Author Topic: A long search that paid of with a big reward: Isaac Thompson Mecklenburg Rifle  (Read 885 times)

Offline mbriggs

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I thought it might be nice to see some American Longrifles on this site again.  I was beginning to think Dennis had changed the name of this site to "I found this old gun."  (laughs)

In 2009, Wallace Gusler wrote a two part article in Muzzle Blast magazine on "A Rosetta Stone North Carolina Rifle" about a Mecklenburg School rifle he recently had purchased. In this article he included photos of other known rifles from this school by W.B. - S.M.B. - and Isaac Thompson.  Wallace included photos of several rifles by Thompson.  The last rifle he only used photos of the butt-stock, it had been converted to percussion during the period of use, and was relief carved, but had obviously not been restored. 

I later asked Wallace how he found the gun and who owned it? Wallace said the owner recently inherited the rifle and had taken it to Colonial Williamsburg to learn what it was. Wallace was notified of it, was able to photograph the rifle and help the owner identify who made it. Wallace said the owner asked to keep his information private.

The local group of longrifle collectors here in North Carolina was excited to learn a great new rifle had surfaced and none of us knew its location. It was the topic of conversation for a while.

In 2012, I started research for my book, "The Longrifle Makers of the Mecklenburg School" which I published in 2016.  I used google searches to see if I could find any information on each maker.

When I searched on [Isaac Thompson Mecklenburg gunsmith] I came up on two hits on genealogy web sites.  The first hit was in 2008 by a man who had recently inherited an old longrifle that he took to Colonial Williamsburg and was told it was made by Isaac Thompson.  He wanted to learn information about Thompson.  He provided his email address which included his name and ended with @atmc.com .  I sent him an email but received no response.

The second genealogy post was made in 2011. It was from a man who said he was a Thompson family genealogist.  He provided helpful information on Isaac Thompson.  That he was born in 1802 in Mecklenburg County, N.C. and was the son of Joseph Thompson. The father and son shared the same house located on 105 acres on Long creek, just west of Beatties Ford Road in the northern part of the county. I was able to communicate with him and he provided some information I was able to include in my book.

So how to find the man who had inherited the rifle?  I have owned a communications company here in North Carolina for over forty years.  There was something about the email address that seemed to ring a distant bell with me.  It took me several months to figure it out.  The address atmc was Atlantic Telephone and Membership Corporation.  It is a mom and pop phone company for Brunswick County, N.C. down at the coast. I then google searched the mans name and learned he had lived at Ocean Isle Beach, but had disappeared in a fishing accident 2010. That was why he had never responded to my emails.

I have two good friends that live at Ocean Isle Beach.  I called and asked if either knew his widow and did she still live there?  One of them was friends with her.  I called her in 2014 and asked could I come down and photograph the rifle.  She consented.

When I met with her I asked her about the family history of the rifle.  Her late husband had been given the rifle by his aunt who had no children.  She and her husband also had no children.  I told her it had been a great rifle in its day and was an important piece of history.  It was the earliest known dated rifle by Isaac Thompson, and was dated 1818 under the cheek-rest.  I told her the rifle needed an expensive restoration and be preserved to be enjoyed by future generations.  I asked if she wanted to sell it and she did not.  I left her with an open ended offer of the most I have ever offered for an un-restored rifle.  While I was photographing the rifle she got out the papers her late husband had collected. With this was an evaluation letter from Colonial Williamsburg.  It valued the rifle at the same price I had just offered her.  This told her I was not trying to steal it.

When the book was published in 2016 I mailed her a copy, but received no response.  When the Charlotte Museum of History scheduled my program on Mecklenburg County Longrifle School in 2017, I sent her an invitation, but she did not come.  I sent her a Christmas card each year.

In October of 2018, she called me on the phone. Her name sounded familiar but I did not immediately place it.  She asked me if I was still interested in purchasing her old longrifle?  [I knew instantly who I was speaking with.]  I said yes I was. She asked if I would still pay her the price I had offered.  I agreed.  She told me it was mine.  I told her I would meet her at her bank in the morning.

