York countians major makers of Kentucky, make that Pennsylvania, long rifles

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George Shumway’s book on the Schreyer family of Hanover, Pa., shows York countians as major makers of 18th-century rifles. The book is available at York County libraries. Background posts: Springetts collector attracts ‘Antiques Roadshow’s’ Kenos and Northwestern York County flag expert: ‘I was interested in my nation’s heritage’ and York Hospital doc: Expert on antique surgical saws, antiquated procedure of bloodletting.

When people talk about Kentucky long rifles around here, they usually qualify them as Pennsylvania long rifles.

For example, when Denver, Pa.’s Dan Morphy Auctions sent a news release about a sale of a collection of long rifles set for today, it called them “Pennsylvania-made pre- and post-Revolutionary War era long rifles.”

The release later put “Kentucky” in quotes.

And the auction house gave further explanation:

“Kentucky rifles – more correctly Pennsylvania long rifles – were the product of German gunsmiths who immigrated to new settlements in Pennsylvania and Virginia as early as the 1740s. A uniquely American invention, designed for uniquely American needs and used by both civilians and colonial militia, the Kentucky rifle was probably the first mechanical device of any sort designed expressly in the new world. The long-range guns earned the name ‘Kentucky rifles’ because they were carried into the frontier territory (at that time Kentucky) by the longhunters, trappers and explorers of the 18th and early 19th centuries. The actual name ‘Kentucky Longrifle’ was first used in an 1812 song ‘The Hunters of Kentucky.’ “

Many Pennsylvania long rifles were made in York County, as George Shumway shows in his 1990 micro-study “George Schreyer, Sr. & Jr., Gunmakers of Hanover, York County, Pennsylvania.”
Here’s how Shumway started his lavishly illustrated work – featuring guns from Yorker Joe K. Kindig III’s collection – about these particular gunmakers working in Hanover:

“For the period from 1750 to the early 1820’s, it was a particularly favorable place for gunmakers to be located, for much of the traffic headed to the south and west rolled through this small town. Emigrants who were headed for the Valley of Virginia, through which the Shenandoah River flows, or ruther yet to piedmont North Carolina, or eastern Tennessee, or Kentucky, passed through Hanover if their journey started in eastern Pennsylvania. This great route for commerce and immigration that ran from Philadelphia through Lancaster and York and Frederick into the Valley of Virginia was called the Great Wagon Road. … Thus it came about that some of the earliest settlers of the Hanover region were involved either at the start, or later in life, in gunmaking, or had sons who became gunmakers, for the German gunmaking and gun-using culture came with these immigrants.”

Daniel Boone’s association with Kentucky obviously helped cement the name Kentucky long rifle. Too bad his link with Pennsylvania did not stick – he was born in Berks County and spent much of his youth here.
Wonder if he ever passed through York and Hanover via the Great Wagon Road on his way to fame in Kentucky.

About Jim McClure

Editor of the York Daily Record/Sunday News, ydr.com and its many digital products. Journalism/history blogger: yorktownsquare.com. Author or co-author of seven York County, Pa., history books.

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