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Extremely Rare Tryon Made South Carolina Militia Contract Rifle - Possibly the only surviving example from the 1834 order for 200!

Extremely Rare Tryon Made South Carolina Militia Contract Rifle - Possibly the only surviving example from the 1834 order for 200!

  • Product Code: FLA-3636
  • Availability: Out Of Stock
  • $7,500.00


In 1792, the newly organized United States government authorized the establishment of a “standing federal army” which was primarily intended to protect the western boarders of the young nation and to deal with rising tensions with the various native tribes that inhabited the region. Much of the conflict was in the newly  designated Northwest Territory (also known as the “Old Northwest”) a massive expanse of what was then the western United States and that today represents portions of six states, including Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. As part of the newly authorized Federal force sixteen rifle companies were authorized, to be armed with rifles, rather than the standard smoothbore musket. In order to achieve this end, contracts were let to the various major Pennsylvania gunmakers, primarily to in Berks County, Lancaster County and around Philadelphia, for the production of these rifles. No examples from this contract are known to have survived, but based upon period correspondence, it appears the rifles the rifles were typical full-stock flintlock rifles with barrel lengths of between 42” and 44 ½”. The caliber appears to have been between .45 and .49. Research by George Moller, published in in American Military Shoulder Arms Volume II indicates that the rifles may have had double-set triggers, as the period correspondence requests that the tumblers be equipped with a “fly.” Between 1792 and 1794 some 3,476 of these rifles were delivered to the US military. While period correspondence suggests that at least some of these rifles were marked “US” in some fashion, no known examples survive, so the exact configuration of the guns cannot be determined. It is generally believed that the rifles were essentially of the classic, Golden Age “Kentucky Rifle” pattern and were probably not easily distinguishable from other civilian rifles of the period, complete with multi-piece patch boxes and brass furniture. 

 

Some inferences as to their configuration can be taken from the first “official” US rifle design, the Model 1803 rifle, which went into production at Harpers Ferry in 1804. These rifles were essentially half-stocked, simplified versions of the classic “Pennsylvania” or “Kentucky” Rifle with 33” octagon to round barrels (36” on later production guns) in .54 caliber, with a raised cheek rest, brass mountings including a semi-pistol gripped skeletonized triggerguard and a simplified two-piece brass patchbox. As was customary for the period, the rifles were not designed to accept a bayonet.

 

Despite the adoption of the Model 1803 Flintlock Rifle in that year and the beginnings of production deliveries in the second quarter of 1804, the US government again found itself in need of additional rifles by 1807. This was primarily due to increasing tensions with Great Britain that would eventually result in the War of 1812. As a result, the procurement of two-thousand more rifles from the Pennsylvania makers was authorized in November of 1807, and by the end of 1809 some 1,679 of the rifles had been delivered. The list of contractors reads like a “Who’s Who” of the Federal Era Pennsylvania gunmaking community, including Jacob Dickert, Joseph Henry and Henry Pickle. In this case a handful of examples do survive, and although there are some minor differences between the various makers, a basic configuration for these rifles can be more definitely established. The guns were nominally .54 caliber, with barrels ranging between 37” and 38 ½” in length. The barrels are typically one-third octagon to round in configuration. The guns are full-stocked, without provision to accept a bayonet, with a raised cheek rest. They are mounted with brass furniture, including a skeletonized semi-pistol gripped triggerguard and typically a simplified two-piece patchbox. Typically, the rifles are marked by their makers and carry some form of official government “proof” mark on the breeches, typically a sunken oval with a raised “Eagle Head” and P mark. In some cases, an additional sunken “P” proof is present as well. Locks were usually commercially produced examples, either from English or local Philadelphia makers, and major components were sometimes sourced for other makers, such as barrels. These rifles established a basic pattern that would generally describe the flintlock rifles that would be contracted for by the various states until the end of the flintlock era.

