Lancaster, PA: Of Guns, Gun Making, and the Bakers

This Sunday, I’m packing up my car and heading east to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, which is the home of American gun making.

The reason: before the Bakers settled in Clay County, Kentucky, the family lived in Lancaster, where they helped make the Pennsylvania Rifle (also known as the Kentucky Rifle or the hog rifle). According to my research, the Bakers had the first official gunsmith shop in Lancaster, and they were part of a group of colonists whose job it was to create a gun specifically for the American experience.

You can read a little about that in “From Knights to Gun Makers

The one question I’ve had, though, is what make Lancaster so unique? Why did the gunsmiths settled there? (I realize that is two questions. We aren’t doing math in these parts.)

The folks at the Landis Valley Museum, which is currently hosting an exhibit on the Lancaster Long Rifle, helped me start to figure this out.

Some facts:

  • With 30,000 people, Lancaster was one of the largest English colonies, and thus had a diverse population (English, Welsh, Scots-Irish) That helped bring different elements of science together.
  • Lancaster’s citizens were prosperous and the city was home to many natural resources, including iron stores and water, both necessary to make guns.
  • The reason the Pennsylvania Rifle became the Kentucky Rifle: Before 1763, you couldn’t move your gun making business north of the southeast quadrant of Pennsylvania and so the gun makers migrated south to Virginia and North Carolina (two places the Bakers went). From there, the long hunters went into Kentucky using the now re-named Kentucky Long Rifle. (There is more to this, but I didn’t have time for a follow up)
  • In other words, the Kentucky Rifle defines a form of gun not the location of the gun’s manufacture

Where is that Baker Rifle?

One interesting tidbit is that while the Baker’s Rifle (not to be confused with the Baker Rifle, which I am sure is connected to us in some way as well) was well known, there are few (if any) left in existence.

One theory is that the rifles were bought by the pre-Revolution colonial army (as the Bakers had just returned from England, where they showed the gunsmiths there how to make the Rifle for use in the French and Indian wars).

Of course, I have done next to no research on this particular nugget of information so expect a full Snopes-esque report on it when I return.