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Benjamin Flagg South Carolina Contract M-1842 Musket

Benjamin Flagg South Carolina Contract M-1842 Musket

  • Product Code: FLA-3174-SOLD
  • Availability: Out Of Stock
  • $1.00

The US M-1842 Muskets produced by Benjamin Flagg are among the rarest and most intriguing military long arms produced in the United States during the antebellum era. The guns are actually secondary Confederate arms, as all were delivered to the state of South Carolina, and were the forerunners of the South Carolina manufactured William Glaze & Company arms, as Glaze ordered the Flagg guns for South Carolina and then enlisted Flagg in the subsequent manufacture of his own arms. The story of the relationship between the Flagg marked muskets, Glaze and the eventual manufacture of the Glaze arms is somewhat convoluted, but I will do my best to make the relationships simple and understandable.

Benjamin Flagg was born in Millbury, Massachusetts in 1807 and by the 1820s was employed at the Asa Waters arms manufactory in that town. The firm had been involved in the production of muskets for the Federal government on a contract basis since the 1808 contract for flintlock muskets, and continued to provide arms on a contract basis through the mid-19th century. The 1808 musket contracts were handled by the company’s founder, Asa Waters, while the 1816 musket contracts were handled by Waters’ son, Asa Waters Jr. During the course of 1816 pattern production, Asa Waters Jr. brought his son Asa H. Waters into the business, and it was this 3rd generation of Waters gun makers who was involved with the production of the Flagg contract muskets. In 1829, at the height of 1816 musket production, Benjamin Flagg was working at the factory as a filer of musket mountings and parts. Over the next few years he rose up the ranks of the business to the point that by 1836 at least some of the business’ correspondence was addressed to “Waters & Flagg”. It is not clear if Flagg had become a partner in the business or was simply the chief operating officer of the firm while Waters attended to other business, but it is clear that Flagg had become an important component of the firm. What is clear is that Flagg was the factory superintendent, and with his background as a worker on the floor of the factory, he probably had a better mechanical understanding of arms production than Waters did. In 1838 an interesting three-way contract was singed between Waters, Flagg and another Waters employee named Thomas Harrington. The agreement leased half of the Waters factory, as well as offices, tools, machinery, etc. for the manufacture of 5,000 US M-1836 Pistols for the US government. In return, Flagg & Harrington would pay Waters a commission of $1.125 for every pistol they manufactured, delivered and were paid for. In 1839 the contract was extended and amended with the commission amount reduced to $1.00 per pistol, but with no limitations placed upon the length of time or number of pistols to be produced. In the end, some 29,750 pistols were manufactured under the name of “Asa H. Waters & Company”, but with the work being preformed and overseen by Flagg & Harrington in Waters’ factory. As the production of the 1836 pistols started slowing down during the early part of the 1840s, Waters started to produce arms for commercial sale, rather than for US government contracts. The company manufactured muskets and pistols of various patterns, often of the “New England Militia” pattern. These guns were sold directly to states and to various commercial outlets such as William H. Smith & Company of New York. It was the association with Smith that would place Flagg in center of the hotbed of secession, South Carolina. In late 1848 or early 1849 the Governor of the State of South Carolina reviewed the current status of the state militia, including its arms and equipment. Finding the number and quality of arms lacking, he proceeded to convince the state legislature to appropriate some $7,500 for the purchase of additional small arms for the militia. William Glaze, in conjunction with his partner Thomas Radcliffe actively pursued the opportunity to receive a contract from the state for small arms. Glaze had initially been involved in the jewelry business, partnered with John Veal from 1838-1841. After the partnership ended Glaze worked on his own until 1848 when he entered into a partnership with Thomas Radcliffe, who was a dealer in sporting and military arms, as well as military equipment and household items and hardware. Due in part to Glaze’s secessionist tendencies, and his acquaintance with the governor, the pair received the contact to provide some 100 muskets and about 275 rifles to the state. Glaze had no manufacturing capacity at that time, and relying upon his partner’s contacts in the arms trade proceeded to order the required guns from New York arms retailer William H. Smith & Company. Smith subsequently ordered the muskets from A.H. Waters & Company and it is believed the rifles were delivered by Eli Whitney and were commercial versions of the US M-1841 “Mississippi” Rifle that were made from condemned and non-interchangeable parts that would not have passed government inspection. The muskets were to be percussion ignition and of the “current pattern”, which was the US M-1842 .69 caliber smoothbore musket, and not the flintlock muskets the state was receiving under the Militia Act of 1808. As the Waters firm had previously manufactured the US M-1816/22/28 pattern muskets, which were also .69 smoothbore arms, only a minimal amount of upgrading and modification was necessary to adopting the tooling and machinery for the production of the new pattern. William Smith & Company would not tell Waters where the muskets were being sold, but hinted that if the original contract for 100 muskets went well, that additional muskets would be ordered as well. Although the initial order of 100 muskets was placed during the summer of 1849, and were to be delivered that year, the muskets were not shipped until April of 1850. At about that same time, pursuant to more orders from South Carolina through Glaze, an additional 660 muskets were ordered. The price for each musket was $14.50. The first 100 muskets were delivered and apparently paid for during April of 1850, but it was the additional muskets that caused a problem. These guns were delivered over the next 30 days, but it would be some 3 years before Waters would be paid for them. In April of 1850 South Carolina senator John C. Calhoun died, and the state expended some $9,000 on his funeral, spending the $7,500 appropriated for arm and then some. As a result, the state had no funds available to pay for the additional muskets. In an attempt to avoid paying for them, the state “condemned” the muskets, claiming that they did not pass inspection. As a result Benjamin Flagg traveled to Charleston, SC to meet with the militia officer who had “condemned” the muskets and proved that that they were essentially identical to the previously accepted sample musket and the 100 muskets in the initial delivery that were also accepted. The militia officer conceded the facts to Flagg, and passed all by 20 of the guns, but then explained that the payment was still in the hands of the governor and the legislature. To this end it would be December of 1853 before the bill would be paid by South Carolina. However, in the meantime Waters and Flagg let Glaze know that they would very much like to be involved with any future arms deals with the state of South Carolina, and they obviously understood that Glaze had an inside track with the governor on that subject. During 1850 Glaze acquired a large brick building on the corner of Laurel and Lincoln streets in Columbia, SC. This would be the future home of the Glaze arsenal. On April 15, 1851 Glaze contracted with the South Carolina Ordnance Department to manufacture 6,000 muskets, as well as 1,000 pistols, and 1,000 sabers for the state. Glaze immediately contacted Waters and Flagg, and an agreement was reached. The Waters manufactory would deliver most of the component parts for the muskets, with Glaze only needing to finish the barrels and assemble the guns. The Glaze factory and production would be overseen by Benjamin Flagg, who was actually listed by name in the contract, along with Glaze. While the pair would see delay in the production of their muskets, Glaze, with Flagg’s help, would eventually deliver 6,020 muskets to South Carolina by the end of 1853, along with 1,000 rifles. It appears that Flagg returned to Millbury after the contract was completed.

