The Cherrytree Family
Pennsylvania Longrifle Gunsmithing "Schools"
If any state has just claim to the rifle it's Pennsylvania (in the stretch of land from Easton to York just south of the Blue Mountain - right here in our own backyard!); where the first important rifle-making centers were located , where more rifles were produced than any other state, and where more fine artistic decoration was done than in any other state. The name "Pennsylvania rifle" is championed by some (particularly Pennsylvanians!) but it really is equally as misleading to use this term in referring to a rifle made in Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Ohio, or New England as it is to call all rifles of this genre "Kentucky longrifles". Maybe they would be best called the "American Longrifle" as a generic term.
Christian's Spring (c. 1760-1780)
The earliest American school of rifle making that we know of today developed in Christian's Spring, a small Moravian village near Nazareth, PA at the Minsi Trail, serving as a home for single men and a school for boys. Andreas Albrecht, a trained gunsmith, had emigrated from Germany in 1750 to teach music and other things at nearby Nazareth Hall, and in 1762 he established a gun shop at Christian's Spring. In 1766 he was married and left Christian's Spring to become the keeper of the Sun Inn (photo left) in Bethlehem. In 1771 he moved to the Moravian settlement in Lititz and resumed his gunmaking career, thereby influencing the Lancaster School as well. John Christian Oerter, who was born in 1747 and apprenticed under Albrecht since 1759, took over the position of master gunsmith at Christian's Spring when Albrecht left. Many of the famous Northampton/Lehigh County gunsmiths apprenticed with Albrecht. Jacob Dickert of the Lancaster School, himself a Moravian, seems to have also had associations with Albrecht.
Not generally considered one of the classic Pennsylvania "schools", but rather, the forerunner of the Northampton/Lehigh school, the guns from Christian's Spring are considered "transitional" from the very large caliber, heavy, shorter-barreled German "Jaeger" hunting rifles to the long, slim, modest caliber "classic" Pennsylvania rifles of the "Golden Age" (1776-1825).
(a close representation of a famous transitional rifle by Eric Kettenburg, gunsmith)
(another representation of a Christian's Spring rifle by Narragansett Armes)
(also sometimes known as Allentown or Bethlehem)
Follow this link to Lehigh County, PA Boundary Maps showing the changes from 1751 to 1812.
Bucks County / Quakertown (c. 1775-1800)
(reproduction representative of the style of A. Verner by Narragansett Armes)
Berks County / Reading (c. 1760-1790)
(reproduction of a John P. Beck rifle by Narragansett Armes)
Lebanon County / Lancaster (c. 1770-1800)
(reproduction of a Haines rifle by Narragansett Armes)
Northern Berks Co. / Womelsdorf (c. 1770-1820)
York Co. (c. 1780-1820)
The following photo galleries show many examples of the different Pennsylvania "Schools"
on the "Lehigh County" School of Riflemaking
Primarily a Discourse Upon Area Gunmakers and their Work
Eric Kettenburg, Gunsmith
of the major texts concerning American "Kentucky" rifles have
addressed somewhat cursorily the various schools of Pennsylvania riflemaking,
and among the schools so described one will inevitably come across - alternately
- the terms "Lehigh Valley" school, "Lehigh County" school,
"Allentown/Bethlehem" school and "Northampton County"
school. All of these terms are used in a vaguely interchangeable manner
and generally refer to rifles being made during the Federal Period, or 1780
through approximately 1820. The majority of the rifles referenced, when
referring to this school, are attributable to a relatively small handful of men:
Johannes (John) Moll Sr., John Moll II, Peter Neihart and brothers Herman and
John Rupp. Jacob Kuntz and John Rupp II also bear mention. There are
of course other gunmaking families within the region which of course factor
quite prominently - the Young's at Easton, Stoffil Long, the Hess family in the
northwest corner of the county, Henry Hunsicker etc. - however it is primarily
the style of rifle constructed by the Rupp's, Peter Neihart and the Moll's which
is often considered to be the "classic" representation of the school.
It is for this reason, I believe, that the school is often identified by varying
and quite contrary names.
Moll lived and worked in Allentown (old Northampton Town) following the
Revolution. Likewise, Peter Neihart lived and worked in North Whitehall
Township somewhat adjacent to Allentown and the Rupps worked in Macungie
Township which is immediately South and West of Allentown heading towards Berks
County. It is the fact that these men were all working in a relatively
small area in and around Allentown that has bestowed the title
"Allentown" school upon their rifles and others, perhaps unsigned
examples of their work or unsigned examples of unknown gunmakers' hands, like
them. The addition of "Bethlehem" to the regional references is
somewhat inexplicable, however it seems to have tacked-on to the
"Allentown/Bethlehem" title due to (1) Bethlehem's nearness to
Allentown and (2) the importance of the Moravian gunstocking/locksmithing shop
at Bethlehem throughout the late 1740s - 1760s and its importance to the
gunmakers at Christian's Spring and surrounding area.
