The early history of the rifle in America is always fascinating and problematic. We know that rifles were in use on the frontier prior to the French and Indian War. John Fraser mentioned the loss of seven “rifled guns’ at the Battle of Fort Necessity. Even earlier, in 1743, the trader John Armstrong stole a “rifled gun” and a horse from a Delaware Indian. Armstrong’s murder when the Delaware caught up with him is recorded in the Pennsylvania Archives.
Who these early gunsmith’s were and what their rifles looked like is primarily an area of conjecture. The known dated early rifles tap out around 1760. Some rifles may be earlier but they are not dated. And early rifles are seldom signed or even initialed. There are a few gunsmiths that reliable documentation suggests were active before 1755. Jacob Dubbs is one of these gunsmiths and so is John Fraser who appears to have apprenticed to Dubbs. Dubbs worked in the Lehigh Valley and a rifle in Rifles of Colonial America is now attributed to him. This is rifle number 59, a rifle with a number of early characteristics.
CLA artist James Frost has created a rifle, loosely based on RCA number 59 and some other early guns from Lehigh and Northampton to Berks and Lebanon. John Bivins noted in 1968 in Longrifles of North Carolina “‘The early rifle, dating before the end of the revolution, tended strongly to exemplify strongly the simplicity of the so-called Queen Anne period. . .”
This rifle captures that spirit which Blevins called “a subtlety of curve and a certain haughty simplicity.”
This gun uses simple but elegant architecture set off by the striking piece of curly maple. James has used engraved brass castings for the furniture in the manner of the engraved castings that were imported from Europe by early gunsmiths. He also used a cast chevron nose cap. These contribute a tough of flash to the clean simple architecture. This rifle has a 38" swamped B weight Colerain barrel, in 50 caliber. It has a nice balance with the heft of an early rifle.
James Frost has been making rifles for over 30 years and the workmanship and fit on this rifle is flawless. Ray Franks of Sitting Fox Muzzleloaders graciously donated the components for this auction rifle.
James Frost’s contact information is
Text by Heinz Ahlers
Photos by Heinz Ahlers and David Wright