The Maker: George Washington Hatfield (1813-1884) was born in Anderson County, Tennessee, and was commonly known as Washington or “Wash.” His family moved to Wayne County, Kentucky, where Washington learned to use a rifle. In the mid-1820s, his family moved south to Fentress County, Tennessee, where he learned the gunsmiths trade before having his training cut short when the family moved to Green County, Indiana, in 1831. In March of 1832, he married Elizabeth Snyder of Greene County and settled and built a gun shop on property a few miles from his father and brother. He lived on his homestead for the rest of his life working as a gunsmith, farrier, blacksmith, and farmer.
Documentation & Appraisal: This rifle has been identified by experts as a George Washington Hatfield rifle and is pictured on the front cover of Muzzle Blasts magazine’s July 2016 issue. It is the subject of a two-part series article in the July and August 2016 issues entitled “New Discoveries Alter Old Perceptions of Indiana Gunsmith Washington Hatfield” by Shelby Gallien who gives his assessment of the rifle. Gallien notes, “All known guns are percussion ignition despite Hatfield having worked early enough to make flintlock rifles during his first years. Perhaps his back-woods location resulted in mostly repair work during his first years, until the local population and economy grew sufficiently strong to support a demand for new rifles. . .His rifles retained southern influences, and his later rifles are often half-stocked.” This full stock example was likely manufactured earlier in his career and may have been built to make a statement when he was new in town, as a presentation piece to a local dignitary, or both. The stock has a Masonic compass and square (separate pieces) on the upper left at the rear. It would not be surprising if Hatfield turned out to be a Mason, especially given his namesake. It is equipped with a dovetailed blade front sight, notch rear sight, and double set triggers. A well-known builder and collector referred to this rifles as “one of the best iron mounted guns” he has seen and a “masterpiece.” Gallien states it is: “One of the earliest and finest known Hatfield rifles. . .while unsigned, it is easily attributed to Hatfield based on its distinctive trigger guard, stock architecture, side facings, side plate, and the use of many small diamond shaped inlays”. Early details include: larger than normal side plate, tall butt with a less pointed toe than on later rifles; large oval cheekpiece inlay; large rear spur on guard; and heavier use of inlays than on later rifles. . .The gun is stocked in fine curly maple and has typical Hatfield mixed-metal furniture with the larger guard and butt plate being made of forged iron while the smaller ramrod pipes and nose cap are sheet brass. There are twenty-eight German silver inlays on the gun counting the small wear plate under the forestock grip area, a huge number for a Hatfield rifle. It should be noted that Hatfield did not engrave the inlays. Even his initialed signature ‘W * H’ found on many of his guns is not engraved; it appears to be made by punching both the straight lines that form the letters and the small dots that decorate the letters tips. His lack of engraving may have been due to his shortened training period back in Fentress County, Tennessee, which ended prematurely in 1831 when Washington was only eighteen and a half years old. He probably learned the basic skills of gun building, but not the decorative skills of engraving that would have been taught near the end of an apprenticeship period after construction skills were mastered. The rifle’s forestock inlays are not Hatfield’s standard oval or diamond shaped inlays. Rather, they are unique for a Hatfield rifle with their slightly ‘S’ curved outline.The rifle probably dates to the mid-1830s and is the most heavily decorated Hatfield rifle yet seen. The gun has conventional brass ramrod pipes with the expected decorative ring filed at either end. Later Hatfield rifles had more distinctive ramrod pipes, at times made of copper, with a pronounced raised area at either end at times jokingly referred to as ‘plumbing fittings’ due to their odd appearance. A 41 5/8 inch barrel gives the rifle a slim, elegant appearance. Fine architecture, great stock wood, and multiple inlays make this one of Hatfield’s finest rifles. It demonstrates an artistic sensibility that goes well beyond Hatfield’s usual walnut stocked, iron mounted rifles with minimal decoration. The rifle elevates Hatfield’s reputation from that of a good maker of basic rifles, to someone who could rise to the occasion when a fine rifle was demanded by a more discerning customer.”
Furthermore, the nose cap was likely switched from Hatfield’s distinctive poured pewter to brass when the rifle was very slightly shortened in period. The iron components have a dark and textured aged patina and some minor pitting and the brass and German silver have a lightly aged patina. The compass inlay is absent. The stock is fine and has a chunk absent at the breech above the lock, some smaller chips near the breech, and light overall scratches and dings. The lock and set triggers function very well.
Both Issues of Muzzle Blasts magazine (July & August 2016) which feature the maker and this rifle are included.