The Southern Belle American longrifles have a history that predates the United States. It is one rooted in European tradition. Initially made in Europe, American settlers adapted these rifles to suit their needs on the frontier of North America.
During the 18th century, German families immigrated to eastern Pennsylvania. Many of them were gunmakers. When they came to America, they adapted the German Jager Rifle into the American longrifle. You may have also heard the terms Pennsylvania and Kentucky longrifles – a reference to regional production.
These rifles differed from their European counterparts. Two distinct changes included: reduction of caliber, which made loading easier and extension of barrels to provide more grip for the rifling. Loading was also facilitated through the use of greased patches. These patches initially were sealed in a cavity with a sliding wooden door in the buttstock. In America that was replaced by an embellished hinged brass lid. In addition to this added embellishment, Americans intricately carved their stocks.
This particular longrifle was made in Macon, Georgia and is affectionately called the Southern Belle. It is .36 caliber and has seven-groove rifling. Note while the stock is not carved, it takes embellishment to another level with a metallic figure of a right proper southern lady.
Another reason for downsizing the bore was simple economics. The western frontier, mostly KY, Ohio, PA, and a few others were at the long end of the supply system. Smaller bores meant less lead and powder per shot.
The flintlock long rifles that were state of the art when the frontier was raw continued, again for economic reasons, to serve the families of those that brought them after that area became settled and quiet.
Your grandpa’s long rifle served to keep pests off the fields and occasionally bag a deer. These served in their original flint version and some, my own family had one, were converted on the cheap to cap lock. No need to buy an expensive and state of the art breech loader for a farm gun.
For gunpowder, the only real requirement is a sulfur mine.
Once western expansion happened, lead was an ample by-product of copper, silver, and gold mining operations. Before that however, was there lead mining in the eastern colonies of any appreciable volume?
The accounts of the time that this rifle was new all say that lead and powder in what was then the western frontier, basically anything to the west of the 13 colonies, was expensive because of shipping expenses. Where they were manufactured at or mined is beyond the scope of my knowledge.
The mining in the west that you’re talking of was a 100 years after this rifle was made.
“Shipping cost must have made that lead mighty pricey.”
Maybe not so much, jwm.
I was in Savannah, Ga. last year, and the slopes of the old waterfront were paved by rocks that served as ship’s ballast on the trans-Atlantic cargo ships.
Lead makes a dandy keel ballast…
Potassium nitrate was far more difficult to obtain than sulphur. Nitre-bed process took over a year to produce a batch. Bat guano was limited due to scarcity of bat caves.
First lead mining was in Dubuque, IA when it was under Spanish control in the 1660’s. Output was miniscule until Blair County, PA mines built out around 1800. Most lead used in America was imported from England up to the American Civil War.
Shipping cost must have made that lead mighty pricey.
I gotta admit, that Southern Belle is one mighty fine…uhh, rifle, yeah that’s it.
Seriously though, ever since reading the Revenant, and watching the moo-viey, hehe, I have a soft spot for these fantastic pieces of real gun culture, and I think what those brave Americans would make of the present anti-pew pew mania griping so many law botherers.
I’d like to see the embellishment done on these old rifles continued on production guns, course, that would be asking a bit much. Great article, thanks!
Wait, do you seriously lift Belle’s dress to access the patches? Awesome.
Building one of these is on my “to do list. I built a Traditions kit for practice (the wood is birch), and am ready for the plunge to some really high quality wood. There are two good sources I know of for stocks, from blanks to “finished in the white”, locks, barrels and all the needed accessories to finish a classic American rifle in maple, fancy curly maple, or simple walnut. There is also a good video from PBS I chanced across on You Tube of the smith at Williamsburg building a rifle and every single one its components, from barrel to lock works, to the brass fittings, and even down to the screws, from scratch, an impressive feat indeed.
I visited Williamsburg in the late 90’s or early 2000’s and saw the smith working on those rifles, the cost to buy one then was around 20K, It would have been a one of a kind purchase, like buying a piece of history.
I call it a PA rifle with pride. It was invented there and will always be a PA rifle in my heart. Even in the face of my adoptive state of Kentucky.
The true “smoke pole”.
Can you put a go pro on it and hunt bears with it? Too soon?
Something something ethical hunting
Keep these coming! Great reading about these pieces of firearm history.
Monte Mandarino, of Kalispell, Montana, is making flintlock rifles today that would fit into any museum exhibit of masterworks for flintlocks. “The old masters are in awe of Mandarino’s talents.” “Monte Mandarino is the finest gun mechanic who ever worked in the United States,” Fisher states flatly. “He can build a gun in any configuration you can imagine from any period in history.” (http://missoulian.com/art-of-the-gun/article_6b309c62-7ddd-5d54-9d09-5999c9144173.html)
I met him once at a Custom Gunmakers Guild show in Reno, NV, about 30 years ago, Absolutely incredible work.
I don’t agree. Read:
Best regards, Chrystal
This Rifle was built by the famous Georgia gunsmith Wiley Higgins. For reasons unknown ( possible Southern sensibility) the glorious inlay of a Southern Belle is not a patchbox, it’s simply an elaborate multipiece inlay.