The Pennsylvania Rifle and the American Revolution

The Pennsylvania Rifle with its unique spiral grooves, called rifling, has been credited with being an essential firearm in winning the American Revolution.  Without this rifle in the Battle of Saratoga, and  many other battles, we would have been forced to play on a level playing field with superior British forces in a toe to toe battle and surely lost.

Elegant Brass Daisy Patch Box – with original Dickert Engraving pattern by a master engraver.


Engraved Brass side plate completed by a master engraver – side plate used to hold the lock in place. Note the original trigger design

Double C Scroll Carving in Dickert style above and floral below. Not bad for my first try with new hand carving tools.

42 inch “Swamp” Barrel – thicker at each end and thinner in the middle.

The first known Pennsylvania Rifle, also known much later as the Kentucky Rifle used to settle Kentucky, with spiral grooves in the bore, was created by Martin Mylin (1690-1749) in the year of our Lord 1705 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. All guns in the 13 Colonies of that period before 1705 were smooth-bore muskets where the projectile, a round lead ball,  did not spin.  Accuracy of the musket beyond 50 yards was a hit or miss proposition, pardon the pun, but could be easily reloaded. The rifle on the other hand had accuracy far beyond the musket, out to more than 200 to 300 yards in expert hands, but was more difficult to reload. Each of them, the rifle and musket had earned a place in battle.

The Pennsylvania Rifle, with its 42 inch rifled barrel, an excellent long range hunting rifle, was in fact, our first American Revolution – Sniper Rifle.

To a large degree in particular, a now legendary German Immigrant named Jacob Dickert of Lancaster, Pennsylvania created the most quantity and quality of these rifles in the 1770’s and 1780’s under contract to the Continental Congress.

Above is an exactly carved and fitted 50 caliber working replica of the famed Jacob Dickert Rifle build by Edward R. Hale – Member New Hampshire Sons of the American Revolution, and will be on Display this July 2018 at the American History Museum in Exeter, New Hampshire.

The rifle is based on a custom Lancaster Rifle kit from “Chambers Flintlocks Ltd.” and took over 100 hours for Mr. Hale to create. The barrel exterior in its final assembly phase was intentionally rusted and polished to give an antique patina as it would have been seen in the 1770’s. An exact model such as this was created by Dickert for Col. David Crockett.

French and Indian War

The Pennsylvania Rifles first use in the America’s was in the “French and Indian War” also known as the “Seven Years War” (1756-1763). Our American Revolution leaders such as General George Washington and many other leaders in the 13 Colonies fought in the “French and Indian War” and had knowledge of the Pennsylvania Rifle as a long range weapon that could take out the enemy from behind trees and rocks from long range by sniping enemy officers and American Indian scouts.

Siege of Boston

This rifle made its debut in the American Revolution at Boston where legendary General Daniel Morgan, appointed by General George Washington marched 600 miles with his contingent of Morgans Rifleman to fight alongside the Minutemen. They laughed at the Pennsylvania rifle when they saw that it had no bayonet. But the Minutemen leadership paid attention when Morgans Rifleman, perhaps such as private Tim Murphy gave a marksman demonstration at 200 yards or more. It has been said by some accounts of Tim Murphy that to qualify to be a rifleman he had to fire and repeatedly hitting a 7 inch target at 250 yards.

Battle of Saratoga

It was during the Battle of Saratoga that General Morgan had his best marksman, Tim Murphy, climb a tree and shoot British General Simon Fraser off his horse from 300 and other accounts say 500 yards. Murphy is said to have rested his rifle in a notch on a branch, and adjusted for wind and elevation and fired. Other accounts say it took more than one shot, never the less Fraser fell at the shot and was mortally wounded thus ending the flanking movement that the British desired. We won the battle and without this rifle and marksmen we would have surely lost.

There were many other battles such as the “Battle of the Cowpen’s” where the Pennsylvania Rifle won the day with leadership of General Morgan and marksmen like Tim Murphy so numerous that you can take a few days of reading just to catch up on how guerrilla warfare and the Pennsylvania Rifle won the day.


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About Ed Hale

I am an avid hunter with rifle and Bow and have been hunting for more than 50 years. I have taken big game such as whitetail deer, red deer, elk, Moose and African Plains game such as Kudu, Gemsbok, Springbok, Blesbok, and Impala and wrote an ebook entitled African Safari -Rifle and Bow and Arrow on how to prepare for a first safari. Ed is a serious cartridge reloader and ballistics student. He has earned two degrees in science and has written hundreds of outdoor article on hunting with both bow and rifle.