CHAPTER II

THE FIRST AMERICAN LONGRIFLES

In the first chapter of our tutorial you learned that the three main ingredients that define the American Longrifle and why it is so different from not only its ancestors (the German Jaeger and the long barreled British/French smooth bored fowlers) but from any other longarms made before or after its inception and obsolescence.  As a refresher, these features are the long rifled barrels which ranged from 42” to over 50”, the stocks made of curly maple wood and most significantly, the hinged, metal, usually brass, patchbox covers. 

A definitive description and exact chronological development and implementation of these new features is impossible to verify.  Some presumptions have to be made although the small number of surviving examples of these early rifles give us a strong indication that their evolution from the European models began sometime after the middle of the eighteenth century. 

Special among them are two well-known DATED rifles whose make-up provide some important clues regarding this evolution and at what time in history…...but not positively where.   One is signed John Schreit on the barrel and dated 1761.  It is a perfect example of what we would expect it to be for that date.  Like the Jaeger, its architecture is broad and sturdy throughout. It also employs other similar features such as the swamped barrel being fastened to the stock with pins (no wedges at this early date). The barrel tang is square, the decoration is sparse, the butt plate is practically flat with no concavity. The large lock has a curved underside giving it the droopy look of the early European locks. The nose cap is relatively short. Some 40 years later these features would for the most part disappear.  Also, it has a wooden patchbox lid.  This does not guarantee however, that the brass cover had not been invented/utilized somewhere else and that if it had, that Schreit’s client wasn’t ready to accept and/or pay for the “new-fangled” device. Ordinarily, the grip rail on the trigger guard of a rifle from this early period would have been well off the stock with its rear extension held to the stock with a single screw.  In his definitive volumes I & II on Rifles of Colonial America George Shumway suggested that this trigger guard was a replacement for the original which is probably an accurate assumption.

The second rifle is also well-known to advanced collectors.  It too has a name and a date engraved on it but not on the barrel. Instead, it is on the “TWO piece”, brass patch-box lid.  In large block letters is the name JOHN SCHNEIDER and the date “Mr. 19th 1776”.  When a name & date are engraved on a rifle barrel it is almost always the name of the maker and the date that the gun was made (finished) as in the case of the Schreit.  A name and date on the patch box lid are no guarantee of this.  In fact, in most cases, but certainly not all, the inscription on the lid is usually referring to the owner and/or some special event or both.  We’ve never heard of or seen a firearm that was pre-dated so in this case it is safe to assume that at least 15 years passed between the manufacture of these two rifles.  This makes sense when you study and compare them.  

The Schneider retains many of the early features but there are three that show some advancement towards the final design of the American Longrifle.  Notably, the stock has been slenderized in the wrist and forestock areas relieving the somewhat “clubby” appearance of the earlier pieces and it carries an exceptionally long barrel of 47 ¾ inches long suggesting further development and experimentation on design and accuracy.  Most importantly, of course, is the simple two-piece brass patch box lid suggesting the embryonic stage of this utterly new and pleasant innovation. So at the very least we have learned that the brass PB lid was in existence at the beginning of the revolutionary war. On this rifle the grip rail of the broad and sturdy trigger guard is well off the stock and as expected for an early piece, its rear extension is attached to the stock with a screw. The decoration is pleasant but at best just a touch on the primitive side. 

As you will learn in future chapters our early gunsmiths knew they were onto something and continued to experiment and develop their own and collective ideas and eventually produced the magnificent long arm that is commonly referred to as the KENTUCKY RIFLE. For an in depth study of these early transitional rifles we strongly recommend that you acquire Shumway’s books mentioned above.  Simply go to www.shumwaypublisher.com.

The longrifles described are displayed below the text

The Schreit and Schneider Rifle pictures graciously provided by: Dorothy Shumway/ George Shumway Publishers, York, PA

   John Schneider 1776