 

Despite the passing of the Militia Act of 1808, the availability of arms to be issued to the various states by the Federal Government never seemed to be sufficient. The War of 1812 had clearly indicated that the National Armories and various Federal contractors could not supply enough arms to the states in the case of a true emergency. The state of Virginia had foreseen this potential problem and their solution had been the establishment of the Virginia Manufactory of Arms in 1798 in order to insure a supply of arms for the state militia. Many of the states started the practice of contracting for small arms on their own behalf, in particularly for infantry muskets and rifles. This was especially true of rifles as the supply of available rifles for the states was regularly lower than the demand. In the south, where the rifle was much preferred for fighting against the Native Americans, particularly during the Seminole Wars, rifle contracts were let on a somewhat regular basis. Often, these contracts were let to the major Pennsylvania makers who had produced the US M1807 Contract Rifles, or their successors. The primary contractors who seemed to have provide rifles for a number of states were all Philadelphia makers including Henry Deringer of Philadelphia (who also produced US Model 1814 and 1817 contract rifles), J Henry and George (Edward) Tryon.

 

Based upon the research of George Moller, published in American Military Shoulder Arms Volume II we know the history of flintlock militia rifle contracts for the various states. In the case of the rifle offered here, an examination of the South Carolina flintlock militia rifle contracts is necessary. The first contract for flintlock militia rifles for use by the State of South Carolina was a privately issued one around 1810 for fifty guns. These were purchased to arm Major William H. Capers’ company of riflemen. The state eventually reimbursed Capers for twenty-eight of the rifles some five years later for the purchase. 

 

In late 1813 or early 1814, a South Carolina contract for four hundred rifles was let to Wilson Nesbitt at the rate of $20 per rifle. According to Moller no examples from this contract are known to exist and there is no indication that Nesbitt was anything more than an arms broker or reseller, who likely procured the rifles from Pennsylvania makers, like J Henry. It can be assumed that these guns followed the basic form of the US M1807 Contract Rifles. 

 

In 1815, the state contracted with Adam Carruth of Greenville, SC to provide five hundred rifles at $20 each. It is not known if Carruth produced the rifles himself or contracted with other makers for them. At the time he was primarily engaged in producing smoothbore flintlock infantry muskets on contract for both the US Government and the State of South Carolina. As such, he may not have had rifling machinery. He later applied for an increase in price from $20 to $22 each, after the guns were delivered! This suggests that the rifles were simply purchased by Carruth and then resold, or that at the least he may have had to purchase rifle barrels, increasing his cost accordingly. According to Moller no known examples exist, so we may never know the source of these early War of 1812 era contract rifles. Again, the assumption is that these rifles followed the 1807 Contract pattern.

 

In 1834, a new rifle contract was issued by the State of South Carolina to the Whitney Arms Manufactory which was then being operated by Philo and Eli Whitney Blake, nephews of the late Eli Whitney.  George Moller’s research indicates that the state was billed in October of 1834 for “a case of sample muskets, shipped the previous July, and for ten cases of rifles.” Assuming the standard packaging practice of twenty guns to the case, that means that Whitney delivered two hundred rifles to the state. Like Carruth, the Whitney operation had been engaged in the production of smoothbore muskets and not rifled arms and it is believed they did not acquire their first rifling machine until they received their contract to produce the US Model 1841 “Mississippi” Rifle. Again, Moller lists no known examples and concludes: “It is probably, therefore, that the Whitney firm supplied rifles made by other gunmakers, such as J.J. Henry or Edward Tryon.”

 

