Author Topic: Finally Found a Florida Rifle...  (Read 1839 times)

Online Tanselman

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Finally Found a Florida Rifle...
« on: March 09, 2020, 02:27:05 AM »
I have wintered in Florida for nine years now, and have seen very few interesting rifles or horns down here. During those years, I have looked for a Florida signed rifle, but without success. Florida was settled later than most eastern states, and did not seem to have the local demand for firearms that northern states did, once it had a few established and growing towns. But this past week I FINALLY found a Florida rifle, unmistakably signed, by one of the few known gunsmiths down here. A little research into the gunsmith, Calvin Oak of Jacksonville, FL, came up with an interesting story.

Calvin Oak was born in 1806 in Vermont and grew up there. He was trained as a gunsmith in nearby New York, then worked at Grafton in Windham County, Vermont, as a gunsmith until 1851. That year he was diagnosed with tuberculosis and told he had six months to live...but a warmer climate might prolong his life. So he moved to Jacksonville, Florida, then a port town on the St. Johns River on Florida's northeastern Atlantic coast. The small town was growing, its primary business exporting Florida lumber [pine and southern oak...used in northern shipbuilding] and some cotton. The climate suited Oak, and he worked 30 more years before he died in 1881...becoming a leading businessman, city alderman, tax assessor, and one of the wealthiest citizens in Jacksonville...but not from gunsmithing. He worked as a gunsmith from 1851 until 1856, then opened the first mortuary in Jacksonville and in a side (but related) business sold imported marble. His business dates help place this rifle at 1851-1856...and that timeframe appears appropriate for the gun.

In one of his advertisements for the gunsmithing business, Oak boasted that his rifles were finer than those made by any other [Florida] gunsmith. His oldest son, Edward, worked with him while he was a gunsmith, and his rifle is stamped "C. Oak & Son, Jacksonville Fla." When he went into the mortuary business in 1856, he did so with another son, Byron...presumably leaving his older son to continue the gunsmithing business, at least for a while.

I realize none of you are going to get excited about a Florida rifle, especially an 1850s half-stocked gun. But it's a rare piece down here, first marked rifle I've seen in nine years, so at least you will get to see a somewhat scarce commodity. In doing internet searches for Florida gunsmiths, it readily becomes apparent they are few and far between. The rifle is well stocked in good quality walnut, has a fine checkered wrist, cap-box, and eagle inlay in cheek, and fancy trigger guard with elaborate front extension or finial. The only engraving is scroll work on the patent breech's tang. The muzzle is turned for a ball starter, and a somewhat later adjustable rear sight has been installed. It has a single forestock key, long two-screw tang with hole about midpoint for (probably) a rear peep sight. Barrel is 35" with .50 cal. bore. For Florida, it's a neat rifle...for up north, well...

So now you have seen an actual Florida rifle, and can go back to discussing those southern mountain rifles!

Shelby Gallien










« Last Edit: March 10, 2020, 06:46:43 PM by Tanselman »

Offline Dennis Glazener

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Re: Finally Found a Florida Rifle...
« Reply #1 on: March 09, 2020, 02:35:52 AM »
Interesting story and a decent looking rifle, now that you have found a rifle you need to establish a "school" something like the "St John's River" school :)
Dennis
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Offline Sequatchie Rifle

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Re: Finally Found a Florida Rifle...
« Reply #2 on: March 09, 2020, 02:52:07 AM »
Congratulations! Fine looking flatlander Rifle!
"We fight not for glory, nor riches nor honors, but for freedom alone, which no good man gives up except with his life. Declaration of Arbroath, 1320

Offline WadePatton

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Re: Finally Found a Florida Rifle...
« Reply #3 on: March 09, 2020, 05:19:22 AM »
Good story, neat rifle.  Thanks for sharing.
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Offline BruceH

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Re: Finally Found a Florida Rifle...
« Reply #4 on: March 09, 2020, 02:15:29 PM »
Well, I have been in Florida all my life and have never seen a documented Florida rifle.  Thank you very much.  Interesting that it is walnut and the barrel caliber and length.  The more I build and the more I hunt with them in our generally thick environment, the more I have come around to preferring a rifle with about those same specifications.

Offline 120RIR

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Re: Finally Found a Florida Rifle...
« Reply #5 on: March 09, 2020, 03:52:10 PM »
That's really neat!  Although not so much along the lines of the "popular" styles typically discussed on this site, it's a great regional piece and something different.  Given Oak's Vermont/New York origins, what features (if any) on this rifle might reflect his gunsmithing experience up that way?

