Rifle, recovery centerpiece of '11Fort Days
By Jim Poole
Timothy Murphy--patriot, Indian fighter, protector of the Valley--is Schoharie County's hero of the American Revolution.
And now is his legendary double-barreled rifle is on display at the Old Stone Fort in Schoharie.
The rifle is a centerpiece of Stone Fort Days this Saturday and Sunday beginning at 10am each day.
"Outside of George Washington's silver-plated pistols, the Timothy Murphy rifle is probably the most well-known gun from the Revolution," said Museum Director Carle Kopecky.
Several people played roles in getting the gun to the Fort.
The rifle was long owned by Allen Burton of Gallupville, who died last year. George Wilber of Howes Cave, Mr. Burton's nephew, inherited the gun.
Enter Thom Boynton, a longtime friend of the Fort, who's loaned artifacts to the museum.
"Thom is very generous to the museum," Mr. Kopecky said. "He feels it's nice to have things in private collections but the public benefits more if it's on display."
Mr. Boynton visited Mr. Wilber to talk about the Murphy gun.
"He stopped by while we were having a lawn sale, and we struck up a conversation," Mr. Wilber said.
He and his wife, Rosemary, didn't need much convincing to loan the rifle to the Fort so the public could enjoy it.
"I just had it locked up in a safe," Mr. Wilber said. "We were happy to do it I think it's great."
Any antique with a reputed history needs proof--provenance--that it's the real deal.
The Murphy rifle has compelling provenance.
"My uncle traveled around, talked to a lot of gun collectors and tracked it down," Mr. Wilber said, adding that he believed Mr. Burton found the rifle in Pennsylvania.
Mr. Burton also had a page from a ledger of gunsmith Isaac Worly of Easton, Pennsylvania.
A February 19, 1776 entry reads, "A Rifle Made for Timothy Murphy a two-barrel Rifle-with both barrels Rifled only one made."
Worly's name is stamped on one of the rifle barrels.
The price was 20 English pounds, between $3,000 and $5,000 today, Mr. Kopecky said.
The ledger page, at the Old Stone Fort, is sealed in glass.
Finally, Mr. Kopecky said an 1880s drawing of the rifle matches this one, including the detailed inlaid brass on the stock.
"With the ledger, the drawing, personally, I'm 90 percent sure this is it," Mr. Kopecky said.
The .40 caliber rifle is an over-under double barrel with one hammer. After firing the first barrel, the shooter releases a lever that allows him to turn the barrels so the second loaded one lines up with the hammer.
Sometime after 1820, it was converted from flintlock to percussion.
Among other deeds, Murphy is famous for shooting British General Simon Fraser at Saratoga in 1777. a turning point in the battle.
While it's tempting to believe this is the rifle that fired the shot, Mr. Kopecky suspects not.
The barrels are relatively short, and the barrel connection is a little loose, making the long-range shot that killed Frasier extremely difficult.
Mr. Kopecky believes that Murphy borrowed a single-shot rifle from his friend, David Ellerson, also in Daniel Morgan's Rifle Corps.
"Murphy was the best shot in the company but Ellerson had the best rifle," Mr. Kopecky said. "I think he borrowed Ellerson's gun."
Nonetheless, the Murphy rifle is a key piece of Schoharie County history.
"It's been a fascinating local legend for 200 years,' Mr. Kopecky said. "Now it's here."
Mr. Wilber agreed.
"It kind of gives you goose bumps," he said.