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Robert and Caleb Baker-1st Gunsmiths-Lancaster County?
Posted by: Jan Swart (ID *****3109) Date: January 02, 2012 at 11:25:00
  of 2433

This is Baker researcher Jan Swart. There seems to be some question as to who was the first gun maker in Lancaster County of the Pennsylvania-Kentucky long rifle. It appears that my direct ancestor, Robert Baker and son Caleb Baker, appear to be the first documented gun makers. Robert first applied to make guns in 1719 on the Pequea and Susquehanna River in an area that was Chester County and then became Lancaster County after 1729. Robert Baker died interstate, his administration papers dated September 13, 1728 in Chester County, Pa. Caleb, being part owner of the business, took over and operated the mill until 1741, when he sold his land to Jacob Good. (Source: Chester County-Robert Baker Estate Admin #321) After this, all the Baker bros, including Caleb moved themselves and families to Amelia County, VA by 1742.

August 15, 1719

Dear Brother, (meaning Isaac Taylor )
Whereas Robert Baker a smith of this town has bought Colonel French's land on Sesquehanna and Pequea, he tells me that being minded to build a mill on Pequea for boring logs that he needs an addition of two or three perches of ground on a corner of Pequea next to the barrens (as he describes it) which he may be obliged with by paying thee for running the line.
by loving brother, Jacob Taylor (Taylor Papers-Historical Society Building in Philadelphia #2930- pg 11-Landis)

This also from Samuel Dyke of Lancaster County, Pa:
“…a report given to the Kentucky Rifle's Association in 1972. It seems that the Association had employed Mr. Samuel Dyke (of Lancaster County, Pa) to do some research for them. They wanted him to see if he could find out the person or persons responsible for making the first Pennsylvania Rifles or what was sometimes called the " Kentucky Rifle."

Mr.Samuel Dyke in his report states; "We feel as though these early gunsmiths came into Chester, Pennsylvania, or New Castle, Delaware, from abroad and migrated up the Susquehanna River to where the Pequea flows into it and set up shop for making guns." He goes on to say that Robert Baker came into Lancaster County Court on August 15, 1719 and asked permission to erect a gun-boring mill at the mouth of Pequea Creek on his land. Permission was granted. Robert Baker and his son Caleb set up their gunshop and operated it until 1728.”

In his book, A New Index, Lancaster County, PA Before the Federal Census, Clyde Grett says this in his notes, based on over fifty years of research in Lancaster County that:
Baker, Robert & Sons: - “Robert Baker and son are the first proven gun makers we know.”

So who did others think were the first Lancaster gunsmiths?"

According to The Pennyslvania-Kentucky Rifle- A Lancaster Legend by J.Wayne Heckert and Donald Vaughn:

“Local folk wisdom and the oral tradition claim that one Martin Meylin (Mylin) made the first Lancaster rifle. Tax records of 1716 reveal a Martin Milin, yet it is impossible to
substantiate if this is the man assumed to be a gunsmith. Daniel Rupp's History of Lancaster County (1844) mentions a "boring mill" on Mylin's Run that was brought to his
attention by descendant Abraham Mylin in 1842.

Curiously, however, inquires over the past several decades have failed to identify Meylin as a gunsmith. Substantiation, in this respect, requires that an individual’s name be associated with gunsmithing or barrel making through original deeds, wills, court, tax, church, military, or other colonial record

Coincidentally, they found that the first documented gunsmiths were contemporaries and neighbors of Meylin; so, regardless of the controversity, we are focused on the same neighborhood and same time frame - Pequea Valley 1719.

In 1719, two brothers, Robert and Samuel Baker, purchased acres near the confluence of the Pequea Creek and the Susquehanna River. In the following year Robert bought his brother's shares. Robert and his son Caleb operated a gunshop on this site. On August 15, 1719, the Bakers petitioned Jacob Taylor, the Penns' Provincial Secretary, for approval to dam the Pequea and erect a shop for making and "boaring" gun barrels. Two years later permission was granted to mine and refine ore on the site. The ore was smelted into billets of pig iron in a Catalan forge and then reheated and forged into bar iron strips known as "skelps." These were later reheated and forged into gun barrels.

The Bakers are believed to be the first of a growing number of gunsmiths to erect shops in early Lancaster. By the time of the Revolutionary War, over 80 gunbuilders worked within the county.”End

So Martin Meylin was a gunsmith. Yet no documentation shows that he was the first gunsmith in the area. The first “documentated” gunsmiths were our Bakers.
Why have no Baker guns been found? It appears that there were many gun makers in Lancaster County in the 1700’s, so thousands of arms were produced here. The answer might be in this. An order was issued to all counties of Pa in the period of the Revolutionary War through the local Committee of Safety to visit each resident to appraise, evaluate and purchase or just take all arms found. These weapons then were issued to troops. The bulk of these pre-Revolutionary War weapons have been lost.

the National Geographic Society that was published in June of 1978, page 760. The entire article was about the state of Pennsylvania as a whole, so the Society only sent the section that pertained to “The Kentucky Rifle. The article says:”
“You find innovations, it sometimes seems wherever you turn in Pennsylvania. John W. Aungst, Jr. administrator of the Lancaster County Historical Society, pointed out two innovations that played a large role in shaping the infant United States.

“The Kentucky Rifle originated in this area,” he said. “Quite a few Lancaster County gunsmiths turned them out, but Robert Baker and his son, Caleb, were probably the first. They set up shop in 1719.”

He reached for one of the handsome, long barreled weapons leaning against the wall in a corner of his office, and hefted it.

“The old European rifles hurled an ounce or so of lead in the general direction of the target. Not very accurate. But this Kentucky Rifle was lighter, used much less powder, and fired a smaller ball at a higher speed. A good marksman could hit his target at 200 yards or more. Yes, this gun played a big role in opening the West. And it was still in use when the Civil War came along.” END

It is interesting to note that the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF PENNSYLVANIA SENATE BILL No 895 Session of 2009 passed the following:

“The Pennsylvania Rifle is hereby designated as the official firearm of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.” One of the reasons they cited was because WHEREAS, The Pennsylvania Rifle was the first truly American firearm and, due to its exceptional accuracy and range, was considered the greatest achievement in the development of firearms during the 18th century;

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