Tuesday, October 28, 2014


A few years back while researching gunsmiths in Hampshire County, I ran across the following record.
Recorded in Book 13, page 390, Hampshire County, Romney WV
This is a  list of buyers from the estate sale  of Joel Ellis, Eastern Hampshire County,  Samuel Baumgarner, executor,  Nov. 2, 1846

Thomas Crawford, razor strap, whip, books, 40 lbs wool
Jeremiah Hiett, pair spoon moulds
James Slane, pr tooth drawers
Jacob Cooper, pair silver spectacles
Samuel Baumgarner, shot gun, and flax, books, weaver's need
Nimrod Ward, rifle gun
Joseph Asbury, shot pouch-horn
John W. Rinehart, pair silver spurs, spy glass
Jacob Cooper, horse pistol, steam canister, hides
John Zahn, horse pistol and pr moulds and book
James Powell, 7 yards twilled bagging
Hugh Slane, Bible and hymn book and books
James Rinehart, books
James Foreman, book on French Revolution
John B. Sherrard, vols. on agriculture
Daniel Anderson, books
Robert Kidwell, books
William Largent, family Bible, pr shoes
Samuel Davis, piece cast steel, broad axe, old plains, saw
Eli Beale, crow bar
Thomas Duncan, old saddle and bridle, black horse
Thomas Reily, lot of iron, oats
James Bennet, bay mare,10 bu oats
Simion Ward, carryall and harness
Nathaniel Offutt, pr saddle bags
John Barr, moulding plains, pr spectacles
Frederick Secrist, match plains and bits, blacksmith vice
J. Waddle, pr side leather & chairs
Jacob McElwee, pr haines
John Spaid, bench
Abraham Secrist, old wagon, rugs, iron
Samuel Davis, loom, log chain, plaster mill, weaver's reed
William Davis, pr Haines, clock
Samuel Davis, tubs, iron pot, big wheel, chairs, looking glass
Isaac Brill, chest, bureau
Silas Grove, bottles
John Dunlap, bottles
Samuel Baumgarner, tin plate stove, brass box, weights
Jacob Kump, razors and case
Silas Brooks, two pocketbooks
Jacob Cooper, horse hide
Samuel Davis, black steer, mousetrap, bedsted & cord
Francis Perrille, pair steel yards

What caught my eye at that time was that James Rinehart, John W. Rinehart, Simeon Ward, and *Nathaniel Offutt, successful bidders at that  sale, were gun makers in Hampshire County. I had forgotten about Joel Ellis until these letters came to my attention.

I suppose I used the gunsmiths at the above estate sale as an excuse to share the content of these recently uncovered letters. The following does not consist of the  subject matter you  expect to find on  our blogs. These letters tell an important & interesting story from the Antebellum period in America,  originating from Hampshire County.

 1820 Hampshire County Census
   Click Image for larger View

I have not found a date of birth for Joel Ellis, but in the 1840 Census he is listed in the 70-79 age bracket, so he must have been  born before 1771. In this census, he has listed 6 slaves.
1840 Hampshire County Census

The first letter was written from Joel Ellis of Hampshire County to his niece Lucinda Dunlop  in Campbell County Kentucky dated 1841. The following three letters mostly contain his wish to visit, his declining health, & best wishes to Lucinda and the rest of their family.
When I have added any excerpt from the letters, I tried to put it down  as it was written. I did not correct spelling or punctuation. 

 If you zoom in, you may be able read much of these letters.

This is the second letter written from Joel Ellis to his niece in Kentucky.
Top Half

Notice in the top line, he uses "Pleasant Retreat." In the first letter, he used " Home Place."

Note the Cold Stream  return address
on the lettersheet

Below is the third letter from Joel to his niece. The letter is dated October 26, 1843." Dr Niece Pleasant Retreat Hampshire Cty Va". While some of the following is hard for me to read, one line is fairly clear and goes like this, " I do not know if any person can escape the wrath to come without obeying the gospel which is to believe Jesus christ is the son of god repent and be baptised"

Top line "Dr Niece pleasant retreat Hampshire C'ty Va October 26, 1843"

This next letter was written from Samuel Bumgarner from Yellow Spring Hampshire County, to William Dunlop of Campbell County New Richmond KY. The letter is dated March 14, 1846.

Remnants of the wax seal on this 168 year old lettersheet.


