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Jan 05

Triad Area Once Known for Gun-making – contributed by Carol Brooks

Posted on January 5, 2022 at 1:20 PM by Tamara Vaughan

This area of North Carolina is known as having fine furniture makers, even earning the nickname "the Furniture Capital of the World."

 But long before the furniture industry began in High Point – before the city existed, in fact – the Jamestown area had its own notable industry: gun-making.

 Given the predominantly non-violent Quaker presence in the early days of neighboring Jamestown, it is perhaps surprising to learn that that town was recognized as a center of gun-making, not only in North Carolina, but in the southern United States. There were nine schools of gun making in North Carolina from 1765-1810, before the Jamestown School became the foremost, lasting from 1810-1902. (The word "school" is used to indicate a regional style adopted by gunsmiths in that area.) 

 In 1988, local historian Fred Hughes wrote about the longrifle in Guilford County, N.C., A Map Supplement:

This gun was not made for royalty and aristocracy; it was made for the ordinary citizen, the Joseph Taterdiggers and Thomas Cornshuckers of the nineteenth century, the backbone of America. It was a simple gun, solid, durable, dependable, and above all, it was accurate.

 The guns were called longrifles because the black powder used in them was thought to burn slowly, necessitating a longer barrel. That was later proven false. Most were 30-caliber, with a wooden stock.

It is believed that at least 87 gunsmiths, gun-stockers, or apprentices worked in Jamestown between 1795-1902 and even more throughout Guilford County. Some of the men involved in gun making were Thaddeus Gardner, William Lamb, H.C. Lamb, Henry Wright, Jabez Stephens, Fletcher Merritt, and Judd Franklin Ledbetter.

image of longrifle The Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts at Old Salem in Winston-Salem holds this Isaac Jones “Jamestown Rifle” in its collection. This link shows more photographs of the rifle and gives a full description plus a history of Isaac Jones: https://mesda.org/item/collections/long-rifle/1942/  (Photograph from MESDA online catalog.)


Jamestown School craftsmen made over 20,000 longrifles from 1840-80. Three men stand out as being the top gun makers of the Jamestown School: David Grose (or Gross), Craft Jackson, and Isaac Jones. While these men were the best of the best, they didn't produce the most guns. That honor went to Anderson Lamb, Solomon H. Ward, and Evan Johnson, with Lamb being the most prolific. (Some of the longrifles of these early Guilford gunsmiths are categorized in the Early Deep River School, before the development of the Jamestown style.)

 Rifles from the Jamestown School can be identified by several distinctive characteristics, most notably the initials or signature of the gunsmith carved into the barrel. Other indications are a three-screw tang, a high comb on the stock, no button to push to open the patchbox, and two brass dovetails holding the sight. These features are not present on every Jamestown rifle, however.

 two men looking at rifles in MuseumAndrew Duppstadt and Jim McKee, experts in historic firearms with the North Carolina Division of State Historic Sites, examine longrifles on exhibit at the High Point Museum. At the Museum, learn more about the nine North Carolina schools of longrifles, about Jamestown rifles, and see a map of where gunsmiths’ shops were located around Jamestown. Books about North Carolina longrifles are available in the Museum shop. 

While most of the guns were made for personal use, they were also used in war. When a young man from North Carolina went off to the Civil War, there was a chance he was carrying a rifle made in Jamestown. It was his personal hunting rifle, in all probability. Every home had a hunting rifle, so it must have been a hardship to the family when the soldier took the gun off to war. 

Other soldiers had to be supplied with a rifle, and soon the Jamestown area also became a center for military contract gun-making. Longrifle expert Michael Briggs says there were seven Confederate gun factory businesses within 20 miles of Greensboro. The guns made previously were full-stock flintlock rifles, but during the Civil War, they were changed to half-stock percussion rifles with shorter barrels, making the guns lighter in weight. They were also re-designed to hold a bayonet.

The Mendenhall, Jones and Gardner factory (or Deep River Armory) was located on Oakdale Road in Jamestown where the former Oakdale Cotton Mill is now. This factory, which operated from 1861-64, produced rifles for North Carolina Confederate forces and was the largest of the gun factories in the area. It reportedly contracted with the State of North Carolina for 10,000 Model 1841-type rifles equipped with saber-bayonet. These guns are marked “M.J.&G. N.C.” 

The community of Florence, just north of Jamestown, was also the site of a Confederate armory from 1861-1865. It was located at the intersection of present-day East Fork and Penny Roads. The Lamb factory was located near the intersection of present-day Guilford College Road and Guilford Road.

There is a monument to the Guilford County gunsmiths along the hiking trail in Gibson Park off Wendover Avenue. (Learn more about the Guilford County park: https://www.guilfordcountync.gov/our-county/county-parks/parks/gibson-park

Surviving Jamestown rifles are rare and a much sought-after possession for gun collectors. Several are on display at the High Point Museum along with longrifles from other North Carolina schools and a Mendenhall, Jones and Gardner contract rifle.  

 

 Contributed by Carol Brooks. Carol is a lifetime resident of High Point and a lover of the area’s history. She is a member of the High Point Historical Society and volunteers at the High Point Museum. She is on the board of directors of the Historic Jamestown Society. Carol serves as historian for the First Baptist Church in High Point and has co-authored the latest history of the church, which celebrates its 200th anniversary in 2025. After several years of full-time reporting and serving as editor of the Jamestown News, she is currently a freelance writer for the Jamestown News.

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