Colonial Quills Celebrates Our Country's Independence! HUZZAH!!


Monday, November 9, 2015

The American Long Rifle: The Gun That Made a Nation

Yes, the first American long rifle came from Amish country!
It remains one of my favorite opening scenes: the image of a young woman, armed with a rifle as long as she is tall, feeding an escaped enemy at gunpoint. This is the first chapter in my novella, Defending Truth, from the recently re-released A Pioneer Christmas Collection. My heroine is surprised while out hunting, providing for her younger siblings while her father is away fighting alongside Shelby and Sevier at Kings Mountain. The gun she carries is a type variously known as a Lancaster or Pennsylvania rifle, later called the Kentucky rifle for its popularity with Daniel Boone and other longhunters; but the rifle's place of probable origin is the Lancaster, Pennsylvania, area.

Various aspects of the long rifle
It's impossible to trace the origin of the rifle with complete accuracy (pun not intended!), but most historians agree it was developed by German and Swiss gunsmiths. The rifle's range and accuracy stood in sharp constrast to the more commonly used musket, which was the standard issue of the British army. The term "rifle" referred to the curved grooves carved into the inside of the barrel, designed to put a spin on the ball as it was shot from the gun. The smooth-bore barrels of muskets required a heavier ball, more powder, and while faster on load time and perfectly adequate for laying down a heavy volley of gunfire in battle, could not provide for any reasonable accuracy.

"I...can pick a squirrel off a branch at two hundred yards, easy," is the statement by Rob MacFarlane in my long historical, Loyalty's Cadence, and it was no idle boast. It's easy to see, then, how the rifle became the weapon of choice all along the American frontier. But can we really say the rifle was the gun that made America?

... lock, stock, and barrel. The entirety of a rifle.
Story has it that George Washington discovered the intimidation factor of colonial farmers armed with rifles rather than muskets and used it to his advantage against the British army. Patrick Ferguson--yes, of Kings Mountain fame--had developed a breech-loading rifle, but his higher-ups disdained to put it to proper use. But it's agreed that the colonial victory at Kings Mountain was due largely to the accuracy of riflemen under Shelby and Sevier. The American sharpshooter was definitely legendary. In fact, the British had employed the German Jaegercorps as counter-snipers to match the skills of the riflemen fighting for American independence.

Another article, The Kentucky and Pennsylvania Long Rifle, further discusses the role of the rifle in westward expansion--including a nice tie-in with the Great Wagon Road, which I wrote about a few months ago.

The American long rifle was a weapon not just of great accuracy and distance, though it took longer to load than a musket, but they were elegant and beautiful, often works of art in their own right. Any online search for the history of the Kentucky or Pennsylvania rifle, and a click on images, will unearth a wealth of photos of various historic examples. One of my favorites is this beauty, billed a cap-and-ball Kentucky rifle by gunsmith John Parks, Jr. The beautiful curly maple which comprises the stock is not uncommon among rifles of its type, but the detail of the inlay is nothing short of incredible.

Each rifle was a work of art (Courtesy of the NRA museum)
More can be found at the links I've provided. YouTube is also a good place to find videos of what it's like to load and fire these historical lovelies.

8 comments:

  1. Very interesting Shannon. I wonder how heavy those long rifles were.
    Blessings, Tina

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    1. I'm sure they had some heft to them! :) And the recoil ... my dad had an 1894 Winchester that one of these article mentions, and it had quite the kick. But it was a sweet shooter! Solid and steady. :)

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  2. Was it Daniel Boone who named his "Tick Licker" because he could shoot a tick off a hound? Or is that just a fun legend? ;)

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    1. Ha, probably just a fun legend! But who knows? :D

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  3. Love this article, Shannon. I love gazing at long rifles when I come across them on display at museums - the wood stock and the (usually) ornate brass decoration are exquisite. Thanks so much for a well-researched article.

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    1. Oh, me too, Cynthia! They're such beauties!! And thank *you,* I'm glad you enjoyed it!

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