Friday, May 23, 2014



" Yes Sir Mister Sheetz, this is a mighty fine rifle"

As the above drawing by artist Jeff Prechtel depicts, we can be confident that Mr. Frederick Sheetz, delighted many of his customers with some of the very best rifles ever made in the state of Virginia.  We have a copy of a letter that John Snyder of Romney, wrote to Governor Barbour, June 4, 1812.  Below, is an excerpt of that letter speaking about Frederick Sheetz.

"Rifles manufactured by this man will on comparison and tryal be found superior in point of beauty, convenience, and utility to any others manufactured for the commonwealth." (1)

That was  strong praise, however many of us partial to Virginia  Rifles  would agree.


                            Pictures Are Loading Slow You May Have To Give It A Few Minutes
Frederick Sheetz

Note: Click image for larger view, then click that image to advance to next picture in 
larger size.

Frederick Sheetz was born in 1774.  He was the son of Henry Sheetz of Shepherdstown, VA/WV. Henry and his brother Philip were gunsmiths there. 

Signed Frederick Sheetz Rifle 

Left to Right 1-5.
Take note of of the patchbox variations on rifles 2, 4 & 5, made around his contract period from 1808- 1815.
Rifle 4 has some relief carving but no production run markings on any parts, were rifle 2 is so marked and the barrel is marked "Militia Hampshire".
We believe rifles 4 & 5 were made using parts from his inventory during his contract period for normal customer work.

Stock patterns is the same from rifle 1 made in the 1790's thru his contract period 1815.

The above image shows the tapered toe plate he used on his rifles varying with the proportion of 
each rifle.

Illustrates his trigger guards. The termination on the guard  spur is signature Frederick Sheetz.

From all of the records we have found, the first evidence of Frederick being in Hampshire County,Virginia was 1792.  This was in present day Mineral County, West Virginia.  Land records show that he bought lots 131 & 132 in Fort Ashby that year.  He married Nancy Emerson in 1797.  They had at least twelve children.  For several years, Frederick was content on making his rifles in Fort Ashby, along with his brothers Henry and Otho.  A little later, his youngest brother Zebulon, would be old enough to apprentice with him. 

The above image is a better illustration of the signature guard spurs. This image also shows his side plate most commonly used on his custom rifles. Note the beaver tail extension on the front end of the side plate, chamfered edges and counter sunk lock bolts.

Shows a variation of his patchbox with the hidden release found in the hinge of the top knuckle. This release is usually found in the Winchester School from the Simon Lauck shop.


Hunters Star Coin Silver Inlay

Another close up of the hidden patchbox release in the top knuckle of the hinge. 

Simple oval inlay with captured barrel key.

Very typical low relief carving of his, executing C scrolls and "tattered shells" 

Great execution of low relief carving on the wrist.

The above & below image both illustrate his lock and side plate molding with wonderful low relief beaver tail.
The single trigger was normal for this period.

Low relief carving used around a nicely filed tang. 

Frederick and his brothers not only made rifles for private use, but they also made rifles for the Virginia Militia.  These are the rifles that John Snyder was writing about to Governor Barbour.  These rifles were made by private Virginia gunsmiths, not employed by the Virginia Armory.  They are also referred to as contract rifles.  These rifles were made from 1808, through 1815.  Some were even made as late as 1819.(2)  Of course, many of these rifles were used in the war of 1812.  The militia rifles made under this contract would be stamped with regimental markings such as "114 Regt. Va Militia Hampshire."  Frederick delivered at least 570 of these.(3)  There are probably less than half a dozen of these surviving, today.

Assembly Numbers Found on Some of Sheetz' Contract Rifles  

Shows  part markings on some of his contract rifles. 
Rifles that are found that are not so marked could be first rifles assembled that day or week. 

These markings may have been added  when modified at an armory , such as percussion conversion                                                               during the Civil War.
This rifle is marked " Militia Hampshire "

One of two patchbox styles Frederick used on his contract rifles. 
This  is the other style of patchbox Frederick used on some of his contract rifles.

Patchbox cavity  showing spring release found on  contract rifles. 

This photo shows another side plate variation found on his contract rifles. The double set triggers probably were a later addition.

19 stamped on barrel of  Sheetz' Contract Rifle,
probably for the
"City of Richmond"
War of 1812 Circa.
No doubt seen action during the "War of 1812" as well as Confederate use during our "War between the States" .
The above image also shows the pointed tang that you see on Frederick's  later rifles as well as rifles made by other Hampshire County gunsmiths. 

Another typical contract period patchbox used on a limited number of custom rifles. 

Here is another rifle with Frederick's signature side plate. 

Two contract period patchbox cavities showing the release spring. 

The  above images shows typical tangs used by Frederick Sheetz. 

  Frederick Sheetz work  is similar to  that of Simon Lauck &  Adam Haymaker, both had shops in Winchester Virginia.  The stock profile, the Winchester release system on his patch boxes, the square headed nails on his inlays and to some extent his carving as well. I say to some extent on his carving because he did vary his design a little more than Lauck did. 

This Frederick Sheetz rifle has a friction patchbox release. This rifle originally had the Winchester knuckle release, which was abandon. The single trigger was probably replaced about this same time with the double set trigger. 

