Photos and profile by Caryn B. Davis
The Moravians were originally from an area in Europe that is now known as the Czech Republic, but in the mid 1600s they were forced to flee their homeland or face religious persecution. Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendor, a German Count and Bishop for the Lutheran Church and later the Moravian Church, allowed them to take refugee on his land in Upper Lusatia which has since become part of eastern Germany.
Zinzendor wanted to bring the Protestant religion to America to proselytize the Indians while introducing the gunsmith and locksmith trades to the New World. Many Moravians worked as apprentices in these vocations; and upon landing in America, were able to teach these specialized skills to others. William Penn, the founder of Philadelphia, encouraged hardworking, industrious Protestant people to come to Pennsylvania to boost the wealth; and in 1741 the first Moravian missionaries financed by Zinzendor, arrived.
Westward expansion and life on the frontier, created a great demand for guns. They were used for protection while crossing the country and for hunting. A lot of Moravians had settled in Lancaster, Lenox, York County, and Christian Springs, all towns along the National Road, the gateway to the West, and so their businesses thrived.
Like the Amish, Mennonites, and Hutterites who also settled these areas, the Moravians were pacifists. When the Revolutionary War began, they were not only opposed to signing up, but the manufacturing of guns specifically for the purpose of killing people presented them with a moral dilemma. Refusing to join the militia, they were forced to pay hefty fines that were equivalent to a year’s salary. Ironically, the only way they could support these payments was by building more guns, which included the American Long Rifle, also known as the Kentucky Rifle. This firearm was so superior it became the most accurate long-range rifle for many decades until the cap lock replaced the flintlock, rendering the American Long Rifle obsolete and turning it into a collector’s item.
Today, this Moravian style of craftsmanship continues. There are approximately 250 gun makers who make replicas from these hundred-year-old designs registered with the Contemporary Long Rifle Association; but in New England, there is only one. Edwin Parry of Black Hart Long Arms located in Eastford, Connecticut has been making black powder flintlock guns and rifles, pistols, powered horns, muskets, fowlers and percussion cap, muzzle loading Kentucky long rifles for over 30 years. His custom made exquisite reproductions range in price from $2500-$5000 and are commissioned by collectors, history buffs, and historic reenactors nationwide.
“I have honed the skills necessary to create handcrafted copies of long arms originally created in 1740-1840 by master Pennsylvania gunsmiths, such as J.P. Beck, John Bonewitz, Adam Ernest, Frederick Sell, and others. I have also made meticulously accurate replicas of guns by noted Connecticut gunsmiths Benoi and Medad Hills,” says Parry who has been featured on the History Channel’s show, “Modern Marvels”.
Parry is self-taught. He had gone to school for zoology and biology, earning two degrees; but in the 1990s he found himself working as an instructor at an aquarium for little pay with no pension. He thought there was more money and fun to be had in the gun making industry, so he quit his job and has never been without a custom order since. He usually has a year’s backlog worth of work.
The first gun Parry ever built was a replica of a Hawken muzzleloader, which was used on the prairies by plainsmen, fur trappers, and buffalo hunters. It was favored by men like Daniel Boone, Kit Carson, and Theodore Roosevelt.
While employed as a nuclear machinist mate on a long submarine patrol, Parry found he had a lot of time on his hands. He took advantage of the onboard machine shop to craft the rifle.
“It impressed my shipmates, but I knew long rifles were far more difficult to create. I decided then to spend as many hours as necessary to create a flawless copy of my true love, the Pennsylvania rifle. Aware that my ancestors settled in New Hope, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, I gradually refined my skills and made a copy of a Buck’s County rifle,” says Parry. “Though it fell slightly short of my present standard of excellence, the copy proved to be so deadly accurate in the field, I still hunt whitetail deer in Connecticut and Maine with it fifteen years later.”
Parry has made more than 200 rifles and guns, which translates to a dozen per year. It takes him approximately one month to complete an order. He uses only the highest quality American parts and the finest woods and metals to build firearms that are reliable and precise enough to be used in the field, or yet exacting enough to become heirloom pieces that increase in value and “authentic luster.”
“The marriage of metal and wood with master craftsmanship and painstaking attention to historical detail and accuracy, results in a functional, living piece of history,” says Parry. “If you owned an antique gun it would be like a Stradivarius. You probably couldn’t afford one anyway; but if you could, you probably wouldn’t want to shoot it. You’d have to lock it away because it’s worth too much. I can make an exact copy, and you can take it out hunting. It’s still worth a lot of money, but at least it’s not worth $100,000.
Parry is currently working on a Christian Oerter rifle for a collector in Illinois who has commissioned 13 guns over the years, but never fires any of them. Oerter, like Parry, was a master craftsman from Pennsylvania, but he died prematurely at 29 of consumption. Despite his young age, Oerter’s work is still revered by many in the gun world, and his designs are ones that Parry appreciates the opportunity to replicate.
“I communicate with this customer mostly by email. He has many of the same books I have, so we can compare notes. He might say, ‘I love that gun on page six.’ We’ll agree on a price, and I will copy that gun for him,” Parry explains.
Parry is also in the midst of finishing a rifle for a fellow member of the Lebanon Towne Militia, a group Parry helped cofound. It consists of 70 men, women, and children who are dedicated to re-creating the history of the Revolutionary War period and preserving the crafts of our Founding Fathers through demonstrations, battle re-enactments, encampments, education, and commemorative events like a town’s 300th year anniversary.
“We embrace 18th century military camp life, crafts, and occupations of the time and recreate the life of the colonial militiaman and his family. We simulate historic battles, present drilling/artillery demonstrations, educate the public about life in the 18th century, march in parades celebrating our country’s history, present school programs, and have a great time year round,” writes Commanding Officer, Captain Kenneth Giella on the Lebanon Towne Militia website. “We are proud of our ability to portray: Militiamen, Artillery, Camp Followers, and Artificers.”
“My craft, love for the woods, hunting, and an infatuation with James Fennimore Cooper and Kenneth Roberts novels evolved into a participating interest in Revolutionary War re-enactments, period dress, and the Lebanon Towne Militia,” Parry says.
Another event that Parry attends is the Original Northeast Primitive Rendezvous in New Hampshire where he sells, swaps, and trades guns. It’s an opportunity to dress in period clothing, camp out, and participate in battle reenactments while schmoozing with old friends. He also heads to Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts every August for the largest military re-enactment in New England. About 800 people donning British, Irish, Spanish, Scottish, French, and Colonial costumes from the 17th century to the Civil War converge on the grounds of the village to camp out, perform cannon-firing, marching, and drilling demonstrations, fife and drum music, and mock battles.
“These are mostly history buffs. They read a lot about history. But the way to really understand history is to participate. You learn little details you never would have known by just reading, only by doing. A lot of what you are privy to hasn’t been written down,” Parry says.
He also goes to the Battle of Hubbardton Revolutionary War Encampment in Vermont. During this weekend long event the public can visit both the American and British camps, talk with the reenactors and witness a court marital, a narrated Battle of Hubbardton Reenactment, drilling, cooking, and colonial craft making demonstrations such as dying cloth, weaving belts, making furniture, casting lead, and blacksmithing,
“Three decades after creating that first muzzleloader on patrol, my award winning engraving, inlay, and carving skills enable me to produce copies of period pieces that meet my exacting standards of historical accuracy and artistic responsibility. Even though I have created and sold well over a hundred long arms over the years, I still take great pride in each finished piece of history. Though I sell them to you, I really make them for me,” Parry says.
For more information log onto www.blackhartlongarms.com