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Jacob Bower rifle

ca. 1765
Origin: America, Pennsylvania, Reading
OL: 63 3/8"; Barrel: 47 7/8"; Bore: .54 caliber
Iron/steel, cherry & brass
Partial Gift, Wallace B. and Elizabeth P. Gusler, and Museum Purchase, The Friends of Colonial Williamsburg Collections Fund
Acc. No. 2010-130
This pre-Revolutionary War American rifle is attributed to gunsmith George Schroyer, working in Reading, PA until about 1768. Based on the inscription found on the underside of the patchbox door, we know it was carried by Capt. Jacob Bower, of the Pennsylvania Line, during the war.

Its stock is of cherry, and its carving is more simple and elegant than the carving many later rifles received. Behind the barrel tang and the entry pipe are stylized fleurs de lis, and there is some restrained rococo carving on the buttstock and cheek rest areas. Typical for the decade in which it was built, the buttstock is extremely wide at about 2 1/4".

While the lock is a later replacement from a similar American rifle of the period, its octagonal barrel appears to be in its original flintlock configuration. Both rear and front sights, dovetailed into the barrel, are present. Four pins and the tang screw hold the barrel into the stock.

In keeping with the neat carving to the stock, the brass hardware is also somewhat restrained in its embellishment, with nicely executed file work and basic engraving. Reflective of the early date of this gun, it has a very broad cast brass buttplate and a large bow protecting its single trigger. The patchbox is opened by depressing a tiny button directly behind the buttplate tang screw. Since a retaining spring was riveted into the entry pipe, we know that the rifle was converted for use with an iron rammer of smaller diameter than the wooden one it was originally built to accept.


Label:Today, the American long rifle is known as "the" gun of the Revolutionary marksman and post-war frontiersmen, but this phenomenon is largely based on legend and exaggeration. While the true American rifle evolved from the shorter Germanic "jaeger" rifle before the middle of the 18th century, they were far outnumbered by muskets and smoothbore hunting guns during the period. Thus, documentable rifles which predate the Revolutionary War are extremely rare today.


THE RIFLE

Datable to the 1760s, this cherry-stocked example is believed to be a product of the Reading, PA gunsmith shop of George Schroyer. Most interestingly, it seems as if a rifle of this very type was sent back to England during the early part of the Revolution to serve as a model for reproduction. The firm of Richard Wilson of London made strikingly similar rifles, with some identical features, for Native American use in North America during the war. An example of one of Wilson's Indian rifles is in Colonial Williamsburg's collection, accession number 2007-28.

Features of this rifle include;

LOCK: A later replacement from a similar American rifle of the period. It is flat-faced, and was returned to its original flintlock configuration in the 20th century, after having been converted to the percussion ignition system during the mid 19th century.

STOCK: Made of cherry, its carving is more simple and elegant than the carving many later rifles received. Behind the barrel tang and the entry pipe are stylized fleurs-de-lis, and there is some restrained rococo carving on the buttstock and cheek rest areas. Typical for the decade in which it was built, the buttstock is extremely wide at about 2 1/4".

BARREL: Octagonal for its full length with a slightly flared breech, it appears to be in its original flintlock configuration. Both rear and front sights, dovetailed into the barrel, are present. Four pins and the tang screw hold it into the stock.

HARDWARE: In keeping with the neat carving to the stock, the brass hardware is also somewhat restrained in its embellishment, with nicely executed file work and basic engraving. Reflective of the early date of this gun, it has a very broad cast brass buttplate and a large bow protecting its single trigger. The patchbox is opened by depressing a tiny button directly behind the buttplate tang screw. Since a retaining spring was riveted into the entry pipe, we know that the rifle was converted for use with an iron rammer of smaller diameter than the wooden one it was originally built to accept.


HISTORY

Naively cut into the underside of the patchbox door is a two-line inscription reading "Jacob Bower Sept. 6, 1777," establishing the ownership of this rifle during the first half of the Revolutionary War. While this rifle has been well cared for over the centuries, it exhibits lots of wear from its extensive service, and was certainly carried at many untold battles and events.

Born in September of 1757 in Reading, PA (where this rifle was made), little is known of his early life, other than he lost his father Conrad when he was only six years old. Two months after the battles of Lexington & Concord, Bower enlisted as a serjeant in Capt. Nagle's rifle company of Colonel William Thompson's rifle battalion at Reading, and immediately marched for Boston. Arriving in July of 1775 in the American camp at Cambridge, Nagle's was amongst the first rifle companies to serve in the Revolutionary War. That summer Bower was appointed to the regimental post of Quartermaster.

Obviously competent and upwardly mobile, Bower was not long for the enlisted ranks. By July of 1776, he had been commissioned 1st. Lieutenant in the German Regiment, achieving his Captaincy in the unit's "flying" or light infantry company by year's end.

February of 1777 saw Capt. Bower transfer to the 6th. Pennsylvania Regiment of the Continental Army, as the war shifted towards his home state. He was present at the battle of Short Hills (NJ) in June of that year, where he lost a few men in his command. The fall of 1777 was very busy for Bower as the Continental Army made various attacks on the British, then occupying Philadelphia. Capt. Bower fought at the Battles of Brandywine (September 11) and Germantown (October 4), where his company suffered even more casualties.

Bower served with the 6th PA throughout the rest of Revolution, and fought at most of the major battles his regiment participated in. With the war was all but over, he transferred into the 2nd Pennsylvania Regiment on New Year's Day 1783, and was at New Windsor Cantonment that spring, becoming one of the founding members of the Society of the Cincinnati.

Returning for service during the War of 1812, Bower was commissioned Brigadier General in the Pennsylvania Militia. Shortly after the end of the war, Bower died at Womelsdorf, PA on August 3, 1818.
Inscription(s):"Jacob Bower, Sept. 6, 1777," inscribed on the underside of the patch box door.