Revolutionary War rifle stolen nearly 50 years ago back on display

A Revolutionary War rifle that was stolen in 1971 and discovered at a barn sale almost 50 years later is now back on display after being reunited with its owner.

The rifle, which is owned by the Pennsylvania Society of Sons of the Revolution and its Color Guard, was on loan to the Valley Forge Historical Society when it was stolen from a display at Valley Forge Park in 1971.

The rifle was only recently recovered through the efforts of the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, according to the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia, which put the historic firearm on display Wednesday.

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Antique dealer Kelly Kinzle discovered the rifle at a Berks County barn sale in 2018, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. He purchased the firearm and, realizing that he had a historic rifle on his hands, worked with his lawyers to establish its past and negotiate a handover to the FBI.

The Christian Oerter rifle made in 1775 seen on display Friday, Nov.1, 2019 at Philadelphia's Museum of the American Revolution.

The Christian Oerter rifle made in 1775 seen on display Friday, Nov.1, 2019 at Philadelphia's Museum of the American Revolution. (FBI)

The American long rifle was made by Johann Christian Oerter, a master gunsmith in Lehigh Valley, Pa. It was made in 1775 and is engraved with Oerter’s name, the date and the location of his workshop – Christian’s Spring, near present-day Nazareth – on the top of the iron rifle barrel. The name “W.Goodwin,” likely the name of the original owner, is engraved on the rifle’s wooden stock.

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“Only a handful of signed and dated American rifles from the Revolutionary era have survived,” explained the Museum of the American Revolution in a statement. “Oerter’s work is recognized by arms scholars as among the finest and most important.”

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The rifle, which is on display through March 17, 2020, is housed in a new special exhibition at the museum, “Cost of Revolution.” The exhibition tells the story of Richard St. George, an Irish officer and talented artist who served in the British Army during the Revolutionary War.

In a statement, R. Scott Stephenson, Ph.D., the museum’s CEO, said that it is “deeply gratifying” to be able to return the rifle to public view after almost 50 years. “The Christian Oerter rifle exhibits exemplary early American artistry and is a reminder that courage and sacrifice were necessary to secure American Independence,” he added.

“We are delighted that it will be on display for people to learn the stories of those individuals involved in our country’s fight for independence,” said Ben Wolf Sr., president of the Pennsylvania Society of Sons of the Revolution and its Color Guard, in the statement.

The museum is a successor to the Valley Forge Historical Society.

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The rifle is just the latest historic weapon to grab headlines in the U.S.

A stolen flintlock rifle that was used at the Battle of New Orleans was returned to the museum it was stolen from decades earlier, authorities confirmed last year.

FBI agents and Louisiana State Police recovered the rifle from a private home in south Louisiana and returned the weapon to the Confederate Memorial Hall Museum in New Orleans. The Battle of New Orleans, which was fought from Dec. 14, 1814 to Jan. 18, 1815, was the last major engagement of the War of 1812.

The recent discovery of centuries-old pistol parts in Colorado also shed new light on the state’s Spanish Colonial history.

A storied Revolutionary War musket ball that was melted from a famously toppled statue of King George III went on display at the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia in 2017.

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Separately in 2017, a Revolutionary War-era knife was unearthed during an archaeological dig at Colonial Michilimackinac in Mackinaw City, Michigan.

Earlier this year, an ornate colonial-era musket part was discovered during an excavation at Colonial Michilimackinac.

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The Associated Press contributed to this article. Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers