentation or photos to share.
This project encompasses every individual who, correctly or not, has been identified as a gun or accoutrement maker, gun repairer, or gun designer who worked within the present bounds of Somerset and Bedford counties during the 1700s, 1800s, and early 1900s. By including individuals who may have been incorrectly identified, the attributions can be scrutinized.
Somerset and Bedford counties adjoin one-another, as shown by this 1872 map. In the late 1700s, the area that is now Somerset County was part of Bedford County, as shown by the 1792 Reading Howell map of Pennsylvania.
I used to be a gun collector, but sold my collection as part of downsizing for retirement. This project is a way to scratch the gun collecting itch without assembling another physical collection. I've been interested in Pennsylvania long rifles ever since my father held his Somerset County father's muzzle loading rifle to my shoulder when I was four or five years old, and explained how to use the sights. My childhood interest in black powder muzzleloaders was further piqued when my maternal grandmother gave me the Korns family powder horn. Standing on my maternal grandfather Korns' multi-generation family farm (where I lived when my earliest memories were formed) one can see the farm of the gunsmith Benjamin Troutman in the distance, and the farm of the gunsmiths Adam Lepley II & III next door. These families are intertwined, and it's no surprise that the gunsmiths Benjamin Troutman and Adam Lepley II helped to settle the estate of my fifth great grandfather Michael Korn, or that Lepley descendants married Korn descendants. This project started with studies of the Lepley and Troutman gunsmiths.
Antecedent research on Bedford and Somerset County gunsmiths & their guns
1920s: Antique Dealer Clarence "Judge" Davidson (1877-1962) began collecting Bedford County long rifles in the late 1920s.
1930s: Calvin Hetrick (1890-1985) and R. Armstrong Farber (1913-2002) began collecting Bedford County rifles in the early 1930s. Calvin Hetrick organized and compiled records at the Bedford County Courthouse as part of the Historical Records Survey (HRS) of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). This gave him the opportunity to document gunsmiths identified in early Bedford County tax records. (The HRS was part of the original 1935 WPA appropriation.)
1940: The book "American Gun Makers" by Arcadi Gluckman and L. D. Satterlee is the original published source of much of the fundamental date-related information pertaining to Bedford and Somerset county gunsmiths. This remarkable book was first published in 1940, and was expanded in 1949 and 1953. In the forward to the 1953 edition, Gluckman acknowledged Calvin Hetrick's contributions to the first edition.
1947: Calvin Hetrick's list of Bedford County gunsmiths was published in the January 23, 1947 issue of the "Bedford Gazette" newspaper.
1953: Somerset County, Pennsylvania gun collector and historian (and my distant cousin) David J. Weimer (1897-1965) is one of the individuals Gluckman and Satterlee thanked for "indirect contributions" to the 1953 edition of "American Gun Makers".
1958: Calvin Hetrick and R. A. Farber are featured in the article "Collectors Have Prize Specimens" in the February 14, 1958 issue of the "Bedford County Press".
1959: George Hyatt included Calvin Hetrick's study of Bedford County rifles as a new chapter in the fourth edition of John G. W. Dillin's book "The Kentucky Rifle" in 1959. With this, and his previous contributions to "American Gun Makers", Calvin Hetrick played a key role in highlighting the unique attributes of the Bedford school of rifle making, and documenting its practitioners.
1960: Henry Kauffman's illustrated 1960 book "The Pennsylvania-Kentucky Rifle" repeats and builds on information from "American Gun Makers", and includes many photos of Somerset and Bedford County long rifles. The July 12, 2002 obituary of Bedford County rifle collector R. Armstrong Farber in the Carlisle "Sentinel" indicates that he helped to write the content that book incorporated on Bedford County rifles.
1962: H. Austin Cooper's 1962 book "Two Centuries of Brothersvalley Church of the Brethren 1762 - 1962" has a short treatise on Somerset County long rifles that was written by David J. Weimer.
1971-1982: Vaughn E. Whisker published lists of Somerset County gunsmiths in 1971 and 1982 issues of the "Laurel Messenger". In 1973 George Shumway reprinted Calvin Hetrick's 1959 material as the booklet "The Bedford County Rifle and Its Makers", and added new material on the gunsmaker Peter White.
1983-2017: Vaughn E. and James B. Whisker published a 12-page booklet titled "Gunsmiths and Gunmakers of Bedford and Somerset Counties Pennsylvania 1770-1900" in 1983. They continued their research and published the book "Gunsmiths of Bedford, Somerset and Fulton Counties" in 1991. James B. Whisker and Larry W. Yantz published a now-rare follow-up book titled "Gunsmiths of Bedford, Fulton, Huntington, & Somerset Counties" in 2001. James B. Whisker also published books titled "Gunsmiths of Bedford County, Pennsylvania" and "Gunsmiths of Somerset County, Pennsylvania" in 2017. Several individuals wrote articles about specific gunmakers in the newsletter of the AOLRC, and perhaps in other publications.
The publications referenced above are the premiere print resources on Bedford and Somerset County rifles, and the gunsmiths who made them. I hope to honor the authors and their research by adding what I can to the baseline of knowledge they established. This necessarily involves paraphrasing facts they published, just as their publications (like most history publications) paraphrase facts found in earlier writings.
The content below is organized into two categories. The first category is about gun and accoutrement makers, gun repairers, and gun designers, and the second is about the firearms, accoutrements, and components they created.
Lannie Dietle, May 16, 2021.
Information about Bedford and Somerset county gun or accoutrement makers, repairers, and designers
Here are links to information about individuals who, correctly or not, have been identified as an old-time gun or accoutrement maker, gun repairer, or gun designer who worked within the current bounds of Bedford and Somerset counties. Hit the "refresh" button when you visit these pages to ensure you are seeing the latest version.
These codes are incorporated to the right of some of the links:
★ = The gunsmith worked in the flintlock era, or is known to have made flintlock rifles.
✓ = I have heard of or seen at least one surviving firearm by this gunmaker.
? = I wonder if this individual really was a gunsmith, or really worked as a gunsmith within the present bounds of Bedford or Somerset county.
Firearms, components & accoutrements made by Somerset and Bedford County, Pennsylvania artisans
Here are links to photos of items, including antique black powder firearms, that were produced by Bedford and Somerset County artisans. Hit the "refresh" button when you visit these pages to ensure you are seeing the latest version. Most of these photos were contributed by the owners of the items. Unless otherwise directed, such photos are published anonymously, and scrubbed of identifying tags and GPS coordinates, to protect contributor privacy. PLEASE DO NOT SEND FIREARM PHOTOS FROM BOOKS AND OTHER WEBSITES; I CANNOT USE THEM.
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