John Kemp of Edgefield, South Carolina is an interesting person in a town full of characters. Running a successful antiques business with his wife, Virginia, has given him an interesting take on history and its tools. It has also given him an above average appreciation for doing some things the old fashioned way.
He discovered his great grandfather Samuel Marsh’s rifle in the attic of his family’s home place as a child. Unnoticed at the time, a seed was planted. The rifle, originally a .31-caliber percussion action, was built in 1850 near Lexington, South Carolina by a gunsmith named Elijah Hall. Mr. Hall was obviously a gun maker of considerable talent as a few of his guns survive today. At that time the local gunsmith would have been an important member of the community as guns were used to provide protection as well as for the table.
Although not politically correct today, John remembers playing cowboys and Indians with the obviously unloaded gun as a child. The resulting damage would wait many years for attention. Realizing later in life that he had something of great value in his hands, John set out to fix what he had broken. The barrel journeyed to West Virginia to be re-bored and re-rifled. Another stop in Pennsylvania got the action in order. A .45-caliber was ready for its next season.
“Age always brings appreciation to a man, sometimes too late in life,” said Kemp. “In this case it worked out and I’m grateful I was able to find the gun all those years later.”
No doubt the gun was used as a hunting tool the 1800s when Samuel owned it, as it would have been in the 1900s when John’s uncles used it. The well-worn rifle was also going to help John open the 2004 deer season in South Carolina. Since the land that Samuel would have hunted and worked was now owned by John, it became the logical starting point. The property has actually been in John’s family since 1758 when King George II granted the then 400-acre parcel.
Several hunts took place as South Carolina’s deer herd, while being quite large is not known as exceedingly cooperative. Finally on Oct. 15 the buck he’d been looking for graced his sights and the quest, at least this stage of it, came to a close.
“Up to this point that was the most important shot of my life,” noted Kemp. “It just seemed like everything came together and I had paid my dues enough to earn that buck. I would say it was a religious experience.”
As for the gun, there are sons and grandsons of John Kemp roaming the family land; perhaps one of them will carry the rifle as well.