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Antique Military Firearms
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This is an original and very scarce Connecticut Militia Contract Flintlock Musket manufactured by Oliver Bidwell of Middletown, Connecticut.  This musket was manufactured sometime 1814 and is one of probably less than 200 muskets that were made specifically for issue to Connecticut Militiamen. 


The story of this musket begins prior to the War of 1812. U.S. history prior to the War of 1812 is a fascinating and little known period and was marked not only by the solidification of the acrimonious two-party system in the U.S., but also by vigorous debate over the role of a standing army as well as how the United States would or could respond to British impressment of U.S. citizens from U.S. ships (including warships) and the Barbary Pirates’ attacks on U.S. interests in the Mediterranean. 


It became readily apparent that the state of the armed forces of the United States was inadequate to respond to both these global threats and those threats posed by the British, French, Spanish and American Indians in North America.  From U.S. Navy ships to small arms, the United States was simply not properly equipped.  This led to passage of the Militia Act of 1808 when Thomas Jefferson was president.  This act was, formally, “An act making provision for arming and equipping the whole body of the militia of the United States,” and was enacted on April 23, 1808, after passage by the 10th U.S. Congress.  It provided an annual appropriation of $200,000, to provide funding for arms and equipment for the various state militias.


Specifically, the Militia Act of 1808 funded “arms and military equipments for the whole body of the militia of the United States, either by purchase or manufacture, by and on account of the United States.”  It also provided that “all the arms procured in virtue of this act, shall be transmitted to the several states composing this Union, and territories thereof, to each state and territory respectively, in proportion to the number of the effective militia in each state and territory, and by each state and territory to be distributed, to the militia in such state and territory, under such rules and regulations as shall be by law prescribed by the legislature of each state and territory.”


The passage of the Militia Act of 1808 led to the U.S. Government advertising for proposals from gunmakers for the manufacture of muskets under contract.  One such advertisement, published on May 12, 1808, specified that the proposals were to be for the manufacture of muskets to be delivered in quantities of from 500 to 2,000 annually for five years at a cost of $10.75 or less for each musket plus bayonet. 


None of the gunmakers awarded musket contracts under the Militia Act of 1808 were provided with any firearms components.  These contractors were required to either manufacture the components or procure components from subcontractors.  Many of the smaller gunmakers did not have the ability to manufacture every component for the pattern musket so subcontracting for certain components was common.


The initial group of contractors from 1808-1810 were provided with pattern muskets from both Springfield Armory and Harpers Ferry Armory to serve as the standard configuration under which all contract muskets must be manufactured.  It is interesting to note, however, that the Springfield Armory and Harpers Ferry pattern muskets were not identical to one another. 


The Springfield pattern was based on its musket as manufactured in 1809 while the Harpers Ferry pattern was based on its musket as manufactured in 1803.  Most of the differences were in the lock mechanism and the musket furniture.  Generally, gunmakers in the north received pattern muskets from Springfield Armory while those from the south received pattern muskets from Harpers Ferry, which is located in what was then Virginia. 


Of the original gunmaker contractors under the Militia Act of 1808, Oliver Bidwell of Middletown, Connecticut entered into its contract with the U.S. Government on October 25, 1808.  Bidwell’s contract called for 4,000 pattern muskets to be manufactured.  Bidwell’s pattern was the Springfield Armory design as noted previously. 


Bidwell eventually delivered only 1,025 muskets to the U.S. Government as follows:  125 in 1810; 350 in 1811; 450 in 1812; and 150 in 1813. 


Oliver Bidwell was born in Middletown on April 22, 1770, to Samuel Bidwell and Iranah Hubbard.  Bidwell married Joanna Winborn Foster and had 12 children.  He began manufacturing firearms in Middletown around 1805.  Bidwell built the factory where he would manufacture the majority of his firearms in 1810 on the Pameacha River in Middletown and produced his first muskets later that year .  Bidwell died on November 11, 1815 in Middletown.


