Stolen Antiques Returned to Historical Society

By Jane Cannon Mort

Two firearms and a Civil War-era fife that were stolen from the Juniata County Historical Society’s museum, the Tuscarora Academy, almost 45 years ago, are back where they belong.

Jess Guyer, society volunteer and museum curator, worked with Philadelphia-area authorities for more than two years to identify and verify items that the society had reported missing in March 1979. The items included a Revolutionary War-era Sharpe flintlock pistol that belonged to an ancestor of Guyer’s, a World War I-era pistol and a Civil War fife.

On March 13, Guyer attended a repatriation event at the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia, where she was given the items to bring home. The items were among a large number of antiques, mostly firearms, stolen from 16 mu-seums in Pennsylvania and nearby states. In 2021, the thief, Michael Corbett, was indicted by a grand jury for possession of some of the firearms stolen from museums during the 1970s. He entered a guilty plea and led authorities to other stolen items.

Society volunteer Susan Bassler, Montgomery County Detective Brendan Dougherty, and Tuscarora Academy Museum Curator Jessica Guyer (l-r) were at the March 13 ceremony.

Guyer has planned a special day, Noon– 5 p.m., June 4, at the Academy to showcase the returned items. Special guests involved in the case are invited. The items are:

A Sharpe flintlock pistol that had been in the Culbertson family for 200 years before being donated to the society. It can be traced back to the donors’ great-great-grandfather, a Revolutionary War soldier named Samuel Culbertson, a captain in one of the “Flying Camp” battalions, who was taken prisoner at the Battle of Fort Washington in 1776. He spent four years in captivity.

“This return is especially personal to me because these Culbertsons sit on a branch of my own family tree,” Guyer said. It was Samuel’s grandson, James, who moved the family to Juniata County. His grandchildren, Viola and Wayne, were the donors.

Viola Culbertson also donated the Colt 45 that was used in World War I by Alfred J. Bartran. He was born in England in 1887, and after a tragic childhood, eventually made his way to a school in America and became a citizen. Bartran was sent over-seas to fight in World War I. He became a 1st Lieutenant in a machine gun battalion, and was badly wounded on the first day of the Argonne Offensive. He was awarded the Silver Star and the Purple Heart. After the war, Bartran worked in government foreign service in Washington D.C. In 1927 he married a Juniata County native, and, when the couple resided in Wash-ington, another Juniata Countian, Viola Culbertson, lived with them. She was a graduate of Tuscarora Academy and also worked at a government agency. After retiring, the three moved to Juniata County where they remained for the rest of their lives.

An Albert System Fife used by Civil War veteran J. Marshall Donnelly of East Waterford. He served two enlistments during which he led the drum and fife corps. Donnelly was injured twice, including being shot in the ear. After the war, he contin-ued fifing ceremonially at parades and other veterans’ events.

Three stolen item have been returned to the Society and will be displayed ONLY June 4 at the Tuscarora Academy Museum.

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