This is a very rare and historically significant US Model 1794 Contract Flintlock Musket that was manufactured by Owen Evans of Providence Township, Pennsylvania c. 1797. The 1794 US Contract Muskets were the first domestically produced US arms after the Americans obtained their independence from Britain.
The fledgling United States of America was still finding its economic footing after the Revolutionary War. These efforts were complicated by events happening in Europe. Shortly after the French Revolution in 1789, the new Republic of France began to flex its military muscles. In 1792, France declared war on England, Holland, and Spain.
At the same time, the relationship with England was as its most tense since the Revolutionary War. British ships harassed American commercial shipping, impounded cargoes, and impressed American seamen into the Royal Navy. By the end of 1793, many Americans were ready to go to war again against England.
With war drums sounding over the horizon, Secretary of War General Knox directed that an inventory of small arms be made for all arms at all federal armories. On December 16, 1793, Knox reported to the U.S. Senate that there were only 31,015 serviceable muskets in US inventory and 15,670 damaged muskets, some of which could be repaired and rendered serviceable. Knox noted in strong terms that the United States needed additional arms as well as production facilities. Knox specifically recommended the purchase of 7,000 muskets from domestic gunmakers.
On March 5, 1794, a “Report of Arsenals and Armories” was made to the House of Representatives, and it recommended the purchase of arms domestically as well as from foreign sources as well as the establishment of a national armory. Congress responded on April 12, 1794 by authorizing the establishment of two national armories and also authorized “a sum, not exceeding one hundred and forth-three thousand six hundred and forty dollars, [to] be expended for the purpose of purchasing an additional quantity of arms and ammunition.
The contracts for the 7,000 muskets were let between April 1794 and December 1795, as noted by then Secretary of State Timothy Pickering, who reported to the US Senate on December 12, 1795, “Contracts have been made, and are now executing, for seven thousand muskets to be manufactured in the United States. Such muskets as are manufactured, are after the model of the French arms, which compose, by far, the greatest part of those in our magazines.” The prices to be paid under these contracts was noted in a War Department letter of January 20, 1796: “The following prices are fixed…musket twelve dollars and one third, bayonet and scabbard one dollar.”
The 1794 contracts were somewhat unique in that many of the components used in the assembly of the muskets were provided to the contractors by the government. The majority of these component parts are believed to have consisted of stores of parts remaining from the Revolutionary War, from small parts contracts, and from the firm of Thomas & John Ketland of England. Numerous American gunsmiths produced parts including barrels, locks, ramrods, bayonets, and stock blanks.
The design of the muskets produced under the 1794 contracts was the French musket. Shortly after Congress authorized the funds to procure the 7,000 muskets, Secretary of War General Knox wrote to Samuel Hodgdon, the commissary general of military stores, “Deliver to Mr. Francis as the Standard for the Muskets and Bayonets to be made on purchase, one of the best Charleville Muskets and Bayonets.” The resulting muskets were based on the French Model 1766 infantry musket, with the alterations of 1770-1771. The result of this was that the majority of muskets produced under the 1794 contract were assembled, at least in part, from salvaged French Charleville pattern muskets left over from the Revolutionary War.
There were six gunmakers who received contracts for the manufacture of 1794 muskets. These were Thomas Annely of Philadelphia, Peter Brong of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Jackob Dickert of Lancaster, John Miles of Philadelphia, James Nicholson of Philadelphia, and the manufacturer of this musket, Owen Evans of Providence Township.
Owen Evans’ grandparents were William Evans and Ann Brook, who arrived in Philadelphia from Ireland on the ship Robert in 1698. The Evans’ would eventually own 700 acres of land in Limerick Township. The first Owen Evans was born to William and Ann Evans in 1699 and died in 1753. He was married to Mary Davis in 1721, and they had a son, Thomas Evans, who was born on May 21, 1737. Thomas Evans later married Hanna Reese and the Owen Evans who made this musket was born in 1758 in Limerick Township, Pennsylvania. Owen Evans died in 1812, and was buried in Limerick Township, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.
Owen Evans would eventually deliver 721 muskets under the 1794 contract, with deliveries from 1795 until 1799. Owens would go on to also manufacture muskets under a later 1798 contract with the US Government for an additional 1,000 muskets. The Evans 1794 Contract Muskets are historically significant because his musket served as the pattern for Eli Whitney’s and Robert McCormick’s 1798 contract muskets, as well as for the Harpers Ferry Model 1795 musket.
The 1794 Muskets were .69 caliber smoothbore with an overall length of 59 5/8”. All of the metal was finished bright.
