Thursday, July 11, 2024

Ellis Houchin Pocahontas County Gunsmith

 Ellish Houchin was born in 1815.  Died December 15, 1882, in Pocahontas County, West Virginia. 

                                                              Click image for larger view

Ellis Houchin is listed in the 1870 census as a farmer and gunsmith in Bartow, WV.  Ellis owned several thousand acres of property north of Bartow and supposedly sold it and then later returned to the community and bought it back. A portion of this property is locally known as Houchin Hollow.

It bordered the property owned by Abraham Burner, an ancestor of this writer. Abraham was a Revolutionary War veteran and owned over 8000 acres.

Thus, the Houchin and Burner families were neighbors. I point this out because of what follows.

Ellis Houchin had eight children. They youngest was a male named Jefferson Lee Houchin who was born in 1861. You might surmise Ellis’s political sympathies from the name chosen for his son during this period in our nation’s history. 

Jefferson Lee was reputedly one of the finest shots in the county and a good father and husband, unless he was “in liquor” . He was drinking on July 6, 1900 in Durbin, WV and Constable C. L. Burner told Houchin to get out of town or he would arrest him.

Jeff Houchin did leave town, but on the way out of town, he told John Townsend that he was going home to get his 45/90 and take care of “Bud”Burner. 

He did get his rifle, and return to Durbin, but Constable Burner saw him first and Jeff Houchin died of three gunshots, two to the heart.

An inquest held the next day by Justice Gillispie exonerated Constable Burner.

Besides this story that relates to my family’s history, I have also been informed of a possible connection by the maker of this rifle to Pocahontas County Civil War History.

Ellis Houchin may have been involved in the “Hanging Rock”ambush of Union Cavalry at Durbin in July of 1861. This was a classic “bushwackers” affair carried out by a group led by a “local gunsmith”. 

The ambush resulted in the death of seven Union scouts from Burdsal’s troop of Ohio Cavalry that were watering their horses in the Greenbrier River. One rider escaped. Read Rebels at the Gate by Hunter Lesser.


                                                               Signed Ellis Houchin
                                                   October 23,1852 Parkersburg Gazette
                                                      Highland Recorder April 10, 1896

             Special thanks to Robert Sheets for sharing this rifle and story on Ellis Houchin. 

Thursday, April 18, 2024

William Britton

           William Britton was born in Maryland in 1794.  Worked at Harpers Ferry Arsenal. In the 1850 Hampshire County census, present-day Mineral, near Ft Ashby, we find Britton listed as a Gunsmith 56 years old, living with a family of 12; he was the only Britton on that record. Pictured in the (1) Gunsmiths of Maryland book on page 115 is a rifle by Martin Rizer. Martin was a gunsmith in Cumberland, Maryland, from the late 1700s till his death in 1815. This Martin Rizer rifle uses the same butt plate return, toe plate, and patch box finial as this Britton rifle. With these features on both rifles, William Britton most likely apprenticed with Martin Rizer II.  If not, there was a close association between the two individuals. As far as we know, only half a dozen of Britton's rifles still exists. 

                                                                Signed W. Britton


Click to enlarge.


The above rifle was made circa 1820.  It was a flintlock and, during the percussion period, was converted to percussion using the original lockplate.  It has deep relief Rococo carving and artistically engraved brass furnishings.  


Signed, W. Britton

  The above William Britton rifle was made circa 1840.  The overall length is 57 inches & the 38-cal rifled barrel is 42 inches long.  G Moyer, a lockmaker in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, signed the percussion lock.  

Thanks to the owner of these rifles who allow us to photograph & post pictures of their rifles.  Thanks to  Aspenshadeltd for sharing photos with us.  BMS & JDM

1 Gunsmith of Maryland by Daniel D Hartzler & James B. Whisker


Monday, February 26, 2024

Bits & Pieces

  Many of the gunsmiths in the 1800s made approximately 20 rifles a year.  We believe some of the bigger shops in Hampshire County, such as Sheetz & Rinehart shops, produced more.   Where did they go? 

