An important firearm made by a renowned gunmaker for a renowned United States President now resides in that President’s historic home.
The gunmaker: Phillip Creamer
The President: Andrew Jackson
This distinguished firearm, a dueling pistol once owned by the illustrious President Jackson, currently resides at “The Hermitage”, a historical landmark and museum located at Jackson’s restored plantation home near Nashville Tennessee.
Jackson was lauded as a national hero during the War of 1812 for his successes in the Creek Indian campaigns and his astounding victory over the British at New Orleans in 1815. He is also is known to have fought many duels in his career as a lawyer and politician, He was also elected the seventh President of the United States from 1829 to 1837. One would expect a dueling pistol owned by Andrew Jackson to be a very special firearm, and indeed it is.
The “Andrew Jackson Pistol” has been duplicated by one of America’s finest gunmakers, NMLRA member Bob Browner of St. Louis, Missouri for the Contemporary Longrifle Association’s 2013 Annual Fund Raising Auction in August. The original Jackson dueling pistol truly is a truly exceptional piece; exceptional enough that many contemporary gun makers would never even attempt to copy it. But Bob Browner not only has the skill, experience and talent to do it; he has a special reason to copy this pistol and that reason is Philip Creamer, a gunsmith once known as “the most celebrated gunsmith in the west” and the maker of Jackson’s pistol.
Initially, in the late 1790s, Philip Creamer was a classically trained gunsmith living in Taneytown Maryland where he built rifles in the famous “Emmitsburg School” style. But soon after settling the estate of his deceased father around 1805, he relocated to the western frontier regions of St. Clair County Illinois near St. Louis. There he not only built and repaired guns for local settlers, but numerous account entries for his work are found in the ledgers of the influential trading firm “Bryan & Morrison” located in nearby Cahokia. This was the outfitter that collaborated with and supplied Manuel Lisa’s 1807 expedition, and there is a strong possibility that some of the guns they provided Lisa were locally manufactured by Creamer. In fact it is strongly believed that Creamer may have played a significant role in the initial design and development of what would become known as the famous St. Louis plains rifle especially because of his role in supplying firearms to some of the earliest western expeditions.
By early 1809, William Morrison, co-owner and representative of “Bryan and Morrison”, along with other prominent local citizens including the fur traders Jean and August Chouteau, Ruben Lewis (the brother of Louisiana territorial governor Meriwether Lewis)and William Clark (U.S. Indian agent and Brigadier General of the Louisiana territorial militia) had joined Lisa in forming the Missouri Fur Company. At this time, Bryan and Morrison’s Cahokia store ledgers not only indicate that Philip Creamer still made and repaired rifles for them, but that through them he was likely supplying rifles to the men of the Missouri Fur Company as well.
It was also during this time that Creamer made a brace of fancy pistols for William Morrison’s own personal use. As a trader with powerful eastern connections Morrison could have ordered pistols from virtually any maker he chose. The fact that he opted to arm himself with a set crafted locally by Philip Creamer is a very strong endorsement of the young gunmaker’s growing popularity and skill.
With such endorsements, Creamers reputation quickly spread throughout the frontier. It was soon a colloquialism that a man of dependable reputation and character was “as sure as a Creamer lock”(1). This in turn earned his work a special place in the hearts of gentlemen compelled to defend their own reputations on the field of honor, to the extent that men about to engage in such affairs were known to seek Creamer out beforehand so he could personally put their pistols “in the most perfect condition” (2) for dueling.
Sometime, presumably between 1817 and 1824, a local collection was taken up and Creamer was persuaded to make a pistol for the then Secretary of War, John C. Calhoun. It’s a matter of record that Calhoun not only accepted the gift, but that he was so taken with its workmanship and quality that he wrote to personally inquire about Philip Creamer and how he had learned to make pistols like that, an inquiry that the proud gunsmith absolutely refused to reply to on the grounds that he was “no showman or stud-horse to be advertised” (3).
John C. Calhoun would go on to serve two terms as the Vice President of the United States. First in 1824 under John Quincy Adams, and again in 1828 under Andrew Jackson, so perhaps it is no coincidence that Old Hickory would have been familiar with Creamer’s work, or that he would eventually come to own a fine set of dueling pistols made by this celebrated gunsmith as well. Although Jackson’s set was eventually separated, one of the pistols is now in the possession of the Hermitage. Marsha Mullin, VP, and Museum Services & Chief Curator graciously allowed David Wright to examine, measure, and photograph it in detail in order to supply Bob Browner with all of the information he needed to confidently build a faithful copy for the C.L.A. auction.