To add a little background as to help us understand these letters, Dudley Brown Ellis 1760-1837, was a brother to Joel Ellis. Dudley Brown Ellis was a Revolutionary War veteran and had several children, including, Ira, David, John, Nelson W, Lucinda Dunlop (wife of William Dunlop), & Mahala Clift. While I suspect "Dick" is also one of his children, I have not found positive proof of that yet. In all of the records I have see so far, Dudley had no son named Richard.  Joel had no children.  Dudley, Dick and Joel were slave holders. At the time of Joel's death he owned 4 slaves. 

The above  letter is basically a  notification to the Ellis Family of the death of Joel Ellis & how Joel wanted his earthly possessions to be divided. You should be able to read it, however here is some of the content. 

 “Capecapon Hampshire Co., Va. March 13th 1846” 
 “Dear Sir: It has fallin to my lot (though an entire stranger in person to you,) to communicate intelligence to you of a matter painful in itself and especially so to friends and aquaintinces? It has been made my duty to inform you that your friend and relation Mr. Joel Ellis has departed this life on the 26th day of January last, he was taken ill some time early last fall having suffered very much with the dropsy and athsma and though he used all means he could they failed to give any permanent relief…I must likewise inform you of the disposition he made of his earthly estate and in doing so I will endeavor to give you an outline of his will, first he wills that all his slaves named Thomas, Carolina, Abram and Virginia Clay are to be free from and after his decease and he wills them a wagon and two horses and all the use of the stock on his home farm and all the farming utensils and house and kitchen furniture belonging to the same which they are to have and hold until Virginia Clay, the youngest of the blacks arrives at twenty one years of age and likewise the use of all his other land till that time, and after that time all the property that remains except the home farm are to be sold. The home farm is not to be sold til after the death of Thomas--- his wife he further gives to you his cloak. To John Ellis his nephew his vest and ??? and to Nelson W. Ellis his coat and to Jso Ellis his silver watch and to each of his deceased brothers Dudley Brown Ellis’s children not named above ten dollars in cash and to the son of his deceased niece Mahala Clift the sum of one hundred dollars subject to the order of his guardian and which sum is to be applied to his education by the said guardian. He further gives to his nieces Lucinda Dunlop and Nancy E. Clift his silver plate except the silver ladle which he gives to Dorothy Craves Daughter of George Ceaves and his two silver Tumblers he gives to john Ellis & Nelson Ellis one to each and to their heirs for ever. He directs that all the notes, bond and bank accounts of his standing out to be Collected and invested until all his affairs are settled up and then to be divided between his deceased brother Dudley Brown Ellis’s children and those slaves which he has set free share and share alike to each. I would just state that Virginia Clay the youngest of the blacks us about seven or eight years old, and the bonds for the farm which he sold will not all be due for six years so that there will not likely be any partition of his estate made for some six or eight years except those expressed legacy’s which he has bequeathed. I would further inform you that I have entered upon the duties of Executor of the said estate and have taken an inventory of the property according to law and desire you to inform those to whom are willed those things before named that they would come or send for them save as to the cash willed to some I would inform them that there is none at present ------ as there will be some debts to ---0- deal of expenses on that it will ----- before they can get theirs. I would just state to you the reason I did not write sooner is that I live about 15 or 16 miles off and that I has no means of finding out whare to direct a letter to until I got hold of the papers belonging to the estate among which I found one letter from you by which I was enabled to know whare to direct my letter. I would like for you to answer this letter soon, direct your letter to Yellow Springs Post Office Hampshire County, Va.. nothing more but I remain your humble Servant Samuel Bumgarner”. 

The bottom of the letter signed "Samuel Bumgarner"

The following letter was written by David Ellis to his sister Lucinda Dunlop. Dated August 20 , 1846

Here is an excerpt from this letter.

"I suppose I am also sorry to hear of the death of uncle Joel. You wished to know of me if I was in favor of breaking the will and enslaving the blacks for life. I plainly assure you that I would be the last person that would go in for a measure of that kind. What uncle has done I am perfectly satisfied with; if he had have willed it to them for ever I should have said nothing against it and dick should be ashamed of him self for wishing to un do what the old man has done and if he is not, I think he will be before he is threw with it. I did not think that he would lose his religion so soon as it is impossible for a religious person to hold slaves. They cost him nothing not any of the balance of the property and think he ought to be perfectly satisfied with things as uncle has left them…” 

The following is an affidavit signed by David Ellis stating his interest in estate of Joel Ellis. This is dated 1847.

The following letter is the last letter in this collection of letters. This one is from Samuel Bumgarner of Hampshire County to John H Nelson of Campbell County Kentucky. October 23, 1848.