As previously discussed, contractors in the north were provided patterns from Springfield Armory.  The Springfield pattern initially provided to Bidwell was based on the Charleville pattern Type II flintlock musket as manufactured at Springfield Armory in 1808.  Springfield pattern contract muskets are more scarce because of 42,702 muskets delivered under the 1808 contract, 28,193 muskets were based on the Harpers Ferry Pattern with only 14,511 based on the Springfield Armory pattern.


Bidwell is known to have provided muskets not only to the U.S. Government, but he also provided muskets to state of Connecticut specifically for militia units.  When the War of 1812 began, the federal government sent a demand for mobilization and use of the Connecticut militia.  This demand led to the calling of a special session of the Connecticut legislature in August 1812.  A legislative committee then reported that the federal government’s request for the militia was unconstitutional and recommended, instead, that the state defend its coast from British invasion. 


This rift during time of war did not encourage the US Government to continue to fund muskets for the state of Connecticut.  As a result, Connecticut let contracts for the production of locally manufactured and funded muskets for its militia forces.  The manufacturers of these muskets were Oliver Bidwell, who made this particular musket, Elisha Buell of Marlborough and Hebron, Connecticut, L.B. & Co of Ashford, Connecticut, Simeon North of Berlin, Connecticut, Ethan Stillman of Burlington, Connecticut, Ard Welton of Waterbury, Connecticut, and J. W. White of Hebron, Connecticut. 


The number of muskets manufactured for the militia during this period is not precisely known, although a reasonable estimate can be made based on annual returns.  The number of privately owned militia muskets was 14,523 in 1809, and this number decreased to 12,943 in 1815.  The number of muskets increased slightly to 14,932 in 1820.  As a result, and considering that some of this increase was due to federal contracts to the states, the number made for militia was probably only around 1,000 muskets.  Given that there were seven manufacturers of state militia muskets during this period, it is estimated that Bidwell manufactured only 100-200 muskets, of which this is one.


This Bidwell musket, and the Springfield Armory pattern musket on which it was based, is a .69 caliber smoothbore musket that is 59 ¾” long.  All components were finished in the national armory bright finish and the only brass component on the musket was the front sight blade.


The original Lockplate and lock mechanism is present.  The lockplate measures approximately 5 ½” by 1 ¼” and has a flat surface with the rear end projected into a point, which was designed to engage a recess in the stock to prevent the lock from rotating during firing.  The edges are slightly beveled.  This particular lock plate has the federal eagle looking forward in front of the cock over serif “O. BIDWELL / MIDDLETOWN,” without any U.S. stamps present. 


The Top Jaw and bottom integrated Jaw both have raised, dimpled edges to secure the leather encompassing the striking flint.  The tightening screw has the hole through the top ball and it adjusts perfectly upwards and downwards.  The hammer spring is still very strong, and it secures correctly and releases on tripping the sear.  The integral steel flash pan is present and has the rounded lower surface.  It is correctly mounted horizontally to the lock plate and a small fence.  The Frizzen has the correct straight upper leaf and the Frizzen Spring is present and is still strong.  The lower leaf of the frizzen spring has a teardrop shaped finial and is tightly secured by the frizzen spring screw.  The exterior surfaces of the lock and lockplate all exhibit a pewter patina over small areas of minor pitting.


The interior side of the lock plate has “II” assembly marks and the inspector initial “B,” which is probably Oliver Bidwell’s own stamp.  The bridle and tumbler both have “II” assembly stamps.  The Tumbler, Bridle and Sear Spring Screws also have “II” stamps.  A.W.A.” and various other internal lock parts have a “3” assembly stamp.


The Hammer or Cock measures 3 ¼” tall with a flat surface and beveled edges.  It has the characteristic heart-shaped hole near the reinforced throat.  The straight rear tang is the correct Springfield pattern straight profile with the top rounded.  The Cock is secured by its original convex head, single-slot screw. 


