Author Topic: Christian Symbols on Longrifles  (Read 2037 times)

Offline oldarcher

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Christian Symbols on Longrifles
« on: March 13, 2019, 03:16:03 PM »
I just received my March issue of Muzzle Blasts and on the inside of the back cover in the "Beyond Friendship" article there is a picture of a beautiful Longrifle with a heart and cross inlay. I found this inlay very compelling and it occurs to me that I can't remember seeing many original carvings, engravings, or inlays of symbols of JESUS CHRIST, such as crosses or the like. Have I just taken these for granted and when I saw them they were so natural for me to see that I don't remember them? Were there many Christian symbols on Original rifles, I have looked in my books showing original rifles and did not see any, I did find Masonic symbols. If you have any pictures of original rifles with Christian symbols on them please share them, I would really like to  see them.  Thank You

Offline t.caster

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Re: Christian Symbols on Longrifles
« Reply #1 on: March 13, 2019, 04:11:16 PM »
Only thing I've seen is J.P. Beck engraved "I.N.R.I." on a couple gun barrels. Latin translation: "Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews" it was a placard typically placed at the top of his crucifix. No crosses, but lots of star of David's, or just north stars.
Tom C.

Offline Cory Joe Stewart

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Re: Christian Symbols on Longrifles
« Reply #2 on: March 13, 2019, 04:19:33 PM »
Years ago I started to notice the same thing with powder horns. In graduate school I studied religion in 18th century America. Keep in mind the Second Great Awakening hadn't happened yet and religion was very private. It seems no one felt the need to outwardly Express religious ideology.  For example as we do today, fish magnets on cars, tshirts, wwjd bracelets etc.  Why this is is debated by scholars.

The conclusion that I draw is that because many (not all) communities were centered around a congregation.  In my research Prebyterians lived around other Prebyterians, Anglicans lived around other Anglicans, Moravians etc.  So there was no need to market ones ideology.

Now, these groups all intermingled and a much higher rate then they did in Europe.  Many people (not all) came to the colonies to avoid some level of religious conflict or persecution. And they did not want to repeat the mistakes of Europe's past.

Douglas Southall Freeman wrote an extensive biography on George Washington and noted that even in his private writings religion was largely absent. But Washington spoke and wrote extensively about Free Masonry.  Freeman's conclusion is that Free Masonry was Washington's religion.  So perhaps when you see that on a horn or a rifle there could be religious symbolism that was recognized by the original owner or builder, but not us.

This in no way answers your question but may play some role in explaining why.  It's a very fascinating topic you have brought up.

Cory Joe Stewart

Offline Hungry Horse

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Re: Christian Symbols on Longrifles
« Reply #3 on: March 13, 2019, 05:13:43 PM »
I don’t know about Christian symbols on longrifles, but they are quite common on Native American owned tradeguns and rifles.
 A friend inherited an odd collection of native owned percussion “ monkey guns” collected in South America. Virtually every one of the had a cross carved into it stock somewhere.

  Hungry Horse

Offline Mike Brooks

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Re: Christian Symbols on Longrifles
« Reply #4 on: March 13, 2019, 05:25:53 PM »
Take a look at all the Christian's Spring rifles. All of the animal figures came right out of an illustrated Bible of the time period. You'll also see those same figures  painted on  ceilings of wooden Synagogues in Europe in that same period. Griffin, Lion, leopard  etc.

Other wise I can't recall anything like cross inlays or the words " Jesus Christ" on any old guns. Of course somebody here is going to rapidly prove me wrong!

You'll see artist renditions of comets on a lot of old guns too after 1800. There was a comet....can't remember when in the early 1800's that must have been a pretty big deal as it ended up on a lot of gun work. Also, "The Sunin Clipse", another big shake up for the old timers.
« Last Edit: March 13, 2019, 08:26:44 PM by Mike Brooks »
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Offline bama

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Re: Christian Symbols on Longrifles
« Reply #5 on: March 13, 2019, 06:41:26 PM »
I am not an expert about this at all but I know that many of our early ancestors came here because of religious persecution in their home country. That may be a factor in the absence of religious symbols. I do think as Mike mentioned if you look they are there just not in the forms we think of today, like crosses. The fish symbol became popular on later guns.

