Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Matthew Gillespi Rifle

NC Mountain rifle signed (M.G) for Matthew Gillespie circa 1810.  Matthew was born 7.23.1788 in the Old Pendleton District near Easley SC.  His father, John Gillespie, moved the family to the East fork area of present day Transylvania County NC circa 1799.  There he built a powdered “gun mill”.  Matthew and his brothers William G. and Robert Harvey G. were taught to build the well-known NC Gillespie rifles.  Matthew lived in East Fork until his marriage to the daughter of iron works owner Phillip Sitton.  Matthew probably met Elizabeth on an iron buying trip for his father,

The rifle was built as flint, converted to percussion and later it was converted back to flint.  The lock plate appears to be the original but the pan/frizzen/frizzen spring/cock are modern replacements used in the re-conversion.

Notice the short (1 inch) grooved nose cap, these are consistent with other known Matthew Gillespie rifles.  Note how far forward the front cross pin is located.  The 45 1/4” barrel shows no evidence of ever being cut.  In fact there is another almost identical unsigned Gillespie that has this same feature.  Possibly they were done like this to keep weeds/branches from easily wedging between the barrel and forearm??

The barrel is hand forged with a slight swamp.  The barrel is 45.25 inches long with 7 grooves and is 41 caliber, it measures 1.035 inches at the breech and tapers to .945 at five inches from the muzzle which measures .995 inches.  Note the unusual 45.25 inch barrel, the twin rifle, mentioned earlier, also has a 45.25 inch barrel, both appear to be un-cut.  Possibly this was the maximum length their equipment would handle??

The hardware is also hand forged iron.  There are 2 plain iron thimbles and no entry pipe.  Two wood screws hold the 3 7/8 inch spear shaped tang.  The rifle has a LOP of 14.5 inch, the drop at heel is 3.25 inches which is straighter than later Gillespie rifles but the exact same as the twin rifle mentioned earlier.  The rifle has no butt plate.  The grease box is rectangular shaped like other early Gillespie’s, remnant of the bear grease and beeswax patch lube is still present inn the box.  The stock is American Black Walnut and has a cheek rest with a single incised line.

The trigger is typical early Gillespie style that has the rear trigger plate filed to a point.  The trigger/plate is held in the mortise using a notch under the front trigger bow and by the end of the screws that holds the trigger main spring.  The main spring screw presses against the underside of the finger rail of the trigger guard and holds it tightly in the mortise.  The trigger guard is held by two small wood screws.

Information about the Gillispe family of gunmakers can be found on the American LongRifle Forums here.

Copy by T. Dennis Glazener GGG Grandson of John Gillespie 1753-1822. Photographed at the 2013 Tennessee Kentucky Rifle Show by Jan Riser.


  1. Dennis, thanks for taking the time to post this excellent essay on this Matthew Gillespie rifle. Great photographs. I always get the impression that the Gillespies left ample wood in critical areas like the lock surround area for rifles intended for frontier service. At the same time they appear quite slender. Is the rectangular grease hole an early Gillespie feature or does it just crop up from time to time?
    Great post, appreciate it very much

  2. Heinz,
    The rectangular grease holes that
    I have seen on other Gillespie's are earlier than the ones with the
    angular, tear shaped holes. The
    tear/pear shaped grease holes that
    I have seen most likely came from
    the Mills River NC shops of Mathew
    and his son Philip. I believe that
    the earlier rectangular boxes MAY
    have come from the East Fork area
    Gillespie's. Mathew left East Fork
    circa 1810.

  3. This Gun Is Beautiful, and oozes Practical and Beautiful Mountain Gunsmithing at it's best! Great Pictures and great text! Thanks so much for it Dennis. If only this gun could talk!

    your friend

    David Gillespie


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