The Gunsmith’s of Alabama, Genesee Co., N.Y.

By Larry B. Schuknecht

Mr. Jerry Swinney in his landmark books- The New York State Firearms Trade made the observation that it seems that three gunsmith's was a lot for one little town whose population in 1855 was only 166 people. That aspect must be put into context. Selah Vosburgh started there about 1826 and retired from gun making around 1859 or 1860 when Warren Burlingame took over his business and Lorenzo Clark opened his shop in the late 1830's or 1840's and worked until about 1870 so there was never more than two gun smith's working in Alabama at any one time. When Selah Vosburgh was gun making, Alabama Center was at a cross roads of what is now route 77 to the south which leads to Corfu and the Southern Tier beyond and route 63 to the north which lead to Medina on the Erie Canal, To the West route 77 leads to the City of Lockport on the Erie Canal and roads to the East lead to Batavia. Also being close to the Erie Canal and the Tonawanda Indian Reservation had to have an impact on the gun making business there.

Warren Burlingame-

(Aug. 7,1837-Aug. 3, 1899) Warren was born in West Bloomfield, Ontario County, N. Y. to Charles and Mary Ann (Macollins) Burlingame (1815- ). Warren at the age of 16 began an apprenticeship with the well known Canandaigua gunsmith Robert Antis.

Mr. Jerry Swinney in his landmark book "The NY State Firearms Trade" Shows that the 1860 Census finds Warren and his young wife Ann (born in England in 1840) were living in the household of Selah Vosburgh who by that time had retired from gun making. Since the Census shows Warrens occupation as Gun Smith it can be deduced that Warren had taken over Selah's shop and Clientele.

On Dec. 12, 1862 Warren enlisted in the 25th Independent Battery of N. Y. Light Artillery as a Bugler. With her husband Warren away Ann and her mother Elizabeth Stevens purchased a home and one acre of property in Alabama Center for $450. on August 31, 1863 and it is assumed that Ann promptly left the Vosburgh household.

I believe that the the building in the foreground was the home and possibly the shop of Warren Burlingame. The photograph was taken at the four corners just north of the Hotel.

Warren was promoted the Full Bugler on June 30, 1863 and was mustered out on Aug. 1, 1865. Upon his return from the War he resumed his Gunsmith career at the location of his home which his wife and step mother purchased while he was away serving. It is unknown whether his shop was in the home or if he had an adjacent building but a detailed map of Alabama Center does not show a separate building for the gun shop.

Warren worked as a Gunsmith until the early 1890's, the 1890 edition of the Gazetteer, Biographical Record, Directory of Genesee Co., N.Y. 1788-1890 lists him as Gunsmith. The 1896 Genesee Co. Directory lists him as "retired Gunsmith". The following advertisement from the 1869-70 Gazetteer and Business Directory of Genesee Co. , N.Y. state he he produced double barrel guns, combination guns, three and four barrel guns and Target Rifles. In all of the years that Swinney did his research he only recorded one example of Warren's work that was marked. It was a side by side combination gun in .34 and .54 calibers marked "W. Burlingame".

On June 25, 1889 Warren applied for a Military Pension as an Invalid. Ten years later on August 3, 1899 Warren passed away and was interred in the Alabama Cemetery. On Aug. 29, 1901 Warren's mother-Mary A. Burlingame applied for a Military Pension as a Mother of a deceased Veteran.

Lorenzo Clark-

(Nov. 11, 1808- ) Lorenzo was born in Batavia, Genesee Co. to William Henry Lee Clark (March 4, 1782- Nov. 21, 1812) and Mary Polly Rorabeck (abt 1785- ). William was born in Poultney, Rutland Co. Vt. On Nov. 3, 1812 he enlisted as a Private in Captain Daniel Buel's Company of the 18th Regiment of the New York State Militia. William fought and was wounded at the battle of Youngstown and returned to his farm in Elba where he died of his wounds on Nov. 21, 1812.

After Williams death Polly ( evidently she went by Polly rather than Mary) married Patrick Kane on Aug. 8, 1813 and abandoned her four Children by William. In June of 1814 Samuel Clark who was William's father (March 19, 1757-March 1815) was appointed Guardian of the four boys but he died less than a year later in March of 1815. At this time an uncle in Elba named Peter Powers (Feb. 12, 1783-1829) who was married to William's sister Urania Clark was appointed their Guardian. He died in 1829 and his wife Urania eventually moved to Michigan some time after 1840 where she died in 1851.

Lorenzo was the second of four children, the others being Abijah Clark (1806- ), William H. Clark (Sept. 6, 1810-Oct. 6, 1886) amnd Hosmer Clark (1812- ). Abijah, Hosmer with their families moved to Michigan as did Lorenzo for a short time.