I took the rifle to my friend who does my restoration and left it with him.  I received it back a few months ago.  It is the most ornate rifle in my collection.  The rifle does make me question the attribution to Isaac Thompson.  If Isaac was born in 1802, he would have only been 16 in 1818 when this rifle was completed.  Was he a prodigal genius? The other possibility is the maker of the I.T. signed rifles was the father Joseph Thompson. With engraving styles of that period, the initials would still be I.T.

This is one of three I.T. signed rifles with a silver plate on the barrel with the owners name inscribed.  One is engraved "Made for Samuel Hannegan."  Another is engraved "Isaac J. Thompson."
This was treated by local collectors as a rosetta stone, and told what I.T. stood for.
   
This example is engraved "J. Gilmer."  My local researcher looked up John Gilmer for me.  He was a very wealthy man who lived in the Poplar Tent area of northern Mecklenburg County.
When he died intestate in 1837, his estate papers totaled 391 pages.  His estimated net worth was over $20,000. A huge sum for that period. As he left no will, all of his estate had to be auctioned.  His son, James F. Gilmer attended the auction and purchased his rifle gun for $17.00.

The widow I purchased the rifle from told me her husbands aunt that he inherited the rifle from maiden name was Gilmer.  It had stayed in the family for 180 years. 

I am glad I did not give up on my search.

                       

   


online toss indian coin

















Of the five rifles signed I. T. this is the only one with silver filled piercings on the patchbox.








Date of 1818.





Sideplate





Fore-stock molding termination





Comb inlay





Toe plate with eleven silver piercings.





J. Gilmer







Entry pipe





Barrel tang carving




Trigger guard engraving

I hope you enjoy the story of the search and seeing the rifle.

Michael
« Last Edit: May 21, 2020, 09:06:03 PM by mbriggs »
C. Michael Briggs

Offline rich pierce

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Great rifle. Thanks for sharing!
St. Louis, Missouri

Offline Shreckmeister

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Fantastic. A lot of work in that rifle. The toe plate really stands out to me. Thanks for the great pictures. I was starting to think the same thing
Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add 'within the limits of the law' because law is often but the tyrant's will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.

Offline Bob McBride

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Wow. I'm glad you 'found this old gun'...  ;)

..and decided to share. Stunning.
-Bob

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Offline mr. no gold

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Michael, a truly great rifle and in just the right hands. Your commentary on how you heard about it, tracked it down and then pursued, (persisted?) in acquiring it is every bit as good as the rifle. How many fine guns were just bought with no concern as to earlier owners, history and the like. I like history with a rifle, but have only one out of many that has background information. Thank you for sharing rifle and pursuit with here.
Dick

Offline Tim Crosby

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 What a rifle! Has to be the Best N.C. rifle I have seen and will probably never see one better.

   Tim

Offline Marcruger

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Ooooooooooo.  Gorgeous.  And from the home State.  Well pursued and captured Michael. 

Your friend did a nice job.  Did it include conversion to flint?

I like the way you stayed after it.  I used to write WWII history, and once borrowed a photo album that the vet's nephew did not want to let go of.  When I returned it, I put a letter in the front saying, "Do not discard.  Important historical record.  Please contact me at...….  I will be happy to pay for this album".  20 years later, that same nephew tracked me down and left a message for me.  It's worth the work.  The album contained 300 photos by the crew chief mechanic of Edward Gignac, a fighter pilot.  Many showed Gignac, who was my dad's friend pre-war.  He was KIA June 7th, 1944 over Versailles. 

God Bless,   Marc

Offline Robert Wolfe

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Thanks for sharing with us, a real treat.
Robert Wolfe
Northern Indiana

Offline cable

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amazing rifle and wonderful story !  for me, this is what this is all about !

thanks from a fellow north Carolinian [ now a long term Alaskan ]

Offline Buck

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Mike,

Congrats - that rifle has it all. You really don’t need any other rifles in your collection but that one.

Buck

Offline yip

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  simply BEATIFUL!!!!!!