use of the "Lehigh Valley" terminology is likewise a generic term
which owes it's existence entirely to the presence of the Lehigh River bisecting
a portion of old Northampton County, Allentown sitting squarely on the banks of
the Lehigh River and thus linking the work of these men with the coincidental
existence of the River. It is a term which often encompasses a broader
range of arms than the Moll/Rupp/Neihart triangle and often also is used in a
somewhat broader chronological sense in that as a descriptive title is often
applied to arms dating as early as the 1760s and as late as the percussion era.
the title "Lehigh County school" to these rifles is a fairly accurate
means of description, as Lehigh County was formed from a portion of Northampton
County in 1812 and coincidentally happens to perfectly encompass the Molls, the
Rupps and Neihart. However, it has been often pointed out that by the time
Lehigh County was formed in 1812, the high-point of design and construction of
these rifles had already passed: the majority of the extant pieces are
attributed to the period 1780 through 1810. For example, an extremely fine
signed Neihart rifle is dated 1783, two spectacular rifles by Herman Rupp are
dated 1793 and 1809 and two of the finest pieces of the region (in my opinion)
by Johannes Moll must have been constructed prior to his death in 1794.
So, it would appear that the best work of this small area was being undertaken
while Lehigh County was still part of old Northampton County. This
argument seems a bit useless, however, as frequently we refer to J.P. Beck's
work as being reflective of Lebanon County or Peter Berry being reflective of
Dauphin County yet both these men were living and working in areas which at the
time were part of Lancaster County and were only split from that county at later
Jacob Kuntz and John Rupp II (nephew of John Rupp the elder) were extremely
talented gunmakers who worked in or near Allentown (Kuntz moving to Philadelphia
in 1810/11 but carrying on Allentown-type work for at least another 10 years)
and, when considered in relation to the Moll/Rupp/Neihart triangle, are often
looked upon as the "next generation." Their work can be viewed in a dual
manner, being a simplified form of the earlier style in one sense - relief
carving was wholly abandoned and the stocking lost width - while waxing more
complex in another sense, the inlay and engraving work far surpassing anything
done by the elder generation of builders as well as the development of
high-polish, color varnishes. Their rifles are often referred to as being
Allentown school or Lehigh County school and very rightfully so.
some focus now on the Moll/Rupp/Neihart triangle. These men created a very
distinctive type of rifle which, as mentioned previously, is usually the first
thing that springs to mind when the Lehigh County school is considered.
There are a fairly good number surviving antique rifles to use as a basis for
study, a good number being signed and about an equal number unsigned but easily
attributable. There is precious little information available detailing
each of these men's lives although due to tax records, probate lists and family
genealogical research they can be fairly accurately pinned to certain locations
during the period in question. Johannes (John) Moll Sr. was apparently an
immigrant but likely traversed the Atlantic while very young. Peter
Neihart and the Rupp brothers were born in Northampton County and spent the
majority (if not the entirety) of their lives there. Moll was probably the
oldest of the men, Neihart being slightly younger and the Rupp’s younger still
(not being active as gunmakers until after the Revolution). Both Moll and
Neihart must have been building rifles at least as early as the mid 1760s,
however no signed early work has surfaced and as their later Federal Period work
is obviously quite different in regards to anything they might have done prior
to the Revolution, attempted attributions are nothing more than guesswork pure
and simple. There are no records extant indicating with whom any of these
men may have trained as gunmakers.
noticeable upon viewing Lehigh County rifles is the conservative adaptation of
the old German step-wrist. This is an extension of the cultural bias
prevalent in the region and can be seen as directly descendant of the much
earlier, massive rifles being built at Bethlehem/Christian's Spring. As
trends changed after the Revolution and stock design evolved into a form
permissive of curvature, area gunmakers superposed the training in German style
which they had long perpetuated atop a slimmer, more flowing philosophy.
The resulting architecture can best be described as both beautiful and odd
simultaneously. The "classic" form of the Federal period
involves a combination of the "Roman nose," or convex comb carrying a
very smooth arc, with a concave toe line the forward arc of which is typically
terminated at the junction of the stock and rear trigger guard extension.
At this point, the stock curves upwards into the wrist much in the same manner
as the earlier German step-wrist rifles with one very important and notable
difference: the upward curve actually dishes into the wrist to a point
higher than the horizontal line of the forearm. This manner of stocking is
what makes possible another distinctive and extremely crucial Lehigh County
characteristic, that being the "egg-shaped" or wider-than-tall wrist.
It is not out-of-place to see these arms with wrists as wide as 1 1/2"
(earlier Molls, Neihart) but only 1 1/4" in height. The forward
terminus of the wrist arc, where it meets the forearm line, is usually at the
front of the trigger plate/guard bow (under the triggerguard bow) or at the front
of the trigger guard extension (typically right below the nose of the lock
panels). The earliest Moll pieces are particularly dramatic in this
upward curvature under the portion of the stock into which the lock is inlet
then requires that very often the lock be oriented with an upward angle (towards
the tail) and frequently above-center, the top of the bolster being above
the centerline of the barrel. In conjunction with this lock orientation is
the commonly-seen "low forearm," or forearm cut below the
centerline of the barrel: the top edges of the forearm are aligned
approximately 1 /3 of the way up the side flat of the barrel and not along the
centerline or halfway-point which is appropriate to other riflemaking schools.