Free Masonry is not a religion but its whole process is founded on the belief in God. So in that since you have to be religious to be a Mason. Masonry does not recognize or differentiate between religions. Many different faiths can be represented in a lodge but non are discriminated against by any of its membership. For this reason the masonic symbols are excepted among many religious faiths and not deemed unacceptable or to be persecuted.

I know today Christianity is under fire from many directions, in reality it has been that way ever since Christ walked with us. Even with all the persecution today, we live in a time of great religious freedom.

Just thoughts on my part.
Jim Parker

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Offline KentSmith

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Re: Christian Symbols on Longrifles
« Reply #6 on: March 14, 2019, 12:58:36 AM »
Two points I would make.  First while many immigrants to the New World came in large part to escape religious persecution in the Old World, they were seldom scions of religious freedom themselves. 8 of the 13 colonies adopted state supported Protestant churches, most normally the Anglican or Puritan offshoots formed in Great Britain.  Methodists, BAptists, Quakers and other "Dissenters" were considered outsiders and a threat to social order.  Most often encouraged to take up settlement elsewhere. The idea that our ancestors came to the New World in search of a land where everyone could worship as they pleased is a complete fallacy  They wanted somewhere that they and their congregations could worship as their sect required.

Two, post Reformation, specifically, Dutch, German and to some extend English Protestant churches rejected the decoration found in Roman Catholic society as idolatrous.  The Germans and to some extent the Dutch had survived the horrors of the Thirty Years War and years of fighting against traditional Catholic powers (20 million germans died during the 30 Years War).  Protestant churches were most often void of any display of religious decoration, crucifixes, candle sticks, etc.  Various protestant sects abhorred the use of ostentatious decoration, any long arms they owned would likely have been bereft and any decoration whatever.  Of course more worldly, more deist members of society would relax these objections to artistic displays and their possessions obviously would be better decorated but in a secular way.  Certainly the display of a cross on a gun made by a protestant gunsmith, Moravian or Anglican would be suspect.  I would dare say the current practice of the display of  religious exaltation would be met by a colonist in the 18th century as near idolatry.  The Moravians/ PA. Germans/Dutch followed the prescribed Enlightenment artist practice of using natural symbols, the lamb, fruit, flowers, animals making real world objects symbolic of Biblical teachings, and examples of the perfection of God's creation.  Folkart symbolism, somewhat rooted in religious symbolism is about as far as you are going to get.

I seriously doubt you will find an original longrifle built in largely protestant North American that has a crucifix or the name of Jesus Christ displayed anywhere.  If you think you should you really do not understand the people that left Europe to settle in English North American 1650-1790.

IMHO


Offline Stophel

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Re: Christian Symbols on Longrifles
« Reply #7 on: March 14, 2019, 01:26:08 AM »
Moravians were a bit different, but in general, religious symbols were seen as unbiblical idolatrous  popery by most Christians.  More generic symbols like angels, or representations of death (alle menschen müssen sterben... all men must die) were commonly seen, of course, but not really on guns. Mennonites (and others) have some symbolism of their own that is seen on Fraktur documents, but these are generally explicitly religious in nature anyway.  I have still not seen the "pelican" plucking its breast to nourish its young depicted on a rifle...

Much has been written about the religious symbolism found on Moravian guns.  Some of it is probably true... some of it, I think is stretching quite a bit...

In the 19th century, you start seeing the ICHTHUS.  I don't think I have seen it any earlier than then.

