Edward Marshall and his rifle”
by Mike Beliveau
Edward Marshall sat by the fire. Even in the snug house the winter chill nipped at the part of his body that wasn’t facing the flames. A new war was causing turmoil, but it wasn’t his war. He couldn’t remember if he was 67 years old, or maybe as old as 71. He was confused about his birthdate. He was still strong for his age, but he knew his time as a man of action had passed. A lifetime in the woods as a hunter and lumberman had taken its toll on his body.
He was still in the militia. He and his sons had helped gather boats for Washington’s attack on Trenton, but if there was any real fighting to be done, younger men would be doing it.
“Butler and Brant have the Mohawks stirred up,” his son Martin said. “They hit the Conneticutters up in the Wyoming Valley last summer…hit ‘em hard.”
Martin’s daughter Mary was sitting at his feet, playing with a straw doll. “Will they come here Grandpa?” she asked.
“Not likely,” he replied. “Too many settlers between our land and theirs.”
“But, if they did come, you’d fight them, wouldn’t you Grandpa?” she asked, “like you did in the old days?”
“Not likely child,” Marshall answered.
“Grandpa, tell me about your Indian fights,” she asked.
He looked her in the eyes. This was a constant question from the grandchildren…a question he didn’t care for.
“In the last war,” he said, “If I saw an Indian, I’d shut one eye, and we’d not meet again.”
“That’s what you always say Grandpa,” she said indignantly. “That’s not a story.”
“Some stories aren’t for sharing,” he replied as he closed his eyes to enjoy the fire’s warmth.
His mind drifted back Across the years.
Marshall hadn’t wanted to go to war with the Delaware, but they blamed him for the Walking Purchase. Marshall thought that was unfair. He had just been doing a job. The Penn brothers did the cheating. All Marshall had done was walk the path. But the Penns were in faraway London, and Marshall was here…. within striking distance. And strike they had.
It was early fall. Elizabeth had been captured the previous spring. For months he had hoped she’d been taken west to the Susquehanna towns, or even farther to Kittanning and the Ohio country. He could get her back from there. He would just need to find her.
Then, in August of 1757, barely three months after his wife’s capture, the Delaware struck again. His oldest son Peter was in the lower meadow, stacking hay when the war party caught him. Peter had left his fowler leaning on the fence rail while he covered the stack, but it wouldn’t have mattered if he’d held it in his hands. A Delaware shot him from the tree line, and scalped him where he fell.
They had a head start on him, but Marshall tracked them to Shamokin town, on the banks of the Susquehanna. He found a hill overlooking the village, and he settled down to watch. After a couple of days, he saw one of the warriors from the party leave on an early morning hunt. Marshall followed silently for several miles. He watched the Delaware warrior moving quickly through the forest, and, like a shadow, Marshall moved in his wake.
Marshall slipped to the ground, and slowly made his way to a fallen tree trunk. The Delaware was about 150 yards away, easily within the capability of his rifle. It had been built just a couple of years before by the Moravians at Christian’s Spring. The rifled, 38-inch barrel was made in Germany, and it could throw a .58 caliber ball straight and true.
Marshall rested the rifle barrel on the tree trunk, and sighted on the Delaware. He set the rear trigger, and waited for the native warrior to stand still for a moment. Marshall closed one eye, and touched the front trigger.
Marshall’s search for Elizabeth ended abruptly in November. A party of woodsmen found her remains on the mountain five miles west of the house. Her skeleton was picked clean, making the tomahawk gash in her skull starkly prominent. The bones of his un-born twin babies were mingled with her bones.
Marshall turned from Elizabeth’s remains, and walked off into the forest. Captain Van Etten’s men would bring Elizabeth back for burial. Marshall wouldn’t be there. He was going hunting.
Marshall sheltered behind a massive Chestnut tree. Just 30 yards away, the Delaware warrior was similarly tree’d. They had been playing a game of cat and mouse for an hour, neither one giving the other a target. The longer this game went on, the more dangerous it was for Marshall. Eventually, more Delaware would show up, and he’d be trapped. The snow was too deep to make a run for it, so he needed to end this soon.
Marshall drew his ramrod, and put his hat on the end of it. He extended the rod slowly, allowing the hat to show briefly on the right side of the tree, then he moved it to the other side of the tree, and again showed it briefly. As he exposed his hat for a second time on the right side of the tree, a shot rang out, and his hat flew backwards.
Marshall leapt clear of the tree, leveling his rifle as he jumped. The Delaware was charging towards him with a knife in one hand and a tomahawk in the other. Marshall’s .58 caliber rifle ball caught him in the chest when he was just 20 feet away.
Edward Marshall married his second wife, another Elizabeth, Elizabeth Wiser, in late 1757.
Like Marshall, Elizabeth had lost family to raiding Delaware. In 1755, at the beginning of the war, a 30-man war party had attacked her father Nicholas’ cabin, taking him and her brother William prisoner. William was carried away to the Susquehanna towns, but Nicholas was tomahawked on the trail.
Since the deaths of his wife and son, Marshall had hunted Delaware like others hunted deer. He lived off the scalp bounties. But, by the end of 1757, with a new wife to come home to, Marshall was sick of killing. Now, he wanted nothing more than to live the remainder of his life with his family, and live it in peace. But peace depended on the Delaware, and they had other ideas.