The above & below photos show a incised carved rifle by Frederick. This incised carving is very similar design to the relief carved rifle shown earlier..This one has a few less "tattered shells".

This patchbox pattern was also used on his contract period rifles. The ones found on those rifles are not engraved as the above one is.

This rifle was made in the 1790's

Again typical of his work, notice the huge beaver tail.
This image also shows previous hole for single trigger. 
Incised carving around tang.

We have found numerous land records for Frederick Sheetz.  With the help of these, we believe that he left Fort Ashby in about 1810-12.  The exact year, we are not sure of.  When he left Fort Ashby, he went to present day, Headsville.  In 1814, the court of Hampshire County appointed a panel consisting of twelve citizens, to view the lands where a mill drain was proposed to be erected by Frederick Sheetz.  Probably  not long after the mill was in operation, that place was named "Sheetz's Mill."  It was not until after the Civil War that the place was named Headsville. 

This rifle by Frederick has a few more embellishments than the previous rifles by him. This patchbox has seven piercings, and has the Winchester type lid release. 

Some very light incised carving along the forestock up to and pass the "tattered shell" engraved silver escutcheon.
Notice the brass captured key  used to hold the barrel in place & rectangular nails.
These rectangular nails are a signature of Fredericks's work.

A few of his surviving rifles have silver wire such as this one. 
The trigger guard sports his signature spur.
Single trigger correct for the period.
The wonderful side plate he liked to use on his custom rifles, with the counter sunk lock bolts. 

Frederick was an excellent engraver, as can be seen on this brass patchbox.

Frederick must of had a sense of humor. See the little man pointing.

The Edelweiss Flower  is symbolic for Courage, Daring & Noble Purity. 
Many Virginia Gunsmith of German Decent used it frequently.

The   Edelweiss can be found on many rifles made by Frederick Sheetz, such as this one in the finial of the engraved brass toe plate. 

Very low relief & incised carving.
C Scrolls in Rococo Style. 

Engraved brass vent pick holder held by 
"rectangular nails" a trademark of Frederick's work.

 Late 1790's Circa

 Frederick was a prominent man in his community, who accomplished more than being a successful mill owner and gunsmith.  We can find old records that show he was appointed Constable in 1800, and was elected as Sheriff of Hampshire County in 1828.  He was elected and served one term in the Virginia Assembly House of Delegates 1813-14, as a member of the Federalist party. He was the postmaster of Sheetz's Mill for a while.  He was also an elder in the Presbyterian Church.  In 1820, he was appointed School Commissioner.  There is oral history that tells of him being instrumental in starting the first school in that part of the county.  He was a member of the County Court, and was appointed Justice of the Peace.  In 1822, he was granted a license to retail spirituous liquors at his store.  One might wonder how he found time to make rifles and fill all of these positions.  

Frederick Sheetz died on January 18, 1861.  He was spared the grief of witnessing the destruction of his mill, burnt to the ground by Union forces.  The destruction of mills and many homes in Hampshire County, was carried out under the command of Union General Lander, early in 1862. 

Sheetz'  Mill

Frederick was also saved from the sorrow of the death of his beloved grandson and namesake, Captain George Frederick Sheetz.  Captain Sheetz lost his life on May 23, 1862, leading his men of the the 7th Virginia Calvary at Buckton Station, near Front Royal, Virginia. The following is a letter written to Captain Sheetz's father, Robert King Sheetz, from Stonewall Jackson.  

"May 27, 1862

R.K. Sheetz,

Your letter of yesterday has been received.  The loss of your noble son is deeply felt by me.  Tears come to my eyes when I think of his death.  In imagination, I see him before me still.  You have my sympathy and prayers.  In his death not only you and I, but also his country, has sustained loss.  Apart from his worth as an officer, I was greatly impressed with the beauty of his character.  In regard to the horse of which you speak, I suppose that it is the same one that was captured by your son with an Ohio lieutenant at McDowell.  As your son's horse was lame, I directed the captured horse to be turned over to him at that time.  He belongs to the Confederate States, and I will be obliged to you, if you will turn him over to Major J. A. Harman, Chief Quartermaster of this district.  Accept my thankful appreciation of your kind expressions.(4)

                                                                                                                  Very truly yours,
                                                                                                                    T.J. Jackson"

Frederick Sheetz and his grandson, Captain G.F. Sheetz, lie at rest in Eusebia Presbyterian Cemetery, just a few miles west of Fort Ashby, West Virginia. 

 His epitaph reads, 

"He was long an elder in the Presbyterian Church.  Apart of his children lie around him and more are soon to take their place by his side.  May they follow him as he followed Christ:  Die in the faith and find a home with him in Heaven."      


Special Thanks to the Owners of these rifles who was so kind to allow us to share these images with you.

We greatly appreciate the descendant of Frederick Sheetz who graciously let us post the photograph of Frederick Sheetz.  

1 Libray of Virginia ( Governor Barbour Letters) 
2&3  Virginia Manufactory of Arms  by Giles Cromwell    
4 History of Hampshire County by Maxwell & Fisher  

The rest from various old records &  descendants.