The muskets delivered by these three distinct contracts have some very similar featured. In all cases, the major components are either the product of the Waters factory or are condemned US musket parts that Waters acquired on the open market. The guns are essentially commercial copies of the US M-1842 musket. The first 100 guns are unique in that they are marked on their locks B. FLAGG & Co and do not bear Waters markings. It is not clear if this was an attempt to disguise their source, or if it is because the William Smith & Co contract was secured by Flagg and not by Waters. The former seems more likely, as Flagg was the recipient of the 1836 pistol contracts, but the guns are still marked A.H. WATERS & Co. Even some of the later muskets “produced” by Glaze have Waters marked locks. Another unique feature of the Flagg muskets is that they have a German silver wrist escutcheons with a number engraved on it. To date the highest known number is 66, and it is believed that these first 100 muskets were numbered from 1-100. The interior of the barrel channel was additionally marked with the same number as the wrist, either by stamping or with a piece of paper with the number written on it, or in some cases, in both ways. The buttplate tangs of Flagg muskets were either left blank, or were marked with a script US, rather than the typical block “US’ of arsenal produced M-1842s. The 660 guns from the second contract bore Waters marked locks and some were fitted with brass furniture. The use of brass furniture would typify many of the Glaze contract muskets later on. With the very limited delivery of these guns, noted gun author and researcher Howard Madaus rates Flagg contract muskets as “Exceedingly Rare”, with less than 50 believed to be in existence, which seems a very high survival rate for such a limited production arm in the years leading up to the Civil War. I would like to extend my thanks to George Moller for his excellent research in sections 215.6-215.68 of American Military Shoulder Arms Volume III in providing the basis for the foregoing history and explanation of the Flagg contract musket.

