Monday, March 18, 2013



                                                               HENRY TOPPER
                                                          Click For Larger View                       

John "Henry" Topper born 1777 in Northampton Pennsylvania, son of Andrew Topper 1747-1831. Andrew was son of Christian Topper 1715-1789. Christian left Germany in 1748 to settle in America.

Henry Topper can be found in early 1800 records of Cumberland Township, Adams County PA. Henry may have learned the trade of gunsmith near Gettysburg PA and may have had a gun shop there.

In the 1810 and 1820 census Topper is found in Hampshire County Virginia, now West Virginia.

1810 Census

1820 Census

In the 1820 Census of Industry, Henry states that he is engaged in the gun making business, and has one employee. Indicating that he had purchased wood and iron.  The previous year he made twelve guns. Toppers Gun shop was on Cold Stream Road not far from where the Edwards Run Public Hunting & Fishing area is today. Probably not much more than a stones throw from where the gun shop of Zebulon Sheetz' was located. With running water from the waters of Edwards Run and the Cacapon River combined with Iron from near by Bloomery, this was an ideal location. Some years later, Benjamin F Shane, James Rinehart and Christopher Sloanaker would find this area just as suitable for making guns as their predecessors.

A few years back I read in "Historical Records of Old Frederick and Hampshire Counties Virginia" By Wilmer L. Kerns, of a cemetery where the daughters of Henry and Maria Topper where buried. In another source I had read that MR Kerns had indicated that the engraving on the headstones were probably that of Henry Topper himself. The precision and skill required for such results, were the reason for this conclusion.  Recently I became aware of a rifle signed H T that was attributed to Henry Topper. Upon inspection of the rifle and comparing it with the one on page 98 of " Long Rifles of Virginia" by James T. Butler and James B.Whisker, I concluded the same. To our knowledge these two Topper rifles are the only surviving guns made by him. 

The Other Surviving " Henry Topper Rifle" Pictured on page 163 "Gunsmiths of Bedford, Fulton, Huntington & Somerset Counties" by James Whisker & Larry W Yantz also pictured on page  98 " Long Rifles of Virginia" by James Butler & James Whisker" 

I  happened to recollect the mention of the Topper Graves in the book by Wilmer L. Kerns. I decided to find out where this cemetery was. After a little online researching we found the cemetery and obtained permission to visit the graves. The cemetery is on private property. After visiting the graves and inspecting the rifle, I have come to the conclusion that Wilmer L. Kerns had came to three decades earlier. While we were aided with the help of the  Henry Topper Rifle. I feel that Henry engraved the headstones for his daughters. You will see that in the following pictures that they are "Asterisk Like" symbols on the headstones as well as on this rifle. On the rifle there are three on the barrel, four on the cheek piece inlay and four on the toe plate.

Maria Ann Topper
Born 1807
Died 1809

Susanna Topper
Born 1809
Died 1810

* H * T * on top flat of octagon barrel & asterisk to the right.

Click Pictures For larger View

While many gunsmiths have used symbols such as stars, pinwheels, fish, and even the asterisk.  It is very possible that since the deaths of his baby daughters, that his use of the symbols was done in remembrance of them. The asterisk in Greek means little star. This symbol is also close to the ancient christian symbol spelling fish in Greek, only lacking the circle that surrounds that symbol.

The flintlock rifle made by Henry Topper has a 44 inch long rifled 50 cal barrel.
Even on the side plate below there is a design that closely resembles the etching on the bottom of  Maria's headstone.
Similar design on both the sideplate above & the headstone below.

In 1827 Henry Topper sold his gun shop, house and land to Christopher Slonaker another Hampshire County Gunsmith. In the 1830 Census, Henry Topper is in Napier, Bedford County Pennsylvania. A few years later he is found living in Westmoreland County Pennsylvania.  He dies there and is buried in Saint Vincent Cemetery in Latrobe in 1839.

 Any information on John "Henry" Topper or guns made by him would be appreciated.

For more information on Topper or other Hampshire County gunsmiths see;

'West Virginia History Volume XLV 1984"   William H.Ansel, James B.Whisker
"Gunsmiths of West Virginia" , James B.Whisker, Fred R. Lambert
"Historical Records of Old Frederick and Hampshire Counties Virginia" Wilmer L Kerns


Friday, March 8, 2013


                                                           WILLIAM BRITTON
                                                   Click on Pictures for Large View

Little seems to be known of William Britton. In "Gunsmiths of Maryland" by Hartzler & Whisker , He is listed as a Armorer at Harper's Ferry Arsenal. In the 1850 census he is living in Hampshire County, with a family by the name of Baker. If I am following the census taker correctly he was a mile or so down Dans Run Road from the stop light in present day Fort Ashby, Mineral County WV.  He gives 1794 as his year of birth and Maryland his birthplace. His occupation listed as a Gunsmith. We have found  no land records for Britton.

In William H Ansels article "Gunsmiths of Hampshire County" he states that in the "Manufactures Census" that the census taker indicated  Britton was illiterate. William Britton was a skilled gunsmith and his rifles are above average. He did relief and incise carving. His  best known  relief work can be seen on  page 173 in Bowers  "Gunsmiths of Pen-MAR-VA 1790-1840.  Many of his rifles  were originally flintlock. We have seen a few  original percussion.

                            More Pictures of This Rifle can bee seen on Page 154 of
                    "Virginia Gunsmiths and Allied Professions" by James B. Whisker.

After the 1850 census , we  lose  track of William Britton. We followed the Baker Family into Ohio, but Britton was not listed with them. We would appreciate any information that you may have on this excellent gunsmith.

                       This Rifle is Pictured on Page 64 of "Gunsmiths of  West Virginia"

   For more pictures of Brittons work see James B. Whiskers " Gunsmiths of West Virginia" Page 62.

Thanks to the collectors who allowed us to enjoy their rifles. We thank Mark Elliott for the top and bottom three photos. Here is a link to Mark Elliotts site to see more of his work.