Monday, June 6, 2022

44th Tennessee Kentucky Rifle Show: Photos of Michael Briggs of Rowan and Mecklenburg Longrifle Schools Displ

Rowan and Mecklenburg Longrifle Schools

Rowan Longrifle School

The Rowan Longrifle School started in the 1750 period and died out by 1840.  The school was centered in Rowan County, but had two gunsmiths who lived in Cabarrus County and one in Davie County.  Early gunsmiths in this school included Andreas Betz, George Betz, Peter Crouse, Henrig Bruner, Henry Bruner, Jr., Henry Bruner III, George Eagle, John Eagle, Issac Ribelin and Thomas Nash.

While most North Carolina Longrifle Schools created a style of rifle that were influenced by longrifles created in Pennsylvania and other states, The Rowan School created a rifle that was unlike anything made before it.  Rowan longrifles have a lot of drop to the stock, a high comb that is scooped out on both sides above the check-rest, long slender Christmas-tree patchbox finials, a double incised carved line that starts in front of the butt-plate, runs along the lower butt-stock, goes around the trigger guard, and returns to the butt-plate on the other side of the stock.  Additional features found on Rowan rifles are the ram-rod entry pipe will have a bulge on it and the nose cap will have. a single wedding band ring on it.

There were three generations of men named Henry Bruner who worked as gunsmiths in Rowan County between 1756 and 1819.  A Moravian gunsmith Andreas Betz and his brother George Betz opened a gun shop on the Salisbury square in 1767 which was open until 1804.  Andreas Betz trained orphan Peter Crouse to be a gunsmith in 1770.  George Eagle worked in Cabarrus County as a gunsmith during the 1820-1840 period.  His son John Eagle was an outstanding gun smith during the same period.  George Eagle trained his son-in-law Issac Ribelin in the early 1820's.  Thomas Nash moved to what is today Hunting Creek Davie County in 1824.

Rowan School Longrifle 
by Thomas Nash

This longrifle was made by Thomas Nash.  He moved to Rowan Countyin 1827 from virginia.  John bivins in his book " The Longrifle of North Carolina" identified this gunsmith as L. Nash.  Collectors have called this maker Leonard Nash.  Rescent research has proved no person by that name lived in Rowan, Iredell, Cabarrus or Davie Counties.  I believe he must have apprenticed with the Eagle or Ribelin Family gunsmiths.  This is one of several Rowan School Longrifles signed by him that exist, but this is the only one to surface to date with a Christmas-tree patchbox signed "T N" on the patchbox lid

The rifle features a cast patchbox with a hidden hinge.

Rowan School Longrifle
by George Eagle

This longrifle was made by George Eagle and is signed by him on the patchbox lid.  He lived and worked in Souther Rowan County.  He was born in 1783.  This longrifle features a Rowan School patchbox with a Christmas-tree finial with a bird sitting on top of the tree.  This is a good example of his work.

This rifle is dated 1837 on the side plate.

Rowan School Longrifle
by Thomas Nash

This outstanding North Carolina Longrifle is from the Rowan School.  The longrifle was made by Thomas Nash.  He moved to Rowan County in 1827 from Halifax, Virginia.  I believe he trained with George Eagle.  This is one of several Rowan School Longrifles by him that survive, but is one only two examples that features a Christmas-tree patchbox is cast and features a hidden hinge.

This rifle was found in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.  I believe this to be one of Thomas Nash earliest rifles.

Rowan School Longrifle
by Issac Ribelin

This longrifle was made by Issac Ribelin and is signed by him on the patchbox lid.  He lived and worked in eastern Rowan Country near the Yadkin River.  He was born in 1801 and died in 1869.  This longrifle features a Rowan School patchbox with a Christmas-tree finial.  This is an excellent example of Rowan School architecture.  This is one of seven signed rifles by this maker, only two of which are relief carved.  This rifle is dated 1827 on the sideplate.

It is signed upside "I R" on the patchbox lid and again on the silver inlay on the wrist.  I believe the double signature indicates it was his personal rifle.  The rifle is relief-carved and is dated 1827 on the side plate.