Most of this letter from Samuel Bumgarner is discussing the estate and his desire to have it finalized. Here is a part of it.

 Dear Sir: I received your letter dated Sept. the 10th which gave me the information that Mr. Dunlop was dead which I regretted to hear. In reply to your letter I would just say that there has nothing been done towards the arrangement with the blacks. I have talked with them about it but when I spoke to them last about the matter they had come to no decision upon the matter and all that they would say upon the subject was that they would do it if they could see it to be to their interest to do so. I did not try to persuade them to it but advised them get some one to investigate the matter and give them advise accordingly but I do not think that they will agree to take the home farm for their shear as it would not be more then their proportion of the land exclusive of the other property. I should be very glad if something of the kind could be effected to close the whole business as soon as possible"

From reading these letters, it is obvious that Joel Ellis was not your average  slave holder. While old records and history reveal, some slave holders did bequeath freedom for their slaves in their wills; it had to be most unusual that any slaves would have inherited so much property.  The letters show that some of his brother’s children had very different opinions of his will. This strong division about slavery was mirrored by much of America during this period just prior to Americas Civil War.

On Page 164 of Wilmer Kerns " Historical Records of Old Frederick and Hampshire Counties" (revised) , he writes,

" There were two sets of legatees; white heirs & black heirs. First the Whites; John Ellis, Nelson W. Ellis, Ira Ellis, sons of my deceased brother , Dudley Brown Ellis, of Kentucky; David Ellis, Jr.; Lucinda Dunlap, niece in Kentucky.  Presumably Joel's sister married a William Dunlap; Mahala Clift ( possibly a deceased sister) whose daughter Mary Clift was a ( niece)  was to receive the silver.  
The black heirs; Judith was a slave to Joel Ellis, and she had Caroline, Abram, and Virginia Clay.  Their father was a servant of Joel Ellis, but was freed and went to Alexandria, VA.  Judith ( the female slave) died before Joel Ellis died.  Celia was a servant of Joel and she became free and married Thomas Duncan. 
This case was kept open for many years, possibly of the reluctance to turn over an estate to former slaves or servants.  In 1868 Thomas Duncan gave a deposition that he was 70 years old.  The name of the Ellis estate was called "Pleasant Retreat" . The Court finally agreed to give the white and black legatees equal shares. Source; Papers in Box 165, Circuit of Hampshire County, W.Va., dated June 27, 1848. In Box 232, dated march 1872, it shows that Samuel Bumgarner , Executor, had died and his widow, Ellen, was called Mrs. Racey. A tombstone inscribtion at Intermont, W. Va. shows that Samuel Bumgarner was born on Oct. 1800 and died 1864."

Note: Click below to see these letters in their entirety.
WV Culture Archive

*Nathaniel Offutt is listed as gunsmith in some of the West Virginia gunsmith books & articles.  There has been some debate if Nathaniel Offutt was actually a gunmaker. All records indicate he was a saddle maker and lender. However, he had very close association with some of the gunsmiths in Hampshire County. I do believe that many of the guns attributed to him signed N. O., were actually made by Nathaniel Oats.  

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

George Lafayette Brammer

You May Have to Push Your Refresh to Get Article & Pictures to Load

Uncle George Brammer's Rifling Machine

George L Brammer's  "Freshing Cutters"

G. L. Brammer  Maker  Huntington W. VA.  1898
Mark Herman Holding Big Target Rifle Made By George Lafayette Brammer 
It Takes A Strong Man To Hold This 18 Pounder 

1 1/8 Inch Across Flats .46 Cal
Excellent Rifling 
Front Sight Adjustable For Windage

Percussion Lock

66 Inches Overall Length 

Special thanks to the folks at NMLRA for so kindly allowing us  to reprint  the above article.
 NMLRA and Muzzle Blasts per Terri Trowbridge, Director of Publications. 
We are also grateful to Mark Herman for toting this heavyweight rifle to the AOLRC Show in Marietta OH.

Check Out NMLRA 

Check Out AOLRC

The author  of  "Uncle George Brammer", Herman P Dean, was a avid gun collector, and prominent West Virginian.   His collection can be seen at the Huntington Museum of Art.
Click the link below to see some of Herman P. Dean's Collection and learn more about him.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014


The student  of the American Long Rifle  may think they   know of every gunsmith who operated in their area or state of interest. However, from time to time a signed rifle shows up that is signed by a maker that is not known to them.

