top of page

The Family Gunsmiths

The "Kentucky Long Rifle" was originally known as the "Pennsylvania Long Rifle." Daniel Boone, a native Pennsylvanian born in Berks County, took his Pennsylvania long rifle to Kentucky.

A Pennsylvania Long Rifle attributed to "William Shener"

The Golden Age of Pennsylvania Longrifles evolved at the hands of gunsmiths from about 1776 to 1825. They were trained as apprentices by the masters in Lancaster, Nazareth, Allentown/Bethlehem, Kutztown, Alameangal, Womelsdorf-Reading, Lebanon, Dauphin, York, Littlestown, Emmitsburg and Chambersburg schools of longrifle styles. Using the same hand tools, native hardwoods and wrought iron, training and competition led to the development of highly artistic locks, stocks and barrels. While most of the early longrifles carried simple incised carvings, Golden Age Longrifles exhibited intricate, raised relief carvings on the forearm, lock/tang and under the cheekpiece. Engraved lock plates, brass thimbles, trigger guards, barrels, and particularly the patch boxes exemplified the typical American Rifle. Precious metals of gold, silver and even platinum were inlaid into the barrels, as well as into the intricate relief carvings.

A typical Pennsylvania rifle weighed from seven to nine pounds, with an overall length of a symmetrical fifty-five inches from muzzle to butt plate. Supposedly its .45 caliber ball could kill man or beast at 300 yards or "bark" a squirrel from the tallest tree.

After serving in the American Revolution as an artificer, Sergeant Wilhelm Schoener returned to civilian life and began putting his gunsmithing skills to use (read more about him here). During his military service, he may have become acquainted with Andrew Figthorn (Fichthorn), Sr., another gunsmith in Reading from the late 1700's to the early 1800's, who was in the same battalion. Figthorn's son, Andrew Jr. was apprenticed to John Bonewitz in Womelsdorf before returning to Reading and establishing his own gun shop.

William crafted both rifles and pistols and his style reflects strong ties to the Reading school. He is typically referred to as "William Shener"per tax and census records between 1781 and 1790. However, he never signed his guns so we may never be certain of his work, only of what has been attributed to him.

Pennsylvania 1800 Septennial Census

Although he never signed his work, there are several rifles and pistols that have been attributed to him.

Taken from "Berks County Longrifles & Gunmakers 1750-1900" by Patrick Hornberger

In the bottom photo above, there is a carved leaf design that is similar to the acanthus leaf motif used by the legendary Wolfgang Haga. Haga was one of the 4 earliest makers of the Berks County, Womelsdorf school and was a gunsmith working in Reading according to a land grant dated 1767. Further tax records show him still working in Reading in 1779. No signed guns by Haga have been found, yet rifle design attributed to Haga set the standard for the Berks County style with later gunmakers copying his "Roman-nose" stock and basic patchbox design. Always made with strong grained substantial tiger maple and with simple raised carving, Haga's rifles were symbolic of the Berks County rugged style of rifle. Despite the similarity, there is no connection that William ever worked with or was apprenticed to Haga.

Acanthus motif from "Old Killdeer" attributed to Wolfgang Haga

Taken from "Berks County Longrifles & Gunmakers 1750-1900" by Patrick Hornberger

The rifle at the top of the page was a flintlock made of maple. It had a 42 inch octagonal barrel. Here are some additional details from the rifle at the top of the page.

The patchbox has an engraved bird's head finial and "Reading" inscribed on the patchbox lid

The cheekpiece has a silver hunter's star with engraved radiating lines

William's third son, Henry (or Heinrich) would follow in his father's footsteps as a gunsmith, making percussion hunting rifles. Born on 2 March 1783, he would serve as a drummer in Captain Daniel D. B. Keim's "Washington Blues", attached to the First Regiment of Pennsylvania volunteers during the War of 1812. Even at the age of 77, he was still working as a gunsmith, as listed on the 1860 census. He died on 12 November 1862.

1850 Census Record for Henry Schoener

His oldest son, Henry O. Schoener, was born on 4 January 1818. He would also take up the family tradition of gunsmithing. Both son and father were listed separately on the 1850 census as Gunsmiths, living in the North West Ward of Reading. However, the son Henry would die on 6 February 1854 at the age of 36, leaving a wife and 6 children (four sons and two daughters, ranging in age from 14 years old to about one year old.

1850 Census Record for Henry O. Schoener

The Pennsylvania Long Rifle holds a special place in the history of Pennsylvania. An accurate, durable rifle that could shoot a considerable distance for the time, the Pennsylvania Long Rifle opened up the frontiers to new settlement. For the first time, large game could be hunted at a long distances and hunters could count on shots arriving accurately and not deviating from their lines. When the country needed an effective weapon against the British, the Pennsylvania Long Rifle was called upon, this time to be an instrument of war. Three generations of my family contributed to that legacy.


bottom of page