Some of the early Glaze rifles made near Springfield on Springfield Pike near Milleson's Bridge saw service in the American Revolution.  However, most of the makers here & the vicinity were active in their trade post-Revolution. The War of 1812 probably contributed to the demise of many.  However, the Civil War was the most efficient eliminator of Virginia-made rifles.  Many were destroyed in battles and horrible conditions, and others were confiscated from Rebels & citizens by Union Troops.   

Immediately after the Civil War, the old American Long rifle was nearly forgotten.  The birth of cartridge guns and war surplus was more than it could handle. 

So, where did the rest go?   As the stock became damaged with age and abuse, some were discarded, but parts that could be used for other tools were saved.  I believe a lot was lost to house fires that were so common until fairly recently.

Many old barrels, locks & brass parts also went into WWI and WWII war efforts.  During both wars, Americans actively sought and donated scrap metals to meet the massive demand for metals. 

While Bits & Pieces are not as desirable to a collector or student of the long rifle as the complete rifle would be, they are still a handy tool in studying the work of our early gunmakers.   

  All of the following relics are remnants of rifles made here in Hampshire County. 

Attributed to Zebulon Sheetz 1793-1867

                                                           Frederick Sheetz 1774-1861

                                                     Made by someone in the Sheetz Family 
                                                             George Young 1802-1875
                                                             This Rifle Exploded in Half
                                               George Young Rifle Barrel Signed G Young
                                                                            41" .45 cal.
                                                                      For More Info 

Sunday, October 29, 2023

"The US Senator's Rifle"

 While attending a recent antique longrifle show, we came across this display.  The owner of this historical rifle display graciously allowed us to photograph and gave us permission to post the photos here.  We will let the display tell the story. 

Click Image for larger View

The following link will take you to the story of James & William Sims gunsmiths and early pioneers of Nicholas County. 

Thanks to Ed Rayl & Cathy Meder-Dempsey 


Saturday, October 28, 2023

Peter M Thrush, Burlington WV

 Peter M Thrush born 1814 died in 1889.  Peter was a gunsmith in the Burlington area from at least 1850 to his death.  He is listed as a gunsmith in the 1850,1870 & 1880 Mineral County census.  We have seen less than half a dozen rifles made by him.  One was signed Peter M Thrush in the script, the other rifles were signed P M T one in block letter and the remaining in script.  All of the rifles we have seen were percussion and most likely he never built many if any flintlocks as he was active during the percussion period. 

Signed P M T

Sunday, August 6, 2023

William Reynolds & Sons Greenbrier County

 We have seen a few William Reynold's rifles and have always enjoyed seeing his unique patchboxes & the cheekpiece with the mirror.  Most of his rifles we viewed had his name engraved onto the patchbox lid. Some also have his name engraved into the barrel flat between the rear sight and breech, as most signed American Longrifles do. We have seen "Wm Reynolds, Wm Reynolds & Co., and on this one pictured below, we find engraved on the patchbox lid, Wm Reynolds & Sons.


Circa 1840

Who were the sons? We know William had a son-in-law Benjamin Franklin Brown who was a gunsmith from previous research.  While researching to find his sons, we recalled a few years back, we took some photos of an old collection of West Virginia rifles. In those photos, we found the image below. The rifle had a Reynolds-style patchbox and incised carving on the cheek side.  The picture is poor but reads F H Reynolds. There may be another letter or letters behind the name, maybe Jr.  Hopefully, someone will have a rifle signed by F H Reynolds and share better photos with us. 
                                                                          F H Reynolds

                                                          1850 Monroe County Census

Francis H Reynolds was born in 1822 in North Carolina. In the 1850 census, he is listed as a gunsmith in Monroe County, Virginia, present-day WV.  On at least one genealogy site, they indicate he is the son of William, but another site suggests his father was named Francis. This could confirm the "Jr" behind his name on the rifle barrel.  In the 1870 & 1880 census, Francis is listed as a blacksmith in Putnam County. He died in 1900 at age 78.  He is buried in the Old Hurricane Baptist Church Cemetery. 

We are looking forward to more information on William Reynolds and sons.  We need more clarity on this one. Thanks, BMS & JDM

Earlier Post on William Reynolds





Ellis Houchin Pocahontas County Gunsmith

 Ellish Houchin was born in 1815.  Died December 15, 1882, in Pocahontas County, West Virginia.                                             ...