The original barrel is round with a tapering, decreasing diameter to the flat-crowned muzzle.  This particular barrel is in its original length of 44 ¼”.  The barrel retains considerable remnants of its original bright finish with the balance on the exposed, upper portion of the barrel exhibiting a largely plum patina from age.  The original touch hole is present and is clear to the chamber.  There is pronounced corrosion at the rear of the barrel from firing.  The top, left, rear of the barrel has the large, deeply stamped “B” Bidwell inspection stamp.  The bottom of the barrel has a “VI” assembly stamp adjacent to a witness line that aligns with the corresponding witness line on the bottom of the breech plug.  The bottom of the plug has a matching “VI” assembly stamp.  The bottom of the barrel also has the “II” assembly stamp.  The original Anti-Rotation Lug is still tightly dovetailed into the bottom of the barrel.  The correct Springfield armory designed bayonet lug is present and is a low, square lug brazed on top of the barrel 1 ¼” behind the muzzle.  The bore of this particular barrel measures .693” at the muzzle and the barrel is clear to the touch hole.  The original tang screw is present and its flat head, single-slot is slightly marred.  The barrel of this screw has the “VI” assembly stamp.  There is wear on the front portion of the barrel, which is indicative of a bayonet.


The Trigger and Guard Assembly is the correct Springfield pattern type that is 10 ¾” in length with rounded ends on the front and rear portion of the guard.  The Guard Bow is integral to the guard itself.  The Lower Sling Swivel Lug is in front of the bow extends down through the guard.  The original sling swivel is secured to the lug by a single-slot screw and the swivel moves freely.  Both original rear, convex head, single-slot wood screws are present.  The Guard Assembly generally exhibits a pewter and plum patina throughout.  The original Trigger is present and is suspended from the lateral pin that passes through the stock.  


The original Butt Plate is present and generally exhibits a darker plum patina, thinning more to pewter on the tang.  The tang is approximately 2 ¼” long and has a rounded end.  The convex head, single-slot screw is present with an unmarred slot.  The back of the butt plate measures 4 ½” by 1 7/8” and has a straight rear profile with a slightly convex surface.  The back convex head, single-slot screw is present with minor marring to the slot.


The original Side Plate is present and has a flat surface that measures approximately 4” in length.  The shape of the side plate is the modified “L” shape and it exhibits traces of the original bright finish with the majority of the plate exhibiting a plum patina.  The side plate is secured with the original side plate screws, both of which have “VI” assembly stamps on the barrel of the screws. 


The Upper Barrel Band is present and has the original two barrel rings on top that measures approximately 2 ½” at the top and extends rearward at the bottom approximately 3 ½”.  The brass front sight blade is correctly riveted and brazed to the top of the rear barrel ring and it exhibits a nice aged patina. 


The Middle Band is present and measures approximately 1” wide and it contains its original upper sling swivel, which moves freely.  The swivel is secured by a single-slot screw that runs through a lug that is integral to the bottom of the band.  The lower Band measures approximately ¾” long at the top and approximately 1 5/8” at the bottom as it extends towards the front of the musket.  All three bands are retained by their original band springs with round lugs in the stock.  All three bands also exhibit generally a smooth plum patina. 


The original Ramrod is present and measures approximately 44 ¼” in length with a trumpet head.  The end of the ramrod is crudely threaded the last 3/8” of its length to accommodate a ball screw and wiper. 


The original black walnut stock is present and measures approximately 56 ½” in length with the comb approximately 8” long and 5/8” high.  Flutes extend to the rear on both sides of the comb’s nose for approximately 5 ½”.  As noted previously, all three barrel band springs remain secured to the stock.   The stock shows dings and scratches but no cracks are noted.  This stock is still solid and, despite being over 200 years old, it appears to retain is original oil stained walnut finish. 

This is a very rare Oliver Bidwell manufactured Connecticut Militia flintlock musket from around 1814.  Few of these muskets are known to exist today with the total number probably only in the low two digits.  This musket still functions perfectly.