Offered here is an out of the wood work, untouched, VERY GOOD ATTIC condition Benjamin Flagg contract US M-1842 pattern musket for the state of South Carolina. This is one of the 100 guns contracted for in 1849 and delivered in April of 1850. The gun has the correct German silver wrist escutcheon and is correctly engraved with “shadow” numbers, in this case the number is 15. This same number is found stamped inside the barrel channel of the stock and the remnants of an old piece of paper are in there are well which probably had a “15” written on it also. The barrel channel also has the assembly marks of two “X’s and a “+” sign chiseled into it. The interior of the lock has the assembly number 1 on all of the interior parts, and the inspection initial R. This same “R” is also present on the side plate and was probably stamped on other parts as well, but is no longer visible due to the years of oxidized build up and pitting on the metal. The letters AC are stamped in the wood behind the triggerguard, and are probably another inspection mark. The lock is marked in three vertical lines behind the hammer B. FLAGG & CO / MILLBURY, MASS / 1849. The lock markings are only partially legible, with the first line: “B. FLAGG & CO” and the date being the most visible and the middle line being almost completely obscured by age and oxidation. The lock appears to have been filed in this area, as old tool marks are visible under the heavy brown oxidation. This suggests that the lock was originally marked Waters and was ground and re-stamped at the factory, which is common on known examples of Flagg muskets. Due to heavy oxidation, no proof marks or date are visible on the barrel, and the musket number “15”, which is usually found on the top of the barrel and on the barrel bands is no longer visible in any of those locations. The buttplate tang is marked with the expected script US that is often found on Flagg muskets. The gun, as noted is in about “very good attic” condition. The musket is 100% complete, correct and original in every way, but has suffered from 100+ years of poor storage, possibly in a barn or attic. The metal has a very thickly oxidized brown patina over all parts, with the exception of the muzzle that was clearly protected by a bayonet for many years. However, there is a distinct brown oxidation line along muzzle that matches the mortise cut of the bayonet, which allowed that metal to discolor over time. The metal is evenly pitted over all of the surfaces, with the lock showing the least amount of pitting and the buttplate showing the heaviest. The barrel and barrel bands show very even light to moderate pitting over all of their exposed surfaces, while the metal of the barrel under the bands and underneath where the barrel was protected by the stock, is mostly smooth without pitting and had a dulled pewter patina. The rear most barrel band has split along its entire length on the reverse at the shoulder of the stock where the barrel and stock meet. This could be easily repaired, but I am leaving the musket in “as found” condition. The bore of the musket is in about VERY GOOD condition and is partly bright with patches of oxidation and darkness scattered along its length. The smooth bore show scattered light to moderate pitting with most of the more serious apparent roughness in the last 6” of the bore. However, this may be residue and collected dirt that might well clean out with some serious scrubbing. The lock of the musket is mechanically excellent and functions perfectly on all positions. The lock remains quite crisp and tight and the interior of the lock is bright and shiny with blued components and shows practically none of the effects of the poor storage that has oxidized the exterior of the lock. The musket retains both original sling swivels and the original, full-length trumpet headed ramrod, complete with full threads at the end. The German silver wrist escutcheon with the engraved number 15 is deeply tarnished and matches the untouched, attic appearance of the gun perfectly. The stock is in about FINE overall condition and is free of any breaks or repairs. The stock is full-length and solid and has never been cleaned or sanded. It retains sharps lines and edges and shows the accumulation of over a hundred years of dirt, grease and gunk. There are also some old flecks of patin present on the stock, typical of many attic or barn found Civil War muskets that were of so little regard that they were not even moved when structures were painted during the late 19th or early 20th century. The stock shows only the expected light handling bump, dings and minor mars from use and service but shows no abuse or damage. The extremely dark, uncleaned patina of the wood matches the metal of the musket perfectly.

Overall this is a really wonderful completely untouched example of an extremely rare Benjamin Flagg contract South Carolina Militia M-1842 Musket. The gun is 100% complete and correct and is one of those very rare muskets missing from most collections. It is an especially important musket for any South Carolina centric or secondary Confederate arms collection, and these muskets rarely appear on the market for sale. The last one I saw was cleaned to death, and this one (while poorly stored) is completely untouched. The gun walked into the Chantilly, VA gun show over the New Years Weekend, with the owner saying he had purchased it from a long out of business gun shop in Manassas, VA, where it had been sold on consignment for the family that found it on their property. Several South Carolina infantry regiments were present at the battle of First Manassas including the 2nd 3rd, 4th, 5th, 7th and 8th SC Volunteer Infantry, as well as Wade Hampton’s Legion. It seems quite likely that this musket is a relic left behind by a solider in one of those units. While this is certainly not a mint condition specimen, it is a classic example of a Confederate musket, used by the state of South Carolina and completely “in the black”, as most serious Confederate collectors prefer to find them.


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Tags: Benjamin, Flagg, South, Carolina, Contract, M, 1842, Musket