The cheekpiece star is NOT the so-called "star of David" (which it isn't anyway...).  In the German auction catalogs, it is called the Fraenkischer Stern.  The Star of Franken (which the English insist on calling "Franconia").  It apparently has heraldic significance that I don't know.  It is seen on German guns from the regions all along the Main river, from Franken to the Pfalz.... where a large number of Germans in Pennsylvania came from.  I doubt it had any more significance to the ordinary gunsmith beyond representing the compass points.
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Offline Marcruger

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Re: Christian Symbols on Longrifles
« Reply #8 on: March 14, 2019, 02:12:03 AM »
In any event, I love seeing the crosses on Jim Parkers beautiful guns. They are a great reminder for me of what’s important. Best wishes, Marc

Offline Elnathan

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Re: Christian Symbols on Longrifles
« Reply #9 on: March 14, 2019, 02:46:01 AM »
Another thing to bear in mind is that Christianity was in a very different cultural position in the 18th and early 19th centuries than it is today. I think a lot of the more overt symbolism found today is in part a reaction to the decline of Christianity as the dominant belief system. Back then, pretty much everyone of European descent (and quite a number of Africans and even some Indians) were at least nominally Christian. There really wasn't any need to declare oneself a Christian to the public at large - it would be like walking down the street of an American city today declaring that you speak English ("Well, yeah, most of us do. Why are you telling us this?").

There was a considerable amount of religious fervor in 18th century America, even in the backcountry (Marjoleine Kars has an interesting discussion of religion in Breaking Loose Together that indicates that, contra Woodmason, the backcountry folks in North Carolina were rather interested in the subject). It centered around the issues of individual salvation and responsibilities versus deference to the established hierarchies, though, not the truth of Christianity as a whole. (Deism in America seems to me to have been more of an attitude within nominal Christianity rather than the separate and hostile belief system it was in Europe, Thomas Jefferson's edited Bible not withstanding.)
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Offline tomjanemc

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Re: Christian Symbols on Longrifles
« Reply #10 on: March 14, 2019, 03:41:55 AM »
 Two 19th century gunsmiths from the Swiss Mennonite settlement in Putnam County,Ohio used the Christian symbol - fish on their rifles. The finial of the patchbox as you can see from these pictures.
Gunsmith Rev. John Moser was a minister for several local Mennonite church’s and gunsmith Peter Geiger who lived 2 miles from Moser.




Offline David R.

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Re: Christian Symbols on Longrifles
« Reply #11 on: March 14, 2019, 02:41:34 PM »
Cory, I think something we miss today is an understanding of the extreme reverence generally held for God in the past. In Jewish tradition God's name was considered too holy to be spoken by mortals. I think some of this reverence spilled over into Christian religion and, combined with a fear of recreating European religious persecution, resulted in the guarded way religion appears in some of our founder's writings. Very often God is referenced by terms like; our Creator or Divine Providence etc.,.
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Offline Mike Brooks

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Re: Christian Symbols on Longrifles
« Reply #12 on: March 14, 2019, 03:17:47 PM »
Two 19th century gunsmiths from the Swiss Mennonite settlement in Putnam County,Ohio used the Christian symbol - fish on their rifles. The finial of the patchbox as you can see from these pictures.
Gunsmith Rev. John Moser was a minister for several local Mennonite church’s and gunsmith Peter Geiger who lived 2 miles from Moser.



Or perhaps he was just an avid walleye fisherman....just yankin' yer chain. ;D
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Offline Top Jaw

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Re: Christian Symbols on Longrifles
« Reply #13 on: March 14, 2019, 03:25:09 PM »
I know some of the Beck rifles have INRI on the barrels.  Not really a symbol, but an abbreviation for the Latin phrase posted by Pilate at the crucifiction site.  Translates as “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”.

Offline Mike Brooks

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Re: Christian Symbols on Longrifles
« Reply #14 on: March 14, 2019, 03:30:50 PM »
I know some of the Beck rifles have INRI on the barrels.  Not really a symbol, but an abbreviation for the Latin phrase posted by Pilate at the crucifiction site.  Translates as “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”.
Always on the bottom flat though as if it is to be hidden.
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Offline kentuckyrifleman

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Re: Christian Symbols on Longrifles
« Reply #15 on: March 14, 2019, 08:56:28 PM »
Two points I would make.  First while many immigrants to the New World came in large part to escape religious persecution in the Old World, they were seldom scions of religious freedom themselves. 8 of the 13 colonies adopted state supported Protestant churches, most normally the Anglican or Puritan offshoots formed in Great Britain.  Methodists, BAptists, Quakers and other "Dissenters" were considered outsiders and a threat to social order.  Most often encouraged to take up settlement elsewhere. The idea that our ancestors came to the New World in search of a land where everyone could worship as they pleased is a complete fallacy  They wanted somewhere that they and their congregations could worship as their sect required.