This philosophy of a low forearm is likewise carried into the manner by which
the ramrod hole is drilled: it is imperative that the ramrod hole be
drilled in such as way as to almost touch the barrel at the breech. This
ensures that an absolute minimum of wood is present, vertically, within the
forearm. This "vertically narrow" concept is subsequently
applied to the forward portion of the forearm as the sidewalls of the ramrod
groove are taken to the 1/3 point. The entire point of these practices
would seem to be, in fact, an exercise in refining as much excess wood from the
stock (in vertical profile as possible. Why riflemaking in the Lehigh
County region developed along these lines is unknown, however I would suggest
that it may have been as a result of the conservative nature of the region's
gunsmiths clashing with new trends in arms development which demanded a smaller,
lighter piece in comparison to the older German rifles of stout architecture.
This theory would explain why efforts were made to reduce the size of the rifle
in profile while retaining a relatively broad width.
gun mounts found upon these arms are particularly distinctive in that (1) the
buttplate carries a somewhat short upper extension which is usually let into the
comb rather than spanning it completely, (2) a type of two-piece cast box was
developed which is almost unknown outside of the region, carrying a raised
central portion reminiscent of wooden boxes and (3) there is a strong preference
for sideplates which display an "arrowhead" shape to the rear portion
of the plate, often also incorporating a bit of decorative filework.
Furthermore, nosecaps upon these rifles are commonly formed of thin sheet brass
which is either wrapped around the exterior of the stock and riveted in place or
wrapped completely around the exterior of the stock and under the barrel as
well. In either case, the nosecaps are open-ended and the end-grain is
visible. Particularly interesting are the extreme similarities found in
cast components upon rifles by different makers (Moll, Neihart, H. Rupp and J.
Rupp) which are so nearly identical as to probably have been cast from the same
patterns. This helps to reinforce the notion that these men somehow shared
a connection other than proximity alone: a shared training is highly
probable (or at the least one may have trained or aided the others) and a shared
source of gun mounts is also a very strong possibility.
The Settlement at Christian’s Spring comes next in order of time, to that of Gnadenthal, which it adjoins on the Southwest, being separated from its buildings by the ridge previously mentioned. It was begun in 1747. Here the waters of the Monocacy were made to turn the overshot wheel of a grist and saw mill, and, after the erection of dwellings and stables, of a smith shop and a brewery, the settlement was complete. Men marveled much at the quaintness of its houses, quartered and brick-nogged, hip-roofed and tiled; they marveled much, too, at the quaintness of the brotherhood, which for almost half a century divided its time between the management of the mills and the raising of horses and cattle. It was named Albrecht’s Spring at first, subsequently, however, Christian’s Spring, in remembrance of Christian Renatus, a son of Count Zinzendorf.
From the same report mentioned in connection with Gnadenthal I find the following details concerning the buildings which composed this grange:
1- A House of 47 feet long by 30 feet in
Breadth, two Stories high, with 5 Rooms, 1
A peculiarity about Christian’s Spring was the fact that during the interval between December, of 1749, and April, 1796, this farm was the seat of an Economy of unmarried men, known in Moravian parlance as “The Single Brethren’s Economy at Christian’s Spring.” Therefore during the Indian depredations about nine-tenths of the inhabitants of the place were men, unburdened by the care and protection of wives or little ones. This at once placed them in a position entirely different from that of the other settlements. They not only needed no especial protection for themselves, but were always in a position to go to the assistance of others, which they cheerfully did. I can find no record of the erection of a stockade at Christian’s Spring. So many of its principal buildings being either of stone or brick, it became only necessary to set a watch and provide temporary shutters for the upper windows of the main buildings to insure against any possibility of capture, surprise or destruction by fire.
Here, too, the ever hospitable doors of the Brethren were thrown open to accommodate the refugees of January, 1756, of whom 48 were sheltered and cared for within them, as we have already seen.
At the outbreak of hostilities Brother Nathaniel Seidel, of Bethlehem (afterwards a Bishop), was in command of the “Upper Places.” He made his headquarters at Christian’s Spring. It is related of him, on one occasion, that, as he was starting for Bethlehem on foot and had gone probably a mile from the settlement, he detected three Indians in hiding who were trying to capture him. Being fleet of foot, he managed to escape by dodging between the trees, and finally regained the Spring.
It was at this place also that Zeisberger, the renowned Indian missionary, finished the compilation of his well known Indian Dictionary—from the letter W to the end.
The history of Christian’s Spring during the Indian War may have been comparatively uneventful, but this, in itself, only adds to its luster. Owing to the peculiar character of its inhabitants, it became a species of “Flying Camp,” or rather a body of “Emergency Men.” Was aid needed at Friedensthal or Nazareth, it was immediately afforded by a detachment from the Spring. Did “The Rose” send an appeal for help, it was the men of Christian’s Brunn who answered it. So, whenever needed and wherever needed, they were always ready to aid. Let us accord them the praise they well deserve for their unselfish action.