Recently, we received the following pictures of an antique long rifle.  The rifle is signed J B Kee in script on the top flat of the octagon barrel between the rear sight and  the breech. 


Signed J B Kee
Click picture for larger image.

The person who sent the pictures  thought the rifle  was made in West Virginia & stated there could be some  association  with Evick’s of Pendleton County WV,  or McGilvray in Rockingham County VA. Both famous gun making families of "Old Virginia".   Consulting with other persons more knowledgeable than myself, as well as looking through every book I own on early gunsmiths, I could not find anything on J B Kee.  Finally, searching the 1850 Census  I found a Joshua B Kee listed as a farmer in Pocahontas County.  Census records from 1850 list occupations. Checking census records from 1860 - 1880 still had him listed as a farmer. I even found him in the 1840 census. I found a few other persons named Kee, with the same initials, but none were gunsmiths.
Engraved Brass Patchbox
With Push Button Release

Percussion Lock

Incised Line Along Forestock
Brass Entry Pipe

44 Cal 44 Inch Rifled Barrel

Hunters Star
Made of Coin Silver
Very Nice Tiger Stripe Maple Stock

So following the Pocahontas lead, we finally obtained the proof that it was indeed Joshua B Kee, who was the gunsmith.  In the book “Historical Sketches of Pocahontas County, West Virginia,” by William Thomas Price, published in 1901, starting on page 292, you can find a biography of the Kee family.  The following paragraph is an excerpt from that biography

Joshua B Kee, the eldest son of the Kee family, married Rebecca Stevenson, of Bath County, and settled on the Greenbrier a mile below Marlinton. Esther and Rachel were the names of his daughters, and they both died when about grown. Joshua Kee was a person of remarkable mechanical skill. He could work in stone, iron, and wood, as well as farm. His specialty was gunsmithing, in which he excelled, and in his time when so much hunting was done this was of great service to the people.”

Joshua was the son of George Kee, an Irish immigrant. George was born 1776 in Ireland, and died 1863 in Pocahontas County. Joshua's mother was Esther Hetta Buckley, born 1779 died 1850. Joshua  was born in 1807.

In the will of George Kee, he leaves to his eldest son Joshua, 100 acres & one still. 

 Kee Log Cabin Built  About 1830
You Can Visit This Cabin At The Pocahontas County Historical Society
Museum In Marlinton.

While it is very possible there may be more surviving rifles that Joshua made, this  is the only one that we have knowledge of. 


NEW UPDATE 10/12/2014

Kee Guns

Recent discovery and identification of rifles made by Joshua Buckley Kee (J B Kee) has resulted in a reuniting of weapons of the Kee family.  The Pocahontas County museum has in its collection a signed rifle of J B Kee and a rifle attributed by family descendents to his nephew Samuel Kee.  Samuel gave this rifle to his brother James B. Kee for his use as a soldier in the Union army. 
While James was serving with the Union, his first cousin, George M. Kee was a member of the 17th Va. Cavalry fighting for the Confederacy.  During his service, he carried an Adams model revolver manufactured by Webley and Sons of London, England.  This pistol is in the care of George’s great grand-son, Robert Sheets of Green Bank, WV. 
Top to Bottom
Rifle Made by Samuel Kee
Webley Revolver
Rifle Made by Joshua B Kee
Click Pictures For Larger View

All of these weapons were recently reunited and pictured at the Pocahontas County museum.  They will be available for viewing at the October 20th meeting of the Pocahontas County Historical Society at the Marlinton Presbyterian Church.

                                                               Signed J B Kee

Nicely Engraved Iron Patchbox

Engraved Iron Toe Plate

Engraved Trigger guard Finial

Back Action Percussion Lock
Iron Trigger Guard

Silver Inlay Surrounding The Barrel Wedge
Brass Nose Cap

Finial On Iron Patchbox

Engraved Iron Patchbox
Work is Similar to  Guns Made  By Alexander McGilvray

Samuel Kee
Joshua B Kee

Samuel Kee
Joshua B Kee

Joshua Buckley Kee
Died 1885
 Kee Family Cemetery
 Pocahontas County
West Virginia
Below is a list of  gunsmiths who operated in Pocahontas County before 1900.

1. Joshua Buckley Kee
2.Samuel Kee
3.Nathan Burgess
4.John Dilley
5. Ellis Houchin
6.George Curry
7.William Reynolds
8.William H. Reynolds    

The William Reynolds gunsmiths of Pocahontas are not to be confused with William Reynolds of Greenbrier County.