Kentucky and Pennsylvania Rifles


October 12, 2004, 11:59 AM
Can anyone tell me what the difference is between these two rifles. They look so much alike that I cant tell.

Thanks in advance,


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October 12, 2004, 03:15 PM
What I have read on this subject (the short version) is:

The rifle manufacturing industry in the early days of the colonies/United States was centered around Lancaster, PA. Hence these rifles were called "Pennsylvania" rifles. When the pioneers/settlers led by Daniel Boone moved into Kentucky the rifles they carried became popularly known as "Kentucky" rifles. They are basically the same rifle with two different names.

Some of the others on this forum should be able to shed more light on the matter. Gary?...calling Gary:)


October 12, 2004, 03:23 PM
I think McNeill basically said it. When you get really picky, they can identify the area the rifle came from by inlays, furniture, and other details.

October 12, 2004, 05:12 PM
The term Kentucky Rifle was coined in a song. Gary will know the name, it escapes me at the moment. In the 1700's -1800's they were called rifles. There are many different schools of the rifles, by which I mean rifle makers and their particular traits, and further you have different periods(golden age) etc. Southern makers tended to be less elaborate as in leaving off the extensive carvings or decrotative patchboxes, while some from Pen. are just works of art. Carolina and Tennessee tended to have sharper drop on the stocks and be thinner throughout. To complicate it further if someone trained under a gunsmith in Pen and moved to Tennessee, they would bring aspects of the rifles and mix with the new area. Back to the origional question though, they are one in the same. I just can't remember the song....Guns of Kentucky perhaps? It was written around the time of the Battle of New Orleans.

Jim K
October 13, 2004, 09:02 PM
At one time, they were just "rifles", and the British who were on the receiving end in two wars cursed "the American rifles." Sometime around 1900, when they had gone (in the usual way) from "old junk" to historical antiques, collectors started calling them "Kentucky rifles" because many were used in the opening of that part of what was then the "western wilderness."

Still later, around 1950, collectors from Pennsylvania started to complain that since most of those rifles were made in that state, they should really be called "Pennsylvania rifles." Eventually, that term won out, although some call them Pennsylvania/Kentucky rifles. None of those terms is really accurate. That general style of rifle was used throughout the Appalachian region and into Texas and other trans-Mississippi areas. They were made in New York, Maryland, Virginia, Ohio, and other states as well as Pennsylvania.

The idea came originally from the German hunting rifles which immigrants from that country brought with them to America. Many Germans settled in the southeastern part of Pennsylvania, in and around Lancaster Co., and some who were gunsmiths began making the familiar rifles for fellow Germans and for their American neighbors. But the German rifle, called the "Jaeger" rifle today ("Jaeger" simply means "hunter"), had a large bore and had a fairly short barrel.

Contrary to what has been written, they are neither clumsy nor awkward, and recoil is not excessive. Also contrary to some writers, they do use a greased patch and the ball is not "hammered down". But the "Jaeger" rifles use a large caliber ball and a heavy powder charge. This is fine for a hunter who is not going far from home and a source of ammunition supply. America was different.

Frontiersmen starting off on a long exploration trip wanted a small caliber and a lighter powder charge so they could carry enough powder and ball for an extended period. But a smaller ball needs greater velocity for lethality, and with black powder, the only way to get that velocity was by extending the barrel length. The result was that uniquely early American product, the Pennsylvania/Kentucky rifle.


October 14, 2004, 07:30 AM
Thanks everyone. I knew that I came to the right place to confirm my suspicions.

Thanks Jim for your post. It was very informative.


Harry Tuttle
October 14, 2004, 10:40 PM
this is a Pennsyl-tucky rifle:


October 15, 2004, 07:26 AM

I had one like that but got rid of it quick. Every time I dumped powder down the barrel, it came out that slot on the side of it. Besides that, where's the ding dang ram-rod? :p


4v50 Gary
October 16, 2004, 12:51 AM
Jim Keenan is on the mark but permit me to indulge myself and elaborate.

Rifle production in the colonies was not restricted to any given state. It is incorrect to think that the New England gunsmiths made only fowlers (smoothbores) as some also did make rifles. It all depends on what the customer wanted. For instance, New England militia lieutenant Charles Wilson Peale (the painter who had a Liberty ship named after him) had a rifle made by instrument maker Daven Rittenhouse. This rifle is distinguished from all other rifles in that it had a telescope mounted on it with which Peale was able to hit a sheet of paper (5 x 7") at 100 yards with it.

While many rifles were produced in Pennsylvania, other (Revolutionary War era) states including Maryland & Virginia also produced guns. Viriginia was the site of Rappahannock Forge which produced 1" caliber rifled wall guns for the defense of Fort Washington and Fort Lee.

The term "Kentucky" was applied after the War of 1812 when some Kentuckians (and Bellesiles was correct in that many showed up unarmed) along with numerous Tennesseans rallied to defend New Orleans against the British. Go to the Bedtime Stories or Sharpshooters Tale thread here for a link on that battle and you'll find that Jackson had over 2,000 riflemen in that battle.

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