Johannes Rupp of Macungie
(A preliminary study, to be updated as necessary)
Now we shall revisit the Genealogical and Biographical Annals of Northumberland County, and the individual featured therein: George W. Rupp, born 1849 in Catawissa. Using the genealogy presented, Johannes Rupp would have been his great grandfather. He stated that George Rupp, his grandfather, was a son of Johannes and born in 1790 “…at Trexlertown…” Grandfather George had a son named John, born in 1819 in Catawissa township, and this man was the father of George W. Rupp, the subject of the biographical sketch. He also notes that great-grandfather Johannes was a blacksmith, and that he died in Philadelphia. Is any of this accurate? We’ll start with the provided date of birth of grandfather George, son of Johannes, allegedly born in 1790. There are no records of any births to Johannes Rupp in the Trexlertown, Jordan or ‘Blue’ church congregations. In fact, in 1790, as per the list of taxables (aforementioned) he was listed with the single men, and as of March, 1790, within the Trexlertown church records he was still listed as single. Therefore, it seems that if he did in fact marry and sire a son christened as George, the date given of 1790 is probably close enough for horseshoes and hand grenades but may be off by a year or so.
There were a number of John or Johannes Rupps in Philadelphia, but these family groups seem to all trace back into the 1750s-1770s and none of them, via tax or census records, match up even remotely closely to the details already established for John Rupp of Macungie. I suspect - but of course this is just my suspicion - that old George W. Rupp at the turn of the 20th century was remembering the story concerning Theobald / Diephold Fahringer, married to Clara (thought to be Clara Rupp), dying in Philadelphia; Theobald is documented to have been a blacksmith in Northampton County deed papers, Herman Rupp was the administrator of his estate (firming the notion that he was married to one of Herman’s sisters) and he is generally accepted to have died in Philadelphia during the British occupation. Conversely, maybe John did in fact die in Philadelphia, but if so, there is no evidence to be found of either his residence there or his death there. No tax, census, church records or otherwise. Of course, since Herman did attest that John died insolvent, it’s possible he left no document trail at all, but he would have left a widow and children. I have tried to backtrack Rupp surnames who perhaps may have been his children (he had at least two per the 1800 census, and four total per George W. Rupp) but once again, no individual with a Rupp surname in the Philadelphia area - city or county - seems to even coincidentally tie in with John’s timeline.
Let’s cast our net to the north rather than to the southern counties. After all, this George W. Rupp ca. 1900-1910 was claiming familial ties with the Macungie Rupps, and furthermore, seems to have been outlining a family history involving the upper Susquehanna region and Northumberland (and later Columbia) counties.
The 1810 Federal census for Northumberland County (by the early 19th century, one of the ‘hot spots’ for northerly expansion within Pennsylvania) does not provide any Rupp surnames. There is a potentially interesting possibility in a man noted as “John Rubb, B’smith” in “Town of Selins Grove” who is the correct age (45+) and with a number of children that could conceivably work, however a female assumed to be his wife is also listed as 45 years or older and this would contradict the 1800 Macungie census: John’s wife was in the 16-25 years age range for 1800 so at most could only be 35 by 1810. Furthermore, “John Rubb” had vanished by the taking of the 1820 census, which would fit John’s death range, and he was clearly noted as a blacksmith, but the age of his assumed-wife seems to be a deal-breaker. This dude may be worth investigating further but at the present time I can’t quite bend reality enough to make him work. The only other surname remotely close to ‘Rupp’ in the Northumberland area at this time were a small group of people with the surname ‘Robb.’ These folks are accounted-for and eliminated with a minimal amount of research, so “John Rubb” the blacksmith in Selinsgrove remains the likeliest candidate as he appears to represent a stand-alone family unit in the area.
Looking to the 1820 census, we can find a George Roop and wife, both aged 45 or older, in “Selins Grove Penn twp” with two other household members, one male and one female both between the ages of 16-25. Could this be the missing (from Macungie) George Jr.? It does seem a bit coincidental given the notes re: the 1810 census discussed above. The age is appropriate as would be the age of any children by 1820. Also in 1820, over in “Cattawisse township,” there is a “Gorge Roop” who is a younger man, he and wife between the ages of 26-44, another female between 16-25 and three other younger children. This fellow seems to match up with the story told by George W. Rupp (above) that his grandfather George was in Catawissa by or before the year 1819, Catawissa being about 30 miles up the north branch of the Susquehanna River from Selinsgrove. Interesting - perhaps coincidental or perhaps not.