Lorenzo probably apprenticed to Isaac M. Joslyn in Batavia about 1826 to 1829. In the 1850 U. S, Census the family is in Alabama where 41 year old Lorenzo is listed as a Gunsmith with his 23 year old wife Sally, a 5 year old son James A., 4 year old daughter Sarah A. and 3 year old son William H. By the time the 1870 Census was taken Lorenzo, Sally and their children are living in the household of David Waterman who was listed as a Stone Mason. Lorenzo's occupation was listed as a Carpenter.

In 1921 a fire destroyed most of the buildings south of the four corners and Lorenzo's shop building probably was included in that event. An American Legion Hall now stands in the approximate location where his shop was. No guns that could positively be identified as made by Lorenzo have been found but a few simply marked L. Clark have shown up in Auctions.

Selah Vosburgh-

Selah was born on Jan. 21, 1807 in Whitehall, Washington Co., N.Y. The 1890 Gazetteer and Biographical record of Genesee Co. states that Selah settled in Alabama in 1826, the same year that the town was established under the name Gerrysville. In 1828 the town name was changed to Alabama. It is presently unknown where and with whom he apprenticed and learned the skills of gun making. It can be assumed that he knew the gun making skills when he came to Alabama at the age of 21. That is the age of most apprentices when their apprenticeships were completed and they went out on their own.

In a U. S. Treasury document dated 1847 is a list of payments made in fulfilment of the treaty Six Nations , New York Indians by the Sub Agent- James Stryker in the Quarter ending Sept. 30, 1839. On that list No. 10 is S. Vosburgh being paid $30.00 for repairing rifles. The close proximity of the Tonawanda Indian Reservation to Alabama where Selah settled suggests that the Indian population was a significant portion of his clientele.

Selah was married twice, first to Maria Gumaer (1822-1849) and they had nine children-

  1. Charlotte A. -abt. 1834
  2. George H. -abt. 1836
  3. James O.- abt. 1839
  4. 4. John S.-abt. 1841
  5. Martha A.-abt. 1843
  6. Mary- abt. 1849
  7. Jane- abt. 1852
  8. Maria J.- abt. 1853
  9. Frank- abt. 1858

His second wife was Maria Hovey who died in 1873. They had four children who were-

  1. Charles
  2. Jennie
  3. Willie
  4. Frank- born abt. 1858.

Sources hint to a third un-named wife but this would have been a short marriage as Maria died only three years before Selah.

Now to his guns-

Following is an Over-Under Combination gun which is unmarked but has a patchbox which has been found only on Vosburgh guns and I believe it may have been made for an Indian customer. Note the two fish and a deer inlays. This is an early version of a type of combination gun that Selah seems to have favored. Probably produced in the 1830's.

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While Selah was not only a Gunsmith but also a successful farmer, his property lay to the north of the four corners and his gun shop was adjacent to his home.

The Industrial Schedule of the 1850 U. S. Census records that he was listed as a Gunsmith who in 1849 purchased 36 Gun Barrels for $62.00, purchased miscellaneous supplies for $75.00, had a second worker (probably his son John who in the 1870's operated a gun shop in Tucson, Az. and no doubt learned the trade from his father) who was paid $34.00 and sold 36 rifles for $828.00 with miscellaneous income of $50.00. If we speculate that his gunsmithing career spanned approximately 33 years and he averaged about 35 guns per year his total output was about 1200 guns.

A type of gun which was produced in limited quantities in Central and western New York in the 1840's and 1850's was the Mule Ear Over-Under rifle or Combination gun. Selah seems to have made quite a few of these. Following are two samples of these.

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This gun is marked S. Vosburgh in block letters on the barrel and was typical of the plain over-under com. guns.

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The above combination gun is unmarked but we can be quite certain it was made by Selah. When we removed the locks of both rifles, we found an island of wood that supported the locks between the mainsprings which has not been found in guns by any other makers that we are aware of.

Swinney (New York State Firearms Trade) speculates that some time after 1859 Selah seems to have stopped work as a gunsmith and concentrated his efforts to being a full time farmer. He was also the Alabama Post Master and farming allowed him the time for that which Gunsmithing did not.

Below is another Vosburgh side by side combination gun from the New York State Firearms Trade by Swinney and Rowe. . Compare this Patch Box style to the one on the first set of images. Several members of the Students of Swinney say that they have only seen that style on Vosburgh guns.

Selah passed away on April 5, 1876 and was interred in the Alabama Cemetery a short distance down the road from his home. His Estate inventory was taken on Sept. 15, 1876 and the contents were typical of any farm of the period.

I wish to thank Jerry Swinney & Tom Rowe for their help and allowing me to use their material, Joe Cassidy who is the Alabama Historian for his help, also Doc. Spink and John Holland for their insights into Mule ear guns.