Two, post Reformation, specifically, Dutch, German and to some extend English Protestant churches rejected the decoration found in Roman Catholic society as idolatrous.  The Germans and to some extent the Dutch had survived the horrors of the Thirty Years War and years of fighting against traditional Catholic powers (20 million germans died during the 30 Years War).  Protestant churches were most often void of any display of religious decoration, crucifixes, candle sticks, etc.  Various protestant sects abhorred the use of ostentatious decoration, any long arms they owned would likely have been bereft and any decoration whatever.  Of course more worldly, more deist members of society would relax these objections to artistic displays and their possessions obviously would be better decorated but in a secular way.  Certainly the display of a cross on a gun made by a protestant gunsmith, Moravian or Anglican would be suspect.  I would dare say the current practice of the display of  religious exaltation would be met by a colonist in the 18th century as near idolatry.  The Moravians/ PA. Germans/Dutch followed the prescribed Enlightenment artist practice of using natural symbols, the lamb, fruit, flowers, animals making real world objects symbolic of Biblical teachings, and examples of the perfection of God's creation.  Folkart symbolism, somewhat rooted in religious symbolism is about as far as you are going to get.

I seriously doubt you will find an original longrifle built in largely protestant North American that has a crucifix or the name of Jesus Christ displayed anywhere.  If you think you should you really do not understand the people that left Europe to settle in English North American 1650-1790.

IMHO

This rings very true from my (somewhat limited) reading on the era and my personal faith. Many early Protestants did indeed see any religious paraphernalia as idolatrous and the most strident Protestants could be more than a little iconoclastic. Many who took Martin Luther's teachings too far in his day responded by smashing crucifixes and statues in Roman Catholic churches. The American colonies were largely founded by Protestant groups with Roman Catholic persecution and hegemony fresh in their minds, so the Church and it's trappings were seen as suspect not only to right belief, but to civil order itself. Therefore, anything that—to them—hinted at the RC church was to be avoided like the plague.

Add to that the cultural "Christianity" of the day, and I think that explains a lot of what we're discussing.

Offline deepcreekdale

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Re: Christian Symbols on Longrifles
« Reply #16 on: March 15, 2019, 12:31:55 AM »
To add a little to what Cory Joe and Kentucky Rifleman said, it is possible that people actually were not as religious back then as we think. In the 1790 census, only 17% of respondents claimed membership in a church. To add to what Cory Joe stated, the second Great Awakening peaked in the 1820's or so and that is when the particular American brand of religious practice began. I certainly do not intend to initiate any sort of religious discussion here but to pose a possible solution to the OP's question.
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Offline Tacksman45

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Re: Christian Symbols on Longrifles
« Reply #17 on: May 07, 2019, 06:07:23 AM »
Does anyone know of any examples of triquetra or "trinity knot" symbols on original longrifles? If not this specifically, does anyone know of any other Celtic knot symbols being used?

Thanks!

Offline Pete G.

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Re: Christian Symbols on Longrifles
« Reply #18 on: May 07, 2019, 09:02:41 PM »
I have always heard that the weeping heart was symbolic of the fifth wound of Christ.

Offline yellowhousejake

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Re: Christian Symbols on Longrifles
« Reply #19 on: May 07, 2019, 09:58:01 PM »
To add a little to what Cory Joe and Kentucky Rifleman said, it is possible that people actually were not as religious back then as we think. In the 1790 census, only 17% of respondents claimed membership in a church. To add to what Cory Joe stated, the second Great Awakening peaked in the 1820's or so and that is when the particular American brand of religious practice began. I certainly do not intend to initiate any sort of religious discussion here but to pose a possible solution to the OP's question.

