Walk any cemetery and be reminded that behind every marker lies a story. Among the older markers in Daviess County is one in Mt. Zion Cemetery near Jamesport, where rests a man once nationally known for his craftsmanship in making guns.
Valentine Shuler (1808-1885) was born in Pennsylvania, married a girl from Ohio, and eventually died in Missouri. Today Shuler’s work still lives on among the guns featured in the book, “Ohio Gunsmiths & Allied Tradesmen” (by Donald A. Hutslar, published by the Association of Ohio Long Rifle Collectors, page 125). Some of the finest guns ever made in Ohio were from Valentine’s hand. There are dozens of surviving “Shuler Rifles” still in the marketplace although most of these are not at all like the “family gun.”
In a ledger covering the period 1837-45 there is evidence that Valentine Shuler was not only filling orders for guns but was also training apprentices. The ledger lists 33 special orders, though to be custom made guns rather than guns sold from stock. Prices ranged from $13 to $25. The record also lists the number of balls to a pound, barrel length, half or full stock weight, patch box style plus any special features ordered.
Shuler made patented locks, so if this was desired it was noted. One unusual order called for “German silver butt plate eight pieces of silver, brass around lock plate and patch box with spring hook.” The price was $20.
Information compiled by John Shuler, the great-great grandson of the gunsmith, includes comments describing four family guns that he owns. He writes:
“All four guns are different, so he (Valentine) expressed his artistic ability in different ways. He signed all of his guns apparently. Three that I own have Valentine Shuler on the barrel in block letters and the fourth and earliest is signed in script on the barrel and the lock plate has a script signature lus New Phila. Two that don’t have his handmade lock with ‘R&W.C. Biddle & Co., Philadelphia’ on the plate…
“One of the Valentines I have was made in Missouri. Many of its features reflect the change from Ohio to Missouri style and he was obviously affected by the Hawkins style plains rifles that were in demand there.”
The Shuler name is a familiar family name to Daviess County. Darwin Shuler (1898-1977) resided at Gallatin, north of the present day Eugene Taul residence at the east end of East Grand Street. Darwin Shuler was featured by photograph in the Daviess County History (published 1985, page 487). His genealogical records and personal memories help describe Valentine Shuler, the gunsmith of national renown.
Valentine Shuler was the great-grandson of Franz Schuller, a German who settled his family, associated with the German Reformed Church, in Berks County, PA. His son, Johann Valentine Schuller (1759-1833) was a renowned calligrapher whose works are treasured in numerous archives. About 1817 Schuller and his wife moved to Licking County, OH. The future master gunsmith was one of the couple’s six children. He was age 8.
By 1830 Valentine Shuler had developed a considerable gunsmithing trade and was co-owner of a sawmill. In 1853 after his first wife’s death, Valentine remarried and moved to Chillicothe, MO, in 1861. Four years later he relocated to Jamesport, acquiring small parcels of land and a homestead with his sons William David, Martin Banes, and Ulysses Franklin.
Valentine combined gunsmithing and farming, amassed a small personal library, and left behind scant papers in intermingled German and English. One of his sons, William David, lived on the same Jamesport farm for 67 years – continuing some gunsmithing and locksmithing while working as a railroad clerk and in local schools. William Shuler was the last of the Shuler gunsmiths in the lineage of craftsmen who worked in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Missouri for approximately 200 years.
Who taught whom?
The succession the craft of the gunsmith through the generations is often a matter of speculation rather than fact, since surviving documentation is so rare. This is certainly true for the Ohio Shuler Gunsmiths. Some surmise that Johann Valentin Schuller was a gun maker and, if so, it is reasonable to assume he trained Johannes (John) in Northumberland County, PA, before moving to Ohio. Johannes was approximately 23 and married with one son when he moved with his father to Licking County. If the old man did not do it, certainly Johannes was old enough to have trained his younger brothers, Daniel and Valentine. Also, Valentine passed the trade on to at least two nephews and one son.
How many guns made?
Don Shuler notes that a fine small lane, marked “J. Shuler,” has been passed down through the family. It has a numbering system of carefully inscribed grooves and hatches, and it stops at number “193.” This has the family this is the number of guns made by Johannes (John) Shuler over his lifetime. It is unknown how many total guns were made by the Ohio Shuler Gunsmiths.