The original Lockplate measures 6 1/4” by 1 9/32” and has a flat face with beveled edge and measures .185” thick that ends in a point, which acts as an anti-rotation lug for the lock. The front face exhibits a generally even and smooth pewter patina. To the rear of the cock is the crisp and vertical “EVANS / US” stamp. The original Cock, or hammer, measures 3 1/3” tall and is an original French Model 1728 St. Etienne Flintlock Musket cock that was one of the parts left over from the Revolutionary War that was used in many of the 1794 Contract muskets. The Tang has a straight rear profile with a hooked top. The original Jaw Screw is a rounded head with single slot for tightening. The Upper Jaw has a matching pewter patina. The Cock Screw has a convex head. The Pan has a horizontal top edge with a fence and faceted outer edge with distinctive decorative reinforcing flange where it joins the Lockplate, which is unique to Evans locks. The original Frizzen is present and it measures 1 7/8” tall with a facet at the top and a medial ridge on the outer surface. The tail correctly turns up at the frizzen spring. The Frizzen Screw has an unmarred slot. The original Frizzen Spring is present and has the correct triangular finial. The Frizzen Spring Screw has a slightly marred slot.
The Upper Barrel Band is a French Model 1766 Charleville Musket band with front sight blade on the rear barrel ring. This was a part provided to Evans as part of the 1794 Contract. The band has the rectangular open space between the 3/8” front barrel ring and the 9/16” rear ring. The band is 2 1/8” long at the top and 3 1/8” long at the bottom where it extends to the rear. The original front sight blade is on the rear band two 5/8” barrel rings and the original brass front sight blade is brazed to the rear ring. The band measures 3 ¾” long and it generally exhibits a pewter patina with evidence of old corrosion.
The Middle Barrel Band measures approximately 1” wide and has sling swivel stud, which is integral to the band on the bottom through which the original sling swivel would attach. The swivel is missing. The Middle Barrel Band assembly exhibits a plum and pewter patina. The Lower Barrel Band is measures approximately ¾” wide at the top and extends at the bottom to about 1 3/4” wide. The Lower Barrel Band exhibits a plum and pewter patina. All three barrel bands are secured tightly to the stock with their respective band springs and lugs.
The original Side Plate is present and measures approximately 3 ¾” long and is formed into a modified “L” shape. The exterior surface exhibits a mixed pewter and plum patina with evidence of old corrosion in a few places. Both original Side Plate Screws are present and both exhibit a pewter patina with evidence of old corrosion and the front one has significant slot damage.
The original Ramrod is approximately 41 3/8” long with a button-head. The rear portion of the ramrod is unthreaded. The ramrod exhibits a mixed pewter and original dark, oil quenched finish throughout. The ramrod secures tightly in its stock channel.
The original Trigger Guard is present and is in the French 1766 Charleville style and may even be an original Charleville guard that was used as part of the 1794 contract. The guard measures 13” long with a 1 1/8” wide trigger guard bow that is integral to the guard. Both extensions have the correct pointed ends. Both original trigger guard screws are present at the rear portion and the front is secured by the lower sling swivel lug, which passes through the front extension. The Trigger Guard and Bow both exhibit a smooth pewter patina. The straight trigger is original and is suspended through the trigger plate. The trigger exhibits a smooth plum patina and still engages the sear crisply. The original Sling Swivel is suspended from the swivel lug in front of the trigger guard bow and it still moves freely. The swivel is secured by its original lateral, single-slot screw.
The original Butt Plate is present and measures 4 ½” by 2” with a straight rear profile and a slightly convex surface. The tang measures 2 1/2” long and is rounded at the front with a pointed profile at the rear. Both the Tang Screw and Butt Plate Screw are present, and both have a convex head with only slightly marred slots. The Butt Plate exhibits a mixed plum and pewter patina.
The original Barrel is present and measures approximately 44 1/2” in length. The bore measures .686” at the muzzle and is clear to the touchhole. Generally, the barrel exhibits a pewter patina along its length with areas of old pitting with an area of very clean steel in the bottom where it was protected by the stock. The original Breech Plug is present and measures 2 3/8” long by 5/8” wide with a rounded end. The tang is broken at the screw hole, but the screw still secures the rear portion of the plug tang and the barrel. The top of the plug at the tang has a witness line that aligns with a corresponding witness line on the top, rear of the barrel. The bayonet lug is present and is brazed to the top of the barrel approximately 1 1/8” behind the muzzle. The lug is notched at the top so as not to obscure the front sight blade. On the top left of the barrel is a portion of the oval “P” proof stamp.
The original and beautiful black walnut stock is in very good condition. The stock has normal dings and scratches but is in remarkably fine condition given that it is over 220 years old. There are, correctly, no cartouches on the stock, which was not done until beginning in 1798. The comb on the stock measures 7 ¾” long and the flutes are 5” long. All three barrel band springs are present and all exhibit a pewter and plum patina
This is a very rare US Contract of 1794 Flintlock Musket that used some existing Revolutionary War French Musket components by one of the maker, Owen Evans, whose pattern would go on to be the standard for later contracts as well as a pattern for Harpers Ferry Arsenal. This example is scarce because it represents the first commercial contract musket entered into by the fledgling United States of America. A beautiful and very rare example of a US contract flintlock that was manufactured when George Washington was still President of the United States. This flintlock remains in functioning condition.