To go a bit further, membership in a church could be expensive and came with responsibilities in many communities. You had to buy a pew in many churches and behavior was monitored and corrected, a good bit of religion was taught and practiced at home. Religion could be expensive for the poor. Several books talk about the religious beliefs of the time. Two that come to mind are "Albion's Seed" by David Hacket Fisher and "The Minutemen and Their World" by Robert Gross. I also note that in my reading religion then was centered around God, not Jesus, at the time. I have rarely read the name Jesus Christ in old texts.

I would agree that how religious belief was displayed then was far different than today. In two hundred years they might be asking why we had so many crosses, doves, and fishes everywhere, and yet were so sinful.

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Offline Ken Prather

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Re: Christian Symbols on Longrifles
« Reply #20 on: May 08, 2019, 12:11:10 AM »
What about Bible verse references? do you see any Bible quotes or verse references on original guns?
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Offline spinner

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Re: Christian Symbols on Longrifles
« Reply #21 on: May 08, 2019, 03:44:27 AM »
This is a very interesting discussion. Our Separatist and Puritan ancestors branded any displays of religious signs, symbols and statues, etc. as "popery".

Mike: the Solar Eclipse happened on June 16, 1806. Maybe the guy who made that rifle (don't remember if it was signed) was engraving the piece and got mad when the lights went out. He then added that detail in protest. At least we can zero in on a date when the gun was made.

Offline oldschoolshooter

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Re: Christian Symbols on Longrifles
« Reply #22 on: May 08, 2019, 04:40:29 AM »
The “I was free born” rifle pictured in RCA comes to mind with quotes.  Acts 22:28

Scripture that was used to express a  political double meaning of the day?

Offline Ken Prather

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Re: Christian Symbols on Longrifles
« Reply #23 on: May 08, 2019, 02:50:53 PM »
Seems like referencing and or quoting Scripture was, (and maybe still is) more of a protestant thing and using symbols more of a catholic thing.
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Offline Elnathan

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Re: Christian Symbols on Longrifles
« Reply #24 on: May 08, 2019, 03:22:16 PM »
Quote
This is a very interesting discussion. Our Separatist and Puritan ancestors branded any displays of religious signs, symbols and statues, etc. as "popery".

True, but the longrifles weren't being built in or for New England, but by and for the PA Dutch and others for other PA Dutch and Scots-Irish/English, who were largely Presbyterians and other dissenters (non-Church of England). Those are different traditions with differing attitudes towards religious art, I think. Also, the First Great Awakening had a pretty big impact on the colonial society and beliefs - what may have been true of the 17th and early 18th century wasn't necessarily the case post-1760.

However, I don't think that there has to be any specific prohibition against religious imagery to explain why it doesn't show up. Case in point: Even today, in my own old-school Presbyterian church, you won't find much overt symbolism on personal objects (fish on cars, etc.) Some, but not much. There is no prohibition against it and it isn't even discouraged per se, it just isn't how we tend to express ourselves.

The issue of church membership is an interesting one. I'll add my 2 cents: In the Carolina backcountry immediately prior to the Revolution, there were only a handful of established, formal churches. Only two or three Presbyterian congregations and the Moravians in Salem, plus a Quaker church or two, I think. If you only count those who were formally members of those churches, then the percentage of churchgoers in that region would appear very small. However, it is pretty clear from other sources that there were numerous people who were gathering together of a Sunday to read the scriptures and take turns preaching to each other - Quakers, Baptists, Presbyterians, and whatnot all in the same gathering. By the standards of the day, those would not have been considered as belong to a congregation; by today's standards they very well might. I think that there were church services being held in Boonesboro even from the very early days, though I am not certain.

I don't tend to think that everyone, or necessarily even a large majority, of folks were all that serious about religion. I suspect that it wasn't all that different than today, as a matter of fact. the way churches were established and tied into a larger system was different though, so just looking at formal membership is a bit misleading, I think.

Also, American attitudes towards religion seem to have changed quite a bit over the 70 years or so the longrifle was in its heyday. Might not be a good idea to generalize too much.
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