Marshall had been tree’d since early morning, and the steamy humidity of mid-July made every minute feel like a sweat-soaked hour. The Delaware warrior who was tree’d a hundred yards away was a master at this game. Marshall was deep in Delaware country, and time was not his friend. They had played the game like native warriors, now Marshall had decided to end it on his own terms. He had a plan, not a good plan, but something to try.
“My name’s Marshall,” he called out to the Delaware, “Who are you?”
“I know you Marshall,” the Delaware replied. “I’m Tishcohan.”
“How about a truce Tishcohan?” Marshall called. “I need to piss.”
“Go ahead,” The Delaware replied, chuckling. “You piss.”
“I mean it,” Marshall said. “I’ve got an idea. We’ll both shoot at a mark to empty our guns. Then we can piss and reload, and go back to fighting.”
“Don’t trust you Marshall. You shoot first.”
“I will,” Marshall replied, “You pick the mark.”
“That tree,” Tishcohan said eagerly. When this foolish white man emptied his rifle, Tishcohan would rush him.
“Which tree,” Marshall asked. “Show me. I need to be sure.”
Tishcohan leaned out from his tree pointing, “That one!” he said, just as Marshall’s bullet slammed through his skull.
That night, Marshall sat by his small fire, stretching Tishcohan’s scalp on a willow hoop, “I guess you were right Tishcohan,” Marshall said quietly, “I can’t be trusted.”
Over that summer at Easton, the Delaware chief Teedyuscung negotiated a truce for the Delaware and Shawnee of eastern Pennsylvania. The most implacable, war-like members of the Munsee clan had no choice now but to abandon what remained of Lenapehoking, the Delaware homeland, and join their Unami and Unalatka clan brothers.
The Delaware were still a threat to settlements in central Pennsylvania, but Northumberland County and the rest of the eastern end of the province was safe. Marshall could lay down his gun.
Edward Marshall lived until 1789. He’d been born about 1710 to Quaker parents, probably in England, though both the date and the location are disputed. What is certain is that he was woodsman of some reputation who made his living by hunting and by working on surveying parties.
In 1737, when Edward Marshall was at the height of his powers, he was one of three men hired by James Logan, to walk the boundary line to establish the border of what would be known as the Walking Purchase.
Logan was the Pennsylvania Provincial Secretary, and, not coincidentally the Penn brothers’ land agent. Where Willian Penn had established a reputation for fair dealing with the Indians of Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, Willian Penn had been a terrible businessman, who died leaving his family deep in debt. Penn’s son Thomas was determined to erase the debt, and he wasn’t too particular about how he did it.
Penn and James Logan supposedly “found” a sales document between their father and certain Delaware chiefs for a substantial tract of land in eastern Pennsylvania. The Delaware were suspicious of the forged sale document, but were ultimately browbeaten into accepting it.
The purchase document set the boundary of the parcel as the distance a man could walk northwest in a day and a half. James Logan secretly had a cleared trail prepared, and he hired the three best woodsmen in the colony to make the walk. Edward Marshall was the only one of the three who finished the walk. At the end of the day and a half, Marshall had covered 70 miles…three times farther than the Delaware had thought was possible.
As a result of the Walking Purchase, the Thomas Penn added significantly over a million acres to his saleable land in the colony. The Delaware lost most of the land in the Lenapehoking, their ancestral homeland. Edward Marshall was promised a five-pound purse for making the walk, but he was never paid. What he did earn though was the undying hatred of the Wolf Clan of the Delaware nation, the warlike Muncee’s.
They exacted their vengeance on Marshall’s family, killing his wife and at least one son, and perhaps a second, as well as severely wounding one daughter. as well as burning out his homestead, and scattering his remaining family in the woods.
Marshall himself had many close calls with Delaware warriors. The ones I used in the narrative are only the ones I’m most certain about.
Edward Marshall’s rifle is one of the most famous early longrifles available for study. Currently it resides in the Mercer Museum of the Bucks County Historical Association in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. The rifle is of the type sometimes called a transitional rifle, because it shares the characteristics of both European Jaeger rifles and of American longrifles. The barrel, lock, and most likely the brass furniture, were made in Germany, The curly maple stock was made by an American artisan.
The rifle isn’t signed, but, in his book, “Rifles of Colonial America, Volume 1, George Shumway attributes the rifle to the Christian’s Spring gunmaker Andreas Albrecht. Shumway thinks it is likely that the rifle was made after 1762. but Brad Emig, who extensively studied early Pennsylvania rifles during his tenure with the Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission, feels it is much more likely to be of 1750s vintage.
I have a copy of Edward Marshall’s rifle, made by Contemporary Longrifle Association (CLA) artisan Rube Wilson. Like the original, it features a .58 caliber, swamped barrel. In my case, the barrel is made by the Rice Muzzleloading Barrel company, and features round-bottom rifling with a twist rate of one turn in 66 inches. The lock is a Siler Early Germanic model. The rifle features Germanic brass fittings with no engraving. The lack of engraving is a little bit surprising, but the Rocco style carving is extensive, and well-executed.
I’ve found that my Edward Marshall rifle shoots best with 90 grains of 2Fg Swiss black powder. That load throws the 278-grain round ball at an average velocity of 1,470 feet per second. I can get two-inch groups with that load at 100 yards, shooting from the bench.
Unlike Edward Marshall, I don’t have to worry about hostile tribesmen, but I think m,y Edward Marshall rifle will be equal to any task I put it to.