Morgan James & George H. Ferriss- Utica, N.Y. Gunmakers

By Larry B. Schuknecht

Morgan James

From Jerry Swinney's landmark 5 volume set of books titled "The New York State Firearms Trade" which was compiled by Tom Rowe, we learn much about Morgan James, one of the most famous and talented gun makers in New York State in the 19th Century. He was born in 1915 and died on Nov. 28, 1878. He probably learned the gun making trade in the shop of Riley Rogers in Utica N.Y. beginning around 1830. In 1836 or 1837 he move to and worked in Litchfield, Ct. and about the middle of 1840 Morgan returned to Utica to open his own shop at 11 Bleeker St. For a time in the 1850's he was in partnership with George Ferriss, the subject of the next installment. Morgan earned a reputation for high quality, highly accurate rifles using the early scopes. In 1854 when a British delegation was sent to the United State to study Gun Making Machinery, they made it a point to visit the shop of Morgan James where they supposedly learned a lot about making the finest rifled barrels. Around 1869 or 1870 Morgan left Utica and ended up in Ilion, N.Y where he went to work for Remington. He was still in Ilion when he passed away in 1878.

Below is a collage of a rifle marked "M. James, Litchfield, Ct." which was sent to Jerry Swinney by Mr. Ron Paxton of Phoenix, Arizona

The above image is of a cased percussion Buggy or Target Pistol made by Morgan James and in the collection of the Huntington Museum of Art.

(Note: The following is from my book- Development of the American Double Gun which is available as a CD on Ebay, click Here to read more about the book. More Morgan James and George H. Ferriss guns can be viewed Here)

George H. Ferriss

(Jan. 8, 1820- Dec. 13, 1885) was born in Willow Vale, Oneida Co., N.Y. His ancestors may have been Quakers who came from England to the New Milford, Ct. area and from there moved to and settled the Quaker Hill area in Dutchess Co. N.Y. If he is related to that family he comes from a long line of engineers and surveyors, some being Benjamin Ferriss, Ebenezer George Ferriss and G. W. Ferriss, the inventor of the "Ferriss Wheel".

His obituary states that "When a mere boy he evinced great aptitude as a mechanic". It is believed that George was first trained as a Machinist in the Rogers (later Rogers & Spencer) shop in Willow Vale. there he was introduced to gun making and the foundation was laid for his life's work. By the year 1850 when George came to Utica he was familiar with Target Rifles and was an accomplished rifle shot, as evidenced by winning the3rd match in the "Central New York Rifle Club" shoot. This was in the fall of 1850 and he used a Morgan James rifle & scope. In the 1850-51 Utica City Directory he is listed as a gunsmith working for Morgan James at 4 Beecker st. It is said that when he first worked there his bed was under the bench he worked at. This arrangement if true was at best only temporary as the 1850 U. S. Census lists him and his wife Dolly (age 28) with their four children who were-George F. (4), Merrit A. (2), Sarah T. (7) and Mary A. (4).

Entries in the Utica City Directories are as follows-1851-52- "James & Ferriss" Gunsmiths & Rifle Factory, 11 Fayette St. at the corner of Seneca St., In 1852-53- The shop had returned to the James name only with Ferriss working for James. In 1853-54 The shop was again listed as James & Ferriss. In 1855-56-George Ferriss had his own shop at liberty & Seneca St's and his residence was at 56 Whitesboro St. In 1856-57 the Ferriss shop was at 9 John st. which was the old shop of Adams & McCoy and his residence was at 3 Carnahan St. and this had been Daniel McCoy's home in 1850.

George's partnership with Morgan James appears to be an on again, off again one probably due to Morgan's legendary bad temper and disposition. By the mid 1850's George had broken completely from James and after that always maintained his own shop. In January of 1870 The son- George F. Ferriss married Abby and they lived in the home of his father and mother along with his 22 year old brother Albert who in the 1870 Census was listed as being "insane". The 1876 Utica City Directory shows that the shop address had changed to 33 Bleeker St. and the 1880 Directory shows the Ferriss residence as 254 Bleeker St.

It is verbal tradition among old time n. Y. State collectors that James & Ferriss quarreled in the mid 1850's and this led to their seperation. Morgan James is said to have nursed a grudge against George Ferriss for years despite george's good will. Morgan James was remembered in Utica as having a bad temper and being hard to get along with.

In February 1859 George was awarded a medal for the best rifles by the Utica Mechanics Association. One can only imagine how that sat with his old partner Morgan James.

During Morgan James final years he lived in Ilion and had a problem with drinking and was poverty stricken. In 1878 when James died the Ilion paper editorialized upon it implying that he had been an Alcoholic, and spoke of his life of "Dissipation and poverty" and went on to say that James had been "picked up by a former employee, who ranks among the first on the list of gun makers in the country". By this we can assume that Ferriss helped support James in his final days.

George was a very fine and prolific workman whose style closely followed that of Morgan James and if it was not for their names on the guns it would be difficult to tell them apart. Most of his guns were plain but examples that were engraved by L. D. Nimscke are known. Besides target rifles an important part of his production was in side by side shotguns and combination guns. He also made some over-under combination guns with a swivel breech and at least one three barrel gun.

This rifle with two barrels was made by G. H. Ferriss and is probably one of his finest, in a french fitted case with all of it's tools. it was sold by the Bourne Auction Gallery on May 14-15, 1985 and was lot no. 626. The image was taken by Hugo Poisson.

Below are 6 images courtesy of the Amoskeag Auction Co. of a three barrel Combination gun made by George Ferriss and sold by the Amoskeag Auction Co. as Lot #185 on Nov. 21, 2020 for $9,400. It has .40 caliber rifle barrels over .78 caliber smooth bore. The barrels are 30" long. It was from the David & Lore Squier collection.