J. DANIEL BECK, GUNSMITH
In the course of our lives, how many times have we heard “if only this old house could talk” or some such similar expression conveying the idea that an inanimate object could, possibly, hold a treasure of historical facts known only to it? If this object could reveal its secrets one would gladly listen with much fascination to its history. It would seem that time had been erased and the knowledge of long ago, now being revealed, was not entirely lost.
These thoughts ran through my mind as I contemplated an old muzzle loading musket that rested upon brackets on the wall in the family den in my childhood home. It was placed in that position nearly thirty years ago by my father Claude D. Hazen.
As the story went, Dad acquired this “metal and wood warrior” from a friend who had purchased it from another gun collector. The musket had been damaged in previous years, by an earlier owner, when it blew up while being fired. It was not of much value as an antique or as a weapon due to its damage. However, on its octagon barrel were the words “Daniel Beck Bath, N.Y.” Those words sparked a curiosity that could only be satisfied if and when information was obtained about this particular gunsmith.
Dad had taken an immediate liking to this disabled musket as it must have recalled old memories of his grandfather Samuel Hazen and Sam’s antique musket with an octagon barrel that had been lost in a house fire circa 1928 in the Town of Corning, N.Y. Not having been able to salvage his grandfather’s musket may have prompted Dad to attempt to save this historical piece of armament. Sensing Dad’s affection for this relic, his friend may have given him a bargain offer which my Father gladly accepted. Whistling, a happy trait displayed by Dad while enjoying a task, was heard as he worked on this project. It was completed in a reasonable amount of time and the musket was proudly displayed on the brackets. The question begged “Who was Daniel Beck?”
An Internet search was begun with the Steuben County, NY Gen Web site and it provided some clues about this mysterious Mr. Beck. There was a newspaper article from the Allegany County Reporter of Wellsville, NY which had a listing of news of Steuben County for 1882. In its issue, dated 16 February 1882, it reported that a billiard room fire in Bath, NY on 12 February 1882 had been put out with slight property damage. However, Daniel Beck, who resided upstairs over the billiard parlor, had suffocated to death. He was deemed a “worthy and industrious citizen” and “his death under such circumstances” was listed a “most deplorable”. He died without any heirs and his estate with a value of $2300 was confiscated by New York State.
From the same website a listing for Grove Cemetery in Bath, NY included the following:
J. Daniel Beck, born 18 December 1817 and died 12 February 1882
Census records were then perused for this Daniel Beck. They offered a few tidbits about his life. In 1880 he resided in Bath, NY, was a gunsmith and was single. He was born in Wurttemberg, Germany circa 1818 of parents who had been born in Prussia. I could not find another Federal census that listed him in previous years. I began looking for a J. Beck in the earlier records and found, for 1860, a Jacob Beck of nearby Wayland, NY who, coincidentally, had been born circa 1810 in Wurttemberg. Could J. Daniel Beck’s first name have been Jacob? Or could Jacob have been Daniel’s elder brother? Jacob, of 1860 Wayland, had a wife Catharine and children George, Mary and Max. I could not find this family on any later Federal census record so wondered if they had been missed in the census taking or if the family had died due to an epidemic. J. Daniel Beck had died leaving no heirs and I came to believe Jacob and J. Daniel Beck were one and the same.
Mormon records listed no Daniel Beck being born in 1817 in Wurttemberg but there was a record for a Jakob Beck being born in that year in the same town. It wasn’t exact proof but it did lend credence to my theory. Research will go on for new information about this early gunsmith of Bath, NY.
Meanwhile, the antique musket with Daniel Beck’s name rests silently on its brackets telling no one its history.
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