Building a fine early American dueling pistol is challenge enough, but just as Bob had anticipated, carefully recreating the work of a master gunsmith like Philip Creamer would prove doubly so. However, Bob Browner and his wife Margie have a special reason for accepting this particular challenge because they are both doing their best to raise awareness about Philip Creamer and his influential work. To the extent that they not only invested the 200 plus hours that Bob estimates it took him to copy Jackson’s pistol, but they have also dedicated countless additional hours to the preservation of Creamers old Federal style double log house and gun shop.
This house was built by Creamer shortly after he arrived in Illinois from Taneytown Maryland in about 1806, and is where he and his family lived until about 1816. Their home was located in the small “American Bottoms” town of Dupo, in St. Clair County, located about a mile south of Cahokia Illinois. According to authors and Creamer researchers Curt Johnson and Victor Paul, the Creamer house in Dupo is built to nearly the same dimensions as similar houses Taneytown (3). Remarkably, on the same property the building that originally housed Philip Creamers gun shop also remained standing, although at some point it had been converted to a chicken coop.
Even after miraculously surviving the epic Mississippi River floods that inundated the region during 1993, the Creamer house and gun shop seemed destined to rot and ruin until they were obtained from the land owner and donated to the Lindenwood University and Historic Boonesfield Village located in Defiance Missouri. In 1997 the Village oversaw the careful and systematic dismantling of the buildings and facilitated their relocation to Defiance where they will be reassembled and restored. Taking its place among the other historical restorations at the “Daniel Boone Home and Boonesfield Village”, the Creamer gun shop itself will be a working exhibit with a full time traditional gunsmith on site.
The Browner’s have worked long and hard with their likeminded friends to see the Creamer buildings properly rescued and restored, and that makes it a little easier to understand why Bob would undertake the challenge to copy and donate a copy of a pistol made by Creamer to the 2013 C.L.A. fundraising auction, especially one once owned by Andrew Jackson, the Hero of the Battle of New Orleans. The Jackson dueling pistol owned by the Hermitage is an outstanding example of Creamers overall mastery of the art of gunsmithing, and stands out as special even in that bygone age when all fine firearms and dueling pistols especially were held to the highest standards. It’s also a sure bet that a man like President Andrew Jackson would demand and be satisfied with nothing less than the absolute finest. Even today in the 21st century to accurately replicate such a piece requires that the gunsmith attempting it be one of the very best, and one look at the finished copy of Jackson’s dueling pistol is enough to prove that Bob Browner definitely is.
Bob started with a piece of walnut that he already had on hand and shaped it into the pistol’s stock. He obtained the .50 caliber smooth bore barrel from De Haas, and tapered it to match the original’s dimensions by hand. The semi-patent breech was obtained from Muzzleloader Builders Supply. Bob Browner made the lock plate himself, then enlisted lock maker Bob Roller to carefully craft its internals. The unique hammer was obtained in the rough from Jerry Wertz, and finished by Bob Browner as well.
Like many finer pistols of the day, the original Creamer pistol sported inlaid bands of gold and a gold covered maker’s cartouche. For his copy, Bob obtained the 18kt gold inlay wire from the historic St. Louis firm of Houser and Miller, who incidentally have provided refined and fabricated precious metals to their customers, including gunmakers in the St. Louis area for over one hundred years. The gold leafing for the cartouche was provided by Judd Brennan.
Bob totally reworked the single set Davis trigger to match Creamer’s work, and fashioned the guard himself. The entry pipe was obtained from Muzzleloader Builders Supply, but Bob had to craft the black horn nose guard by hand. Because no one was certain if the original tip for the ram rod in Jackson’s pistol should be brass like the one it has now, or black horn to match the nose cap like the ram rod on another fine original Creamer pistol, Bob has provided one of each just in case.
After the pistol was built, Bob sent it to Layne Zuelke of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, who is the master engraver for Red Jacket Firearms. You may have seen the folks from Red Jacket on the Discovery Channel T.V. series called “Sons of Guns”. If you have then you will know why they are considered the nation’s most unique firearms business, and also why Layne is considered one of the nation’s finest engravers.
Philip Creamer’s hand engraving is some of the finest to be seen, especially for a gunsmith located on the frontier in early 19th century America, and the engraving done on the Jackson pistol was undoubtedly some of Creamer’s best. But like the exacting building, checkering, and finishing done on the pistol copy by Bob Browner, Layne Zuelke was equally up to the task of copying Creamer’s original engraving too. The fine work Layne has done on Bob’s pistol is absolutely superb; in fact I’m certain that Old Hickory or even Philip Creamer himself would be hard pressed to tell it from the original.
Even though Andrew Jackson was President between the years of 1829 and 1837, you will notice that the both the copy and the original Jackson dueling pistol are outfitted with fine percussion locks. That’s because Creamer was one of the earliest frontier gunsmiths to specialize in making them, and it’s probably no coincidence that another pair of local St. Louis gunsmiths, the Hawken brothers, were also known for their early use of and perfection of the percussion ignition system on both fancy pistols and their famous St. Louis plains rifles.