Offline jdm

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Congratulations on saving this great rifle and adding it to your collection.  I don't know which side I like the best . Patch box or cheek piece side. That's when you know you've got something special.   Plus it was kind of Mr. Thompson to date it.   Thanks for posting   Jim
JIM

Offline Dave Tercek

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I story like that, and a rifle like that, is what keeps collectors loving what they do.  Thanks

Offline Carl Young

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That's hitting the longrifle trifecta, a great historic gun, an interesting story of it's background to date, and a happy ending to this chapter where it finds a good home. Thanks Michael for letting us share in the enjoyment.
Carl
… Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions — everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses. -Juvenal

Online VP

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Michael,

Beautiful rifle, can't wait till you bring it to a show, Lord know when that will happen.

VP

Offline mountainman70

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Totally agree with all the above. great score. Best part is your diligence and research. Just wonderful. Thanks for sharing. Dave F
My Fortner clan was from Dobson before migrating all over the country.

Offline Chris_B

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Thanks for sharing this beautyful rifle along with the great story!
Kind regards from Germany, Chris

Offline Clowdis

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The toe plate is a dead ringer for the Nathaniel Vogler toe plate except for the silver inlays. Could there be any Vogler connection? Since they were within 2 years of age of each other, maybe they knew each other and shared some ideas?
« Last Edit: May 22, 2020, 04:59:35 PM by Clowdis »

Offline spgordon

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Great story! No doubt that that rifle is in the right hands now.
Check out The Lost Village of Christian's Spring:
https://christiansbrunn.web.lehigh.edu/
And The Letters of Mary Penry: A Single Moravian Woman in Early America
http://www.psupress.org/books/titles/978-0-271-08108-3.html

Offline WElliott

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Congratulations, Michael. That’s a great lesson in perseverance. 
Wayne Elliott

Offline rennikselum

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Thanks for sharing the pictures and story.

Is that a two piece entry pipe with a copper rivet?

Thanks,
Jeff

Offline Sequatchie Rifle

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Amazing rifle, remarkable detective work!  Thanks for sharing the story and photos of your wonderful North Carolina longrifle!
"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 mbriggs

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I would like to thank everyone for their kind comments and I am glad you enjoyed the story of the search and the photos.

What is your thoughts on who made the rifle?  Isaac Thompson or his father Joseph Thompson?  Could a 16 year old young man have mastered enough disciplines to build such a tour-de-force of gunsmithing?

Blair, to answer your question on the toe plate design. Anything is possible. 

There is nothing in any records that I have found that say Isaac Thompson or Nathaniel Vogler ever worked together or ever met that I have seen.  I have spent the last three years researching the Moravian gunsmiths and can tell you there is very little on Nathaniel Vogler to be found.  I did find a photograph of him and it is included in my book.  I have always wondered what he did after his younger brother Timothy opened his gun shop in 1831.  I had not seen anything prior to my research that made me think he continued to work as a gunsmith.  In the archives I was able to find the inventory of his gun shop that was created after his death in 1873. It is three full pages long and would seem to indicate he was working as a gunsmith up until his death.  The inventory is included in the new Salem book as well.

Back to your question, I have come to believe the gunsmiths of the early 19th century traveled more than we expect and were often familiar with what other gunsmiths who worked in neighboring schools were doing and often influenced by them.  In the back of the Salem book I have included eagle patchbox rifles made by gunsmiths in Yadkin County, Davidson County, and Guilford County who were influenced by the work of the Voglers and decided to copy them. 

Thanks again to everyone.

Michael     
C. Michael Briggs

Offline wildcatter

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Michael,
Tremendous patience and perseverance. Amazing rifle!  Thanks for sharing.

Matt
You have to play this game like somebody just hit your mother with a two-by-four.

Offline Clowdis

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Back to your question, I have come to believe the gunsmiths of the early 19th century traveled more than we expect and were often familiar with what other gunsmiths who worked in neighboring schools were doing and often influenced by them.  In the back of the Salem book I have included eagle patchbox rifles made by gunsmiths in Yadkin County, Davidson County, and Guilford County who were influenced by the work of the Voglers and decided to copy them. 

Thanks again to everyone.

Michael   

Michael,
Thanks for the reply. Travel at the beginning of the 19th century is something that I don't see much written about. With Salisbury being a big trading center at that time and with it lying between Mecklenburg and Salem I expect there was plenty of travel between the three centers and a great opportunity for tradesmen to meet there while shopping for "materials". Another interesting subject for discussion I suppose :-)