"she shoots right well"

Christian Oerter Letter
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A 1773 Letter written by Christian Oerter, gunmaker of Christian's Spring, to Martin Bauer, friend and customer in Lancaster County PA.

This letter was discovered by Scott Paul Gordon in the Pennsylvania State Archives in the papers of Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Jasper Yeates. It was translated from the German and published in the KRA Bulletin Vol. 38, Number 1, Fall 2011.

Below is the published translation and some thoughts on its contents.


                                         Christiansbrunn, the 9th September, 1773

Most valued Friend Martin Baer,

At your request I have prepared [completed/finished] a good rifle and sent it over to Mr. John Hopson together with 4 pounds of Powder. The rifle is decorated [inlaid] with silver wire and well made, as well as tested and she shoots right well. It has a double trigger, so that you can fire with the triggers either unset or set. Between the triggers there is a screw with which you can make it lighter or harder to fire. There is also a ball puller with which you can pull the ball out no matter how rusty she gets. She costs 8 pounds all together and with the powder @ 3 shillings per pound makes twelve shillings, for a total of L8.12.-. Because it is very good powder I have added two pounds more than you requested. I hope it will suit you well. You can write me a couple lines to let me know how you like it. Together with friendliest greetings I am your faithful

friend and servant,

Christian Oerter



In the KRA Bulletin article Mr. Gordon, and coauthor Robert Lienemann, addressed questions about the identity of Martin Baer and why a man in Lancaster would request (order) a rifle from a maker in Christian’s Spring, about 90 miles away, rather than purchase one made locally. They note that the rifle’s price of 8 pounds was significantly higher than those inventoried at Christian’s Spring in May of 1773 & 1774 at 4 pounds to a bit over 5 pounds. They conclude that perhaps it was a better rifle as indicated by the wire inlay and set triggers.

This letter is an amazing find and I want to discuss a few other points it might shed light on:

 The rifle was sent with 4 pounds of powder, “two pounds more than you requested” because “it is very good powder.”  We usually see powder documented as something purchased at a store in the period but this leads to the conclusion that at least some gunsmiths sold/supplied powder. It also reveals that not all powder was equal and that a batch of good powder was worth stocking up on by sending twice what was requested.

The rifle was “tested” and “she shoots right well” lets us conclude that, at least in this one example, the gun maker shot the rifle enough to evaluate its accuracy. One could perhaps also conclude that in the 8 pounds “all together” Oerter was including a powder measure and ball mold.

·         The detailed description of the set triggers — double lever type, firing either set or unset and explaining how they were adjusted — makes us wonder if Oerter suspected that Baer wasn’t going to be familiar with them. That in turn might shed light on how uncommon set triggers were in that region and time.

·         Mentioning a ball puller that would “pull the ball out no matter how rusty she gets” leaves a lot unsaid about Oerter ‘s expectations about how the rifle, even a “good rifle” used in a well settled region far from the frontier, might be neglected.

·         And, finally, Oerter repeatedly referred to the rifle as “she.” Folks involved in re-enacting and living history, who like to name their rifles, might want to keep that in mind.