Offline General

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Re: Finally Found a Florida Rifle...
« Reply #6 on: March 09, 2020, 06:12:25 PM »
  I find it to be a very interesting rifle indeed.  I asked my little brother to watch for some rifles when he moved there several years ago but he hasn't came up with anything yet.  Looks like he missed one but of course it is a big area and I don't think he gets out and about very much.  The trigger guard is different from anything I have seen but I don't see very well  :o.  Thank you for sharing a first.
Best Wishes to all
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Online Tanselman

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Re: Finally Found a Florida Rifle...
« Reply #7 on: March 09, 2020, 07:25:15 PM »
This response is regarding the question about what details on the rifle reflect Oak's New England roots. In my opinion, there are several details that point in that direction. I am not familiar with standard Vermont rifles...other than the under-hammers and buggy rifles made there...but I can see a number of New York influences. The walnut stocking with butt's straight comb & toe lines is common there, as is the finely checkered wrist that's almost a "given" on a NY rifle of this period. The larger than normal rounded cheekpiece, animal inlay (eagle here, but deer, too) in cheek, trigger guard with oval rear spur (rather than simple curved spur) and "sculptured" front extension, and patent breech with scrolled snail all relate to NY gunmaking. That doesn't mean those details were exclusive to NY, but more common there. Oak was known to favor Remington barrels while in Vermont, but I don't see any barrel maker's mark on the exposed flats on this rifle.

Shelby Gallien
« Last Edit: March 10, 2020, 06:38:00 PM by Tanselman »

Offline Craig Wilcox

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Re: Finally Found a Florida Rifle...
« Reply #8 on: March 10, 2020, 12:00:01 AM »
Shelby, it is really a nice find, and I like the cheek rest, tg, and the rest of it.  I lived mostly in FL from '62 to '08, and didn't know of ANY Florida gun makers during the earlier years.
Craig Wilcox
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Offline BruceH

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Re: Finally Found a Florida Rifle...
« Reply #9 on: March 10, 2020, 12:36:53 AM »
Shelby, I did forget one Florida rifle that has been around quite a long time.  The Escopeta with the Miquelet lock.  There is another builder here in North Florida (Dale Nicencehelser) who has started building them and they are absolutely nice to shoot.  I am actually going to compete with one next week at the the annual Brushy Creek five day shoot in south Georgia.

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Re: Finally Found a Florida Rifle...
« Reply #10 on: March 10, 2020, 12:41:32 AM »
As a former New Englander, now a retiree living in Florida, I hope that Mr. Oak offered to his customer's the requisite "Senior Discount" to any potential customers.

Offline Avlrc

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Re: Finally Found a Florida Rifle...
« Reply #11 on: March 10, 2020, 01:02:37 AM »
Interesting story & great to find such a rare gun.  Congratulations on your find, especially since you were specifically looking for a Florida rifle.

Offline Levy

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Re: Finally Found a Florida Rifle...
« Reply #12 on: March 10, 2020, 03:50:53 AM »
Never seen a gun that was made in Florida.  I've seen quite a few military arms that have been recovered from Florida waters and parts of trade guns, escopetas/Miquelet and matchlocks.  Some long gun parts have been recovered too, but nothing from Florida.  Most long guns seemed to have moved south from makers in the north or in England.  The caliber doesn't surprise me, as Florida still had big game when most of the other coastal states were already hunted out.  I always wanted to see what a Florida made gun looked like and thanks to Shelby, now I have.  James Levy
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Online Tanselman

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Re: Finally Found a Florida Rifle...
« Reply #13 on: March 10, 2020, 07:53:26 AM »
In response to Westbury's comment - I doubt he gave "senior discounts" in his gunsmithing business...but he may have in his later mortuary [funeral parlor] business!

Shelby
« Last Edit: March 10, 2020, 06:39:45 PM by Tanselman »

Offline WElliott

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Re: Finally Found a Florida Rifle...
« Reply #14 on: March 31, 2020, 07:08:57 AM »
Good find, Shelby, and very impressive job researching!
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Offline RobertS

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Re: Finally Found a Florida Rifle...
« Reply #15 on: April 03, 2020, 06:59:11 PM »
This is one of the reasons I really enjoy this forum, and what sets it apart from so many others.  That's a great rifle and a wonderfully interesting story behind it. I'm always excited to see southern rifles, and you can't get much further south for an American rifle.  Thanks so much for posting it.

Offline Shopdog

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Re: Finally Found a Florida Rifle...
« Reply #16 on: June 05, 2020, 11:50:16 PM »
Really interesting find!  I own a New York rifle made by Howe and am currently replicating a friend's family rifle, also NY made.  They both share similar traits with your rifle. 
Joe Davis

Offline heinz

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Re: Finally Found a Florida Rifle...
« Reply #17 on: June 10, 2020, 04:24:43 PM »
Very nice study Shelby.  Thanks for posting.
kind regards, heinz

Online Tanselman

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Re: Finally Found a Florida Rifle...
« Reply #18 on: June 11, 2020, 06:23:15 AM »
I appreciate the kind words. Kind of tough collecting Florida muzzle loaders. Finding one every nine years or so makes for a pretty small collection...especially when you start kind of late in life.  Shelby Gallien