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"The family is the school of duties . . . founded on love." - Felix Adler

Joel Ferree Gunshop
Ferree made rifles were prized weapons.
These "Pennsylvania-Kentucky" rifles had features that distinguished them from all other guns made during the period.

The Background

Early Pennsylvania was mostly woodland. In order to survive, settlers had to depend on their rifles for hunting food and for protection. Their only choice for survival was a rifle. When the settlers came to this country they brought guns with them but soon realized those old style weapons were too heavy, too short, and requiring a lot of powder to fire the few balls they could carry, were not suitable for conditions encountered trying to meet their needs in this new land. In order to accommodate those needs, the Pennsylvania-Kentucky rifle was developed.

The Pennsylvania-Kentucky Rifle

The Kentucky rifle did not originate in Kentucky. It was first developed in the Pequea Valley, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Very few were made in Kentucky. Owning a rifle in Kentucky was essential for survival but there was no way to build them there. It was almost impossible to transport gun making equipment across the Kentucky wilderness and no one there at that time with the skill needed to make guns. Much better to have them made where equipment, resources, and skilled craftsmen were available and the finished product then brought to Kentucky. Hence the name, "Kentucky Rifle".

Where better to have them built than Pennsylvania? There, the Ferrees in Lancaster County were gunsmithing and producing remarkable weapons. Where they learned their trade is not known for sure but it is thought that possibly Isaac Lefevre may have had some training before coming to America and passed on his knowledge. The Ferree made rifles were prized for their construction and appearance. They were light weight which made them easy to carry when hunting or traveling, the light weight ammunition made it possible to carry a larger supply, quick to load when immediate loading was needed, and accurate since "the first shot had to count". Stocks were usually made of maple wood selected for the beauty of the grain and embellished with intricate carved designs and inlays of silver or brass decorated with delicate engravings. When finished a Pennsylvania-Kentucky rifle had individual characteristics that would distinguish it from all other guns made in the period.

The Ferree Gunsmiths

Major George Bennett Ferree mentions the following in his "Ferree Family Gunsmiths. There may have been others not known to us, but these are the most prominent and those for whom there are records.

Joel Ferree (1731 - 1801)

  • Son of Philip and Leah Dubois Ferree.
  • Married Mary Copeland, Jane Johnson, Susan Green Ferree, Sallie Sarah Davis.
  • In 1752 received land from his father and set up a rifle making shop.
  • Made gun barrels and guns during the American Revolution at the request of the Council of Safety.
  • Shot and scalped while hunting during a visit to Allegheny County, Pa in 1801.
  • Buried in Carpenter's Cemetery, Paradise, PA

Jacob Ferree (1750 - 1807)

  • Son of Isaac (b:1725) and grandson of Philip Ferree.
  • Married Rachael Ferree, his first cousin. Married second, Alice Powell, who was considered a fine shot with a rifle. She tested guns and gunpowder her husband produced.
  • Employed in the manufacture of gun powder and guns for the government during the Revolutionary War.
  • In 1784 located to Mifflin Township, Allegheny County, PA where he continued to manufacture guns and powder.
  • Died September 5, 1807. Buried in Coraopolis, PA.

Col. Joel Ferree (1771 - 1813)

  • Son of Jacob and Rachael Ferree.
  • Born in Lancaster County, Pa; located to Allegheny County, PA with his father in 1784.
  • Married Christina Kuykendall.
  • Skilled barrel maker.
  • After death of his father, he became the unofficial head of the family in the Pittsburgh region. A man of affairs, owned bank stock, and dabbled in politics.
  • Colonel in the War of 1812 and commanded the 1st Regiment, 2nd Detachment of the Pennsylvania Militia.
  • Became sick with jaundice during duty in Upper Sandusky, Ohio.
  • Died April 9, 1813 at Zanesville, Ohio, while en route home.

Isaac Ferree (1780 - 1845)

  • Son of Isaac (1753) and Mary Ferree. Grandson of Joel (1731) Ferree.
  • Married Elizabeth Ferree.
  • Owned a powder mill in what is now Loyalton, PA.
  • Laid out the town of Lykens, PA about 1826.

Isaac Ferree (1786 - 1821)

  • Son of Jacob and Alice Powell Ferree.
  • Married Hannah Wall.
  • Made gunpowder with his half-brother, Col. Joel (1771) until 1810 when he moved to Pittsburgh, PA. Had a gun shop there until 1812.
  • Enlisted in the army and assigned to the 1st Regular US Infantry as armorer.
  • Owned land in Arkansas Territory and Missouri.
  • Working at his trade as armorer in the Army at Baton Rouge, LA when he died in 1822 of a malignant fever.

Joel A Ferree (1806 - 1861)

  • Son of Col. Joel (1771) and Christina Kuydendall.
  • Married Jane (June?) McClennon.
  • Thought to have located in Hocking County, Ohio, about 1845.
  • According to Muskingum Valley, Ohio, gunsmiths, in 1853 he was the best known workman in Cumberland, Ohio.
  • Family or part of it may have moved back to Pennsylvania after his death in 1861.

Joel Thornton Ferree (1815 - 1882)

  • Son of Isaac Ferree (1786) and Hannah Wall born at Corydon, Indiana.
  • Married Frances Silk.
  • Joel Thornton and brother George Spencer Ferree went into the gunsmith business in Findley Township, Allegheny County, PA about 1838 and made rifles in Allegheny County up to 1840.
  • It is said they not only knew the mechanics of the American rifle but also how to use it.
  • Died November 20, 1882, in New Brighton, Pa and buried in Monongahela, PA.

George Spencer Ferree (1818 - 1896)

  • Son of Isaac Ferree (1786) and Hannah Wall.
  • Married Mary Daughty.
  • At age fifteen went to Pittsburgh, PA where he became a gunsmith apprentice for four years. Exactly when he opened his own shop is not known.
  • Fought in the Mexican War and was also a steamship captain between Pittsburgh and New Orleans.
  • Had a gun shop for about twenty five years near Lanconia, Indiana.
  • Died in 1896 and buried near Lanconia.
  • Was the last of the old Ferree gunsmiths.

Joel A. Ferree (1847 - Aft. 1880)

  • Son of Joel A. Ferree (1806) Jane (June?) McClennon.
  • Lived in Bridgeville, PA.
  • He and brother, Ulysses, were known as the "fiddle playing Ferrees" and in demand at dances in the Bridgeville area.
  • There is a story about a very unusual gun he had made. It was both a rifle and a shotgun.
  • Believed to have lived in Cumberland, Ohio, around the 1880's.

Emanual Ferree (? - ?)

  • The son of Jacob Ferree (173O) and Barbara Carpenter.
  • Married Mary Gibboney.
  • Lived in Leacock Township.
  • A Manuel Ferree listed as a gunsmith in Lancaster County, PA in 1779 - possibly the same Emanual.
  • There is a gun in existence signed by either Manual or Emanual.

Philip Lefevre (1710 - 1761)

  • Son of Isaac Lefevre and Catherine Ferree.
  • Married Mary (Maria) Herr.
  • Thought to have taught gunsmithing trade to Joel Ferree.

Resources: " Ferree Family Gunsmiths" by George Bennett Ferree, "The Longrifles of Western Pennsylvania" by Richard Rosenberger & Charles Kaufman, " Pennsylvania Longrifles" by Budd Davisson, "Antique Talk" by Wayne Mattox, "The Kentucky Rifle -An American Invention", essay johno.myiglou.com/kyrifle.