Mecklenburg Longrifle School

The Mecklenburg School was founded around 1770and ended by 1840.  The school was centered in Mecklenburg County, but had at least two gunsmiths who lived in Gaston County and one in Lincoln County.  The school was founded by Issac Price.  During the Revolutionary War, Issac Price and his brother John Price, Jr. joined the militia under General Thomas "Gamecock" Sumter and were detained an armorers.  After the war, Issac Price was granted four young orphans to train as gunsmiths by the Mecklenburg Court.  One of these orphans was Zenas Alexander.  Alexander would become a master gunsmith and silversmith in Charlotte working during the period between 1792 and 1826.  Additional important gunsmiths in this school were William Black, Samuel Black, Issac Thompson and Christian Arney.

Most Mecklenburg School rifles has a brass patchbox.  The majority of these use an "S" scroll patchbox finial.  This style finial originated on rifles by Jacob Sell of Adams County, Pennsylvania.  If a Mecklenburg school rifle is signed by its maker, it will usually be on the patchbox lid.  In many cases it is signed upside down so the person holding the rifle can flip it upside down to read it.  Mecklenburg rifles will often have an engraved cartouche on the patchbox lid in front of the door hinge.  The cartouche is then mirrored on the patchbox finial.  Many rifles from this school have decorative tabs on the ram-rod entry pipe, trigger guard, and toe plate.  Many rifles feature sine-wave engraving with uniform tines.

Mecklenburg School Longrifle
by C.G.

This North Carolina Longrifle is from the Mecklenburg School in Mecklenburg County.  The maker of this longrifle has yet to be identified but we know his initials were C.G. as he signed the patchbox lid.  This rifle has all the architectural features that you look for on a Mecklenburg School Longrifle.

The patchbox design is very similar to rifles by William Black.  It is possible that "_ G" trained under him.  The rifle is dated 1814 in the side plate.  

(The handout on the Mecklenburg Longrifle School list this rifle by "ZG" while the tag on the rifle list the maker as "C.G.")

Mecklenburg School Longrifle
by S.M.B.

This North Carolina Longrifle is from the Mecklenburg School in Mecklenburg County.  The longrifle is signed S.M.B. on the patchbox lid.  This is believed to stand for Samuel Black, but has not been documented.  The rifle is relief carved and has all the features looked for in a Mecklenburg School longrifle.  There is a second S.M.B. signed rifle from this school that is incised carved.

This rifle was formally in the collection of the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts.

Mecklenburg School Longrifle
by Isaac Thompson
(center rifle)

This rifle was made by Isaac Thompson and is signed by him on the patchbox lid.  He lived and worked on 105 acres of land located on Long Creek in Northern Mecklenburg county.  This relief carved rifle is one of five known signed examples of his work and is in outstanding original condition.

The hand-out sheet states this rifle was made by Isaac or his father Joseph Thompson.  It is signed "I T" on the patchbox lid.  The rifle is dated 1818 on a silver inlay under the cheek-rest.  The rifle features elaborate relief-carving on the stock and a pierced toe plate.  The rifle was made for John Gilmer, whose name is engraved on a silver plate on the barrel.  Isaac Thompson is documented as working as a gunsmith, but was not born until 1802.  He would have been 16 years of age when this rifle was completed.  His father Joseph Thompson may have been the gunsmith who made this and other relief-carved "I T" signed rifles.

Mecklenburg County
Screw-Based Powder Horn

This screw-based powder horn was purchased from an estate on the Mt. Holly - Huntersville Road in Mecklenburg County.  I believe this horn was made for militia use.  The screw off base allowed for the horn to be re-filled quickly.

Mecklenburg School Longrifle 
by Zenas Alexander

This rifle is the only known signed example by Zenas Alexander that survives.  He was born on December 21, 1771.  His father Zebulon Alexander died in March 1784.  In July 1787 was bound by the Mecklenburg Court as an apprentice with Isaac Price to train as a gunsmith.  He worked as a master gunsmith and silversmith until his death in 1826. He also trained apprentices Henry McBride (1797), James Mitchell (1798), James McKee (1805), and Elisha Smart (1810) in these arts. 

The rifle is signed "Z A" upside down on the patchbox lid.  The owner's initials "W A" is engraved on the silver inlay on the cheek-rest.  William Alexander was the gunsmiths cousin.

The copy is by Michael Briggs from a handout on the Rowan Longrifle School and the Mecklenburg School as well as card on the display.
Photography by Jan Riser.

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