MAKER: This rifle is signed “Wiley G. Higgins ma” on its patchbox. Wiley Grover Higgins, master armorer, was born in Laurens County, South Carolina. The Higgins family included blacksmiths, gunsmiths, silversmiths, and jewelers, and it is likely that Wiley learned his trade from members of his family. In 1824 Wiley purchased 202 ½ acres in newly-formed Monroe County. Higgins benefited from rapid settlement of the Georgia Piedmont after the Treaty of Indian Springs and the forced removal of Creek and other Native American from the western part of the state. In 1838 Higgins and his family moved to Macon County. Over time Higgins succeeded as both a masterful gunsmith and planter: by 1850 he owned 1000 acres and enslaved 18 people.
At this time fourteen long rifles and five pistols by Wiley Higgins are known to survive. Higgins’s surviving work is remarkable for its elaborate decoration. Unlike most of his contemporaries, Higgins appears to have specialized in the creation of new and highly decorative rifles and pistols with one-of-a-kind decorative elements.
DESCRIPTION: Full-stock long rifle with flintlock. Stocked in curly maple. Barrel is 36” long and .43 caliber. The rifle is decorated with elaborate pierced silver mounts and inlays. Only the trigger guard and butt plate are brass. The foliate silver embellishments surround the patchbox, cheek rest, butt, and stock, have over 100 piercings. Hidden on the underside of the silver work on the cheek rest are a pair of profile portraits.
REFERENCES: “Quite a Genius in Art”: Georgia’s Wiley G. Higgins, Master Gunsmith, by Wayne T. Elliott in Artful Instruments: Georgia Gunsmiths and Their Craft (Athens, Georgia: Georgia Museum of Art, 2017)