Moving forward to 1830, there now is a younger John Rupp in “Selinsgrove Penn twp Union County PA” between the ages of 30-39, and he is living with a lone female who is much older, between 60-69. Is this a dutiful son living with a widow of the 1810 John “Rubb?” Or perhaps the widow of the 1820 George “Roop?” Up the river a bit in “Cattawissa Township Columbia County,” the “Gorge Roop” of 1820 became “Geo Rupp” in 1830 (just to illustrate how the names mutated depending upon who was doing the recording). He and wife were both 40-49 years, with a number of younger folks in the household also. This once again does indeed seem to match up with the story told by George W. Rupp ca. 1900-1910 just before the Biographical…Annals was published. Unfortunately, by the time of the 1840 census, and later census studies, there are so many Rupp variant surnames all over the region, many with multiples of the given Christian names, that it is quite beyond my interest or scope to study them all.
Conclusion at Last!
Ultimately, there can be no true conclusiveness to this study without additional information that hopefully will come to light at a future point. Right out of the gate, I will state that my current speculation is that Johannes “John” Rupp sold or transferred his land - or at the least, portions of his land - in Macungie sometime around 1802-1810 and moved somewhere, possibly in conjunction with older brother George who also seems to disappear from Macungie and nearby townships. Did one or both of them head ‘up the river’ to Northumberland County? Johannes/John apparently had a hard time of it during the first decade of the 19th century, or otherwise suffered bad luck, and definitely died “insolvent” somewhere between 1810 and 1816. Additionally, I think I’ve presented a solid case with what documentation is available to illustrate that the assumed 1762 birth year is accurate within a couple of years at most on either side. He clearly was married and had at least two children by 1800; whether or not he had additional children is unknown despite George W. Rupp’s assertion one hundred years later.
We can say with confidence that he was a capable gunsmith, whether professionally trained or not. There are two signed rifles of classic ‘Lehigh’ form to attest to this, both extremely similar to the signed and dated examples of his brother Herman as well as rifles signed by John Moll working nearby in Allentown, not to mention a number of other regional gunsmiths such as Peter Neihardt or Jacob Kuntz. His brother Herman was just barely old enough to conceivably have been working for perhaps a year or two at most prior to the War (and Pennsylvania’s insistence that any capable gunsmiths cease civilian production to work for the state after ca. 1775-1776). Johannes, even if one were to stretch his birth date back to the earliest extent of a conceivable range, could not have been working on his own until after the close of the War and both of his surviving signed rifles display a form that evolved in the Northampton/Lehigh area following the War-era through the late 1780s and early 1790s. The frequent attributional dating to his work being of the pre-Revolutionary era is blatantly ludicrous; it simply is not possible, nor is it possible that he was making decorated civilian rifles during the War years when Pennsylvania authorities were aggressively coercing anyone with remotely competent gunsmithing abilities to work for the State. A stout or large rifle does not automatically associate with an early date! Joe Kindig published his monumental Thoughts on the Kentucky Rifle in its Golden Age in the 1960s, and outwardly expressed his belief that knowledge of these rifles and their makers would constantly develop over time, necessitating revisions. This is a wise and forward-thinking philosophy.
I do very much believe that a number of the post-War Northampton/Lehigh gunsmiths had worked, and perhaps honed their skills via 'crash-course,' at the State arsenal and gun repair facilities established at Allentown ca. 1777-1779 when Philadelphia was evacuated (see my article on this establishment for a detailed examination). Whether John Rupp was old enough to have been productively involved is questionable, but Herman Rupp certainly was of age as were older, known regional gunsmiths Johannes ‘John’ Moll and Peter Neihardt. Something drew all of these men together into a distinctive and very unique regional style, and in that sense, Johannes Rupp was definitely integral as his work perfectly characterizes the early development of the ‘school’ while displaying enough individuality to set him apart from his older brother and others working nearby.
Probably the earliest of his two signed rifles, and perhaps one of the earliest of the surviving ‘proper Lehigh’ rifles - contemporary with Peter Neihardt’s notable 1787 rifle? - is Kindig’s rifle number 62 (Thoughts…). This rifle is signed “John Rupp” and is a large, stout gun making use of some recycled earlier components (big lock + big breech = big rifle). This piece was also exceptionally well-photographed for the 2010 KRA ‘President’s Display’ CD of Lehigh area rifles, rifle #13. Two attributed pieces are also on this CD, but we all harbor our own opinions regarding such unsigned attributions so I have not discussed those two arms here.
His only other surviving signed rifle was briefly published in a 1941 publication, Forgotten Heritage: The Story of the People and the Early American Rifle by Harry Davis and only recently surfaced again via Poulin’s auction company after many years in hiding. It is clearly quite similar to the Kindig rifle but is a bit closer to the less-beefy ‘classic’ Lehigh form and is likely the later of the two in consideration of architectural and stylistic details, not merely the smaller overall size. A good number of photos can be viewed through Poulin’s website.
For the moment, I’m done. For the moment. I dearly wish I could provide more concrete, documentable answers regarding the life of this man, but at the present time additional research is required. Please STOP declaring these John Rupp rifles as “1775” or “pre-Revolutionary!” I think I’ve sufficiently proven that they’re not.
Addendum 1: Rupp tax assessments in Macungie, 1761 through 1790.
The full articles can be found here. We will published more parts daily.