Gunstocking at Christian's Spring

Prior to the opening of the gunstocking shop at Christian’s Spring, there was a small shop in Bethlehem. Many of the Moravian gunstockers were trained in Europe during times of war. Because Moravians were pacifists, their gunstockers primarily repaired the guns used for hunting instead of making new firearms. They also repaired the weapons owned by Native American and European settlers in the area. However, with the fear of a second war with Native Americans along with the Revolutionary War looming, there was new momentum for Moravian gunstockers to begin making, instead of repairing, firearms.

Although no maps or photographs remain, the gunstocking shop at Christian’s Spring has been described as a one-story, 25½ feet by 20 feet, log structure. Diary entries and other documents reveal that the year 1763 brought an escalation of tensions between Native Americans and European settlers to the area. As a major agricultural hub for the region, Christian’s Spring took precautions by palisading their barns and stables and by appointing night-watchmen and day sentinels.

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Johann Andreas Albrecht (1718-1802) was the first gunstocker at Christian’s Spring. Born near Suhl, Electorate of Saxony, Albrect began his apprenticeship with a gunsmith in Suhl at the age of 13. Albrecht worked first in Halberstadt (some 100 miles north of Suhl) and then relocated to nearby Wolfenbüttel. He was a regiment gunmaker at Brandenburg with an attachment of soldiers during the Silesian War. In 1748 he was granted a discharge from the army and in 1750 Albrecht and 79 other single brethren boarded the Moravian ship the Irene to sail to America. Their destination was the young Moravian community of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.  

Gunstocking in Pennsylvania was in demand but because the Moravian community operated under the General Economy, there was no way for Albrecht to monetize his trade. Records from 1758 indicate that he was satisfied with this arrangement because his spiritual needs would always come before any material gains. He repaired guns for the Brethren as well as for the communities surrounding Bethlehem. During the period of 1750 to 1763 Albrecht also taught music to the boys at Nazareth Hall and assisted in the Holy Communion.

Albrecht was in charge of the gun shop at Christian’s Spring from 1763 until 1766. It was during those three years that the gunstocker went from repairing and training apprentices to producing new rifles, updating old stock, and expanding the client base outside of the Moravian community. In 1763, he began to take on apprentices at Christian’s Spring including two renowned gunstockers—Christian Oerter and William Henry Jr.

In 1766, Albrecht was assigned to be the tavern keeper at the Sun Inn Tavern in Bethlehem. In June 1771, Albrecht and his wife moved to Lititz where he resumed his trade as a gunsmith.

Johann Christian Oerter was born October 16, 1747 in Fredericktown, Pennsylvania. He went to Christian’s Spring as an apprentice to gunstocker Andreas Albrecht. He left his apprenticeship in June of 1763 for unknown reasons, however church records indicate that it may have been because of Albrecht’s expectations of the apprenticeship. Church leaders worked to restore the apprentice and Oerter returned to Christian’s Spring September 5, just twelve days after construction had begun on the gunshop.

On November 24, 1766 Christian Oerter became master of the gunshop after Albrecht left. In late 1775 or early 1776 Oerter entered into a contract to provide 500 muskets, two hundred more than required by the Continental Congress. By this time Oerter was becoming ill with tuberculosis, but continued working in the gunshop. A receipt from May 13, 1776 shows that 50 muskets were delivered to the Northampton County Commissioners. His health continued to decline and after his death in 1777, the gunshop passed to William Henry, Jr.

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