Author Topic: Gillespie Philip 130103-5  (Read 7638 times)

Offline nord

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Gillespie Philip 130103-5
« on: March 19, 2013, 04:02:02 PM »
This rifle was made by Philip Gillespie of Mills River NC. Philip was born 2/11/1815  and died while serving in the (Union) North Carolina Mounted Infantry  in East TN 1/15/1864.

The rifle may have been built for a target shooter since it was very rare for any of the Gillespie gun makers to use back-action locks (arguably faster than the the standard drum/nipple). The 52 cal barrel is also larger than any other known Gillespie rifle. The barrel measures 37.5" in length, it is slightly swamped, measuring 1.010" at the breech, .940 in mid-section and 1.050" at the muzzle. The barrel has 4 German silver bands inlaid around it and the muzzle also has a wide German Silver inlay (not pictured). The patchbox, sideplate, wear plate, ram rod thimbles/entry pipe all appear to be made of the same German silver alloy used in the barrel inlays. The trigger guard, butt-plate and toe plate are made from brass. The stock is American Black Walnut.

Philip Gillespie is probably the best-known of the Gillespie gun maker. His rifles are normally marked with the initials P * G stamped on the top barrel flat. Most often he used little “fern” like stamps on either side of the initials, on this rifle he has them around the rear sight and also fore and aft of the rear German silver barrel inlays.  The front sight/barrel inlays has the same stamp treatment.

Philips gun shop was located on the banks of the Mills River in Henderson County NC. His father, Mathew Gillespie had his shop nearby.  Philips brothers John, James and Wilson may have been employed in his shop. His brother-in-laws George Washington Underwood and Robert O. Blythe and also his first cousin (and brother-in-law) John Harvey Gillespie may have worked there prior to Philips death in 1864. There is speculation that Philip may have had his initials stamped on other guns made in his shop. This may contribute to the many different styles rifles seen with the P * G marking.

Philip was very much an entrepreneur.  In addition to being a gun maker, he also was a farmer and owned a legal distillery.  In 1849 he purchased 347 acres of land from the estate of his Grandfather  (and namesake), Philip Sitton Sr. This property included the Philip Sitton Sr. home as well as the Sitton Iron Forge that Sitton had established circa 1800.

Foxfire 5  and also  “My Mountains, My People ” by John Paris, tell the story of Philip  burying a cask of brandy and a sack of gold coins the night before he left to join the Confederate forces. While this story may be based in truth, the cache has not been found and it is known that Philip, along with his brother Wilson, brothers-in-law George W. Underwood and Robert O. Blythe, left Mills River by foot, went to Ashville NC and there took a train to Tennessee.

The men worked for several days thrashing wheat and cutting corn. On September 25, 1863, the four men enlisted in the Union Army (not the Confederate as so often stated), at Greenville, Tennessee.

Philip was never married and had no children.


INVENTORY of the effects of Philip Gillespie, late a Private of Captain Joseph Hamilton, Company F. of the 2nd Regiment of North Carolina Mounted Infantry Volunteers, who was enrolled as a Private at Knoxville in the State of Tennessee on the 1st day of October, 1863, and mustered into the service of the United States as a Private on the 9th day of December 1863 at Walkersford in Company F. 2nd Regiment of N. C. M. I. Volunteers to serve 3 years or during the war; he was born in Buncombe County in the State of North Carolina; he was 44 years of age, 6 feet 0 inches high, light complexion, blue eyes, light hair, and by occupation, when enrolled, a Gun Smith; he died in Hospital at Maynardsville, Tenn. on the 15th day of January, 1864, by reason of chronic diarrhea.
Note: There were no items listed in the inventory.
I certify, on Honor, that the above inventory comprises all the effects of Philip Gillespie, deceased, and that the effects are in the hands of __________at ___________ to be disposed of by a Council of Administration.
J. H. Jennings
1st. Leiut.
Commanding the Company

Note that the "INVENTORY" does not list any personal items. Philips brother, Wilson, died (Typhoid Fever) the exact same day in nearby Tazewell, TN. Wilson's war record inventory also states that there were no items to inventory. Wilson's personal diary was sent home to the family (probably by the one surviving brother-in-law) so someone must have picked up these two brothers personal items before the final inventory was done.  The Gillespie family reports that Philips personal rifle and Bowie knife were returned to his family. A friend currently owns the Bowie knife, his personal rifle was reportedly sold to a pawn shop in Henderson County NC in the 50's or 60's. We can only speculate where it is.

Following photos by Mark E. Elliott


This rifle is far different from other Philip Gillespie rifles but there are several characteristics that identify it as one of his rifles. First, the stampings on the barrel are only seen on rifles made by Philip, his father, or one of his brothers. They are typical of work done by them on other signed rifles. I know of no other maker that used this style of stamping. His initial on the top barrel flat are the same as what he used on other known rifles.

The use of the back action lock is also unusual for Philip but Jerry Noble once owned a signed Mathew Gillespie rifle with the same type action, that rifle is pictured in one of Jerry's books. Possibly the that rifle may have inspired Philip to try a similiar lock. Also the double set triggers are made in the Gillespie style. The front of the trigger plate is held in a notch filed in the front of the trigger guard, the rear of the trigger plate is pointed as many of the Gillespie made trigger plates are. The decorative holes drilled in the triggers are the same style as the triggers his father used on a signed, and dated, Bear Pistol. I suspect Philip got the idea from those. The brass trigger guard and buttplate is typical of those Philip used on other signed rifles.

Some of the stampings used on the patchbox are the same as those used on the only other Philip Gillespie rifle known to have a full patchbox that is original to the rifle. However the prolific use of the little "horseshoe" shaped stamp is something I have not seen before on a Gillespie rifle.

Oh, one other thing, the stamping used on the rr pipes are identical to the stamps used on the rr pipes of a rifle made by Philip's brother Harvey. The only difference is that Harvey had his initials stamped on the middle rr pipe as well as on the top barrel flat.

What a unique and wonderful rifle!  The patchbox is like nothing I have previously seen, and I like it!
I agree, that's a fine looking rifle, and no doubt one of a kind!
It would have taken an imaginative gunsmith to make something like that, but was no doubt the pride and joy of the owner!

A fine southern rifle with considerable artistic merit. The ornamentation is as good as one could hope for and is really in a class by itself. The composition of elements is good and the engraving/stamping is unique.
This rifle is decorated in a manner not only unusual for Gillespie- but unusual for anyone.  I find this to be a delightful, folky rifle that brings a smile to my face.
« Last Edit: January 01, 2020, 06:00:54 PM by rich pierce »
In Memory of Lt. Catherine Hauptman Miller 6/1/21 - 10/1/00 & Capt. Raymond A. Miller 12/26/13 - 5/15/03...  They served proudly.