In 1825, Philip Creamer returned to the east for a short time and worked at the Harpers Ferry Armory in West Virginia. Born in the town of Harpers Ferry, Jacob Hawken is also believed to have worked for the Armory from 1808 until 1816. Then he came west and partnered with the St. Louis gunsmith James Lakenan until 1825 when Lakenan died.
Relocating from Xenia Ohio, Jake’s brother Sam operated a separate and independent gun shop in St. Louis until Lakenan died and the two brothers entered into business partnership together. Though things would soon change, remember that at this time it was Philip Creamer who was considered to be “the most celebrated gunsmith in all the west”, and not the Hawken brothers. In fact it is believed that gun repair work was given to James Lakenan, Jake Hawken and then to J&S Hawken by the American Fur Company only because at the time there was no gunsmith at the Indian Department (2). Doubtless the Hawken brothers knew Creamer and his work, and likely benefited directly from his short absence.
In 1827, Creamer left the Armory and relocated to St. Louis where he was employed as the gunsmith for the newly opened St. Louis Superintendency for Indian Affairs until 1833. He remained in St. Louis until 1835 and operated his local civilian gun shop on “Olive near Fourth”. It is during this time that he likely built Jackson’s dueling pistols. It is believed that Creamer died about 1846, but by then St. Louis boasted an influx of many fine gunsmiths, most of them following in the tradition established by Philip Creamer and recently popularized by the Hawken brothers.
Fittingly, Bob Browner is also one of today’s premier builders of truly authentic Hawken rifles. Bob has over twenty five years of experience in the proper restoration and the highest quality reproduction of antique firearms, and with good reason he considers building historically accurate “St. Louis” guns his specialty.
“Here is a bit of my background story and my part in the project:
I am a master jeweler and worked in the trade for 27 years. I engraved guns and tools on the side. In the fall of 2012 I was approached by Will Hayden about engraving muzzleloaders for his new company Redjacket Muzzleloading. After spending a few months in the shop was hooked and I decided to leave the jewelry bench to focus on gun engraving and learn to build flintlocks. I left my retail jewelry job to open Southern Custom Engraving and Gunworks. I do all my engraving out of the Redjacket shop. When not engraving, I'm apprenticed under Shawn Webster learning to build flintlocks. Our skill sets complement each other well. He knows the wood and architecture and I've done custom metal smithing my entire career.
I was asked by Bob Browner about collaborating on the Creamer pistol and I couldn't resist. The project suited me as my work is heavily influenced by early English and American engraving styles. Every engraver has a unique style and the biggest challenge was to recreate the work of another artist. Working from the extensive photos supplied to me, I was able to get a very close approximation of the original. The nice thing about engraving and gun building is that the basic tools and techniques have not changed in hundreds of years. I love the idea of documentary work as it is the closest thing many of us will ever get to being able to hold and shoot some of these historic guns. It was a fun project. “
You can contact Bob Browner about his work at:
435 Southside Avenue
St. Louis MO. 63119
Phone: 314-918-9093 (home) or 314-566-0991 (cell)
And you can contact Layne Zuelke and “Southern Custom Engraving” about his work at:
Web site: www.southerncustomengraving.com
1. “Pioneer History of Illinois”, by John Reynolds, 1852
2. “Recollections of Persons and Places in the West”, by Henry M. Brackenridge; second edition, 1868
3. “Philip Creamer, the most celebrated gunsmith in all the west” by Curtis Johnson and Victor Paul, Obscure Place Publishing; Washington MO, 1993”
THE PROVENANCE OF A CELEBRATED PISTOL
From Marsha Mullin, Vice President, Museum Services & Chief Curator at The Hermitage, Nashville, Tennessee:
“There is a note in the file dated 1880 which gives the pistol’s ownership to that time.”
Andrew Jackson: gave it to,
John Eaton: who gave it to,
General Alexander Hunter: who lost the case and second pistol at a gunsmith shop, the remaining pistol was gifted to,
William D. Nutt: who received in January 1849, and gifted it to,
Joseph Deakins Mcguire: who received in January 1880,
James Clark Mcguire: (son) who inherited it from his father,
Miss M. Mcguire: of New York, who was James Clark Mcguire’s sister and General Secretary of the Girl’s Friendly Society and sent the pistol to,
Miss Marjorie Spurr: of the Girls Friendly Society of St. Peter’s Church Nashville so that it could be given to The Hermitage.
Note: The Mcquires were collectors during their day and donated items to both the Smithsonian and White House collections.
Reprinted by permission of Muzzle Blasts, June 2013 issue, copy by T.C. Albert,Copy and photos supplied by the Contemporary Longrifle Foundation.