Early Settlers of
Their Descendants...Their Stories...Their Achievements
Lifting the Mists of History on Their Way of Life
By: Ethelene Dyer Jones
The Gillespie rifle-a trusted firearm
I wonder how many reading this column have heard of the Gillespie gunmakers or have a treasured firearm made by the Gillespie family of East Fork, N.C., (and elsewhere) passed down through many generations and kept as an heirloom?
I have recently
been in touch with T. Dennis Glazener of
It has been written that "many a mountain man who gambled his life on his rifle trigger swore by his Gillespie rifle." (The Ashville Times). Most Gillespie rifles made before 1830 were flintlocks. These were fired by rubbing metal to create a spark to ignite the powder. Even though other rifle manufacturers began to use other types of firing mechanisms, the Gillespies continued to make flintlocks even after the Civil War period.
The flintlock was a favorite of mountain men. Maybe they liked to smell powder burning and enjoyed the simplicity of the flintlock.
Another interesting fact about the Gillespie firearms is that no two guns were exactly alike. The gunmakers used creativity in the wood for the stock and the metals for butt plates, tangs, trigger and trigger guard, muzzle, and other appendages. Some are of silver and even gold was used on occasion, as well as pewter and iron. Not all Gillespie-made rifles were signed by the gunmaker, but those that were are, indeed, treasured highly. At times, since guns were designed and made for specific clients, the owner's initials and name were carved into the metal plate or elsewhere on the gun.
John Gillespie, Sr. of East Fork, N.C., taught three of his sons the gunsmith trade.
William Gillespie (12/28/1785-9/23/1851), Mathew Gillespie
(7/23/1788-5/16/1871) and Robert Harvey Gillespie (2/1/1791-
5/29/1881). Two of Mathew Gillespie's sons, John R. Gillespie
(12/6/1811- 1/15/1864) and James A. Gillespie (1/5/1822-3/17/1897)
John R. Gillespie (12/6/1811-1894) was the first-born son of Mathew and Elizabeth Gillespie, and a grandson of John Gillespie, Sr. His move to Union County, GA., was soon after March 24, 1849 when the Mills River Baptist Church records show he received "a letter of dismission" to move to Georgia. In those days, the church to which the migrant moved did not write for a letter; rather, the member took the letter with him as he moved to the new area.
County, GA., census shows both John R. Gillespie and his younger
brother, James A. Gillespie (1/5/1822-3/17/1897) living in
Gillespie signed his rifles with his initials J.G. James A. Gillespie
signed his guns with JA G. Some have surmised that the J. G. signed
rifles are by the grandfather, John Gillespie, Sr. However, those guns
found with the J G signature seem of later vintage than could have been
made by John, Sr. who died in 1822. The elder Gillespie may not have
placed his initials on any guns he made. Dr. John Burrison
has a collection of James Gillespie tools and a rifle on display at the
Gillespie was married first to Kizzie
Cook. They had no children. In 1880 he married Lizzie Justice. They had
one daughter, Johnce. When John Gillespie
died in 1894, he was buried in the
Gillespie and Elizabeth Daniel had three sons: George Washington
(1858-1941), Alexander Lafayette (1865-1941) and William Mathew
(1868-1926). After James's death in 1897, his wife Elizabeth moved to
story will continue next
week. I have been in touch
with two families in
c2006 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published
Dyer Jones is a retired educator, freelance writer, poet, and historian.
She may be reached at e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org;
phone 478-453-8751; or mail