Articles

"The most fatal widow and orphan makers in the world"
Life Magazine
May 30, 1955

In the Pennsylvania rifle the American patriot and the American craftsman joined forces. The early colonials brought over rifles like the one fourth from the top above- a short barreled German gun with thick butt and awkward trigger guard. From this colonial gunsmiths developed a new weapon suited to the frontiersman's needs. The Pennsylvania rifle, a true American product, had a long barrel (45-50 inches) which gave steadiness and balance to the gun and greater accuracy to the shot. To engage the bullet snugly in the barrel, a hunter wrapped each piece of shot in a patch of greased cloth or buckskin, and to hold the patches the guns had a hinged patch box at the end of the butt.

From a long rifle, which was the most accurate in the world, the most important single shot of the Revolution was fired – by Tim Murphy of Northumberland County, Pa., who killed British General Simon Fraser at 300 yards at the Battle of Saratoga and began the demoralization of the British troops. The British honored the long rifles with a rueful epithet: “...the most fatal widow and orphan makers in the world.”

Having produced a good weapon, the gunmakers took pains to make it good looking-keeping lines clean, the butt thin, the trigger guard graceful, the decorations refined. The rifle at top above, made for a pre-Revolutionary hunter, is decorated by carved scrolls and a brass patch box. The elaborately decorated one beneath, which was of later make, was probably the exhibition piece of an expert marksman. It has 40 silver inlays in addition to the scrolls and its cheek piece in an explosion of star, crescent and fish patterns. The third gun down, made about 1790, has a butt cut in a shoulder-fitting crescent, and among its rich ornamentation a formalized bird.

Some Revolutionary soldiers liked to decorate their equipment. At left is drum adorned with flags of France and North Carolina militia. Below are an officer's sword with lion's head handle, an enlisted man's sword. At right is a leather hunting pouch, powder horn, knife, bullet mold (like a pair of pliers), flintlock pistol. At bottom right is a halberd used by sergeants to measure distance between ranks. At upper right is fringed jacket, three-cornered hat and a buckskin bullet pouch lying on a manual of arms drawn up by Baron von Steuben for Revolutionary troops.

Life Magazine Spread
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