The final contract for flintlock  militia rifles for the state of South Carolina was entered into in 1842. This contract resulted in two hundred and thirty-three rifles being delivered by Tryon of Philadelphia. The rifles were again based on the on the US Model 1807 Contract Rifle pattern but were .52 caliber rather than .53, had 37 ¾” barrels that were octagonal until the last 2 15/16” where they were turned to round to accept a socket bayonet. The bores were rifled with six-narrow grooves. The guns were stocked to the point where the barrel was turned to round. They were brass mounted with a large, rounded two-piece “Baker Rifle” style patchbox and a triggerguard with a hooked extension at the rear. The markings included TRYON / PHILADA in two lines on the top flat of the barrel and on the lock. The Moller example is also marked D33 in a third line on the lock. The left breech flat was additionally marked with a raised-P within a sunken oval and with the initials WSG followed by S-CAROLINA and D-33. Assuming the alphanumeric marking was a serial number, it would be safe to assume that the letters changed every fifty rifles, thus the first fifty would be A-1 to A-50, followed by B-1 to B-50, etc. The letters could not correspond to each one hundred rifles, as the highest number would then be C-33 for the two hundred thirty-three delivered. A small number of similarly configured rifles were also delivered to the state of South Carolina by J.J. Henry, although they lack the alphanumeric markings and are nominally .54 caliber rather than .52. The exact origin of the J.J. Henry rifles is not known, and it is unclear if they were part of the Tryon deliveries or possibly part of any earlier contract delivery from which no examples have been previously identified.

 

This brings us to the incredibly interesting example of a South Carolina Militia Rifle offered here. A gun that does not conform to any of the known surviving examples of South Carolina militia rifles but is almost certainly one of the two hundred rifles delivered by Whitney to the state during 1834. When this rifle first surfaced, it was clear to me that it was an original South Carolina Militia Rifle that had been altered to percussion, however the configuration was somewhat of a mystery. The configuration of the rifle did not quite correspond to anything listed in the various state militia rifles section of Moller’s American Military Shoulder Arms Volume II, but it was clear that this Tryon produced rifle was absolutely authentic as were the clear S-CAROLINA markings on the barrel. After doing some additional research, in other sources the key to this gun was revealed by Robert Sadler’s excellent American Society of Arms Collectors article (published in ASAC Bulletin #79, pages 57-68) entitled “100 Years of Tryon.”Mr. Saddler’s information, taken along with the information provided in Moller’s work convinces me that what we have here is likely the first identified example of the 1834 Whitney Contract for two hundred South Carolina Militia Rifles.

 

I will start by describing the gun in its current configuration. The rifle was produced in Philadelphia by George Tryon and in clearly marked on the top flat of the barrel in a single line:

 

TRYON • PHILADA •

 

The rifle is 50 1/8” in overall length with a 35” octagonal barrel that is nominally .52 caliber groove to groove and about .50 caliber land to land. It is rifled with six narrow grooves. The barrel is secured with a single screw though the breech plug tang and single wedge with oval brass escutcheons in the forend. The gun is of the half-stock configuration with a 21 7/16” rib under the barrel, a 5/8” brass nose cap and a 29” half stock with a slightly raised, simple straight-line cheek rest. A wooden ramrod is secured with a single 7/8” long plain iron thimble brazed to the bottom rib and a brass entry pipe. The rifle uses a stepped commercial lock that measures nominally 4 5/8” long by 1” wide. The lock is secured by two screws that pass through the classic Tryon geometric brass sideplate, with rounded leading edge, that measures 4 5/8” in length. The rifle is equipped with double set triggers that appear original to the rifle, although the skeletonized semi-pistol gripped triggerguard is an old replacement. Sights include a dovetailed buckhorn rear sight and a dovetailed brass blade front sight. The general appearance of the rifle closely resembles the US Model 1803 Rifle, and initially my thoughts were that the gun had been of the earlier US M1807 Contract Rifle style full-stock configuration and was later shortened and half-stocked. This proved to be an incorrect assumption. This assumption was partially due to the comment in Moller’s description of the Tyron 1842 South Carolina contract rifles that noted: “It has been reported, but not verified, that some of the Tryon rifles had their stocks shortened to half-stock length while in South Carolina’s possession.” The key feature that did not quite fit any of the militia rifle examples noted in Moller was the four-piece patchbox of decidedly civilian pattern. The patchbox is 7 ¾” in length, by 3 ¼” at the widest point and composed of four pieces with a 3 9/16” urn shaped finial and nominally 4” long door. While some of the earliest contract rifles did have four-piece patchboxes, it seems that by the 1820s, the simplified two-piece pattern was typical of military contract rifles. In fact, Edward Tryon’s father George was delivering militia rifles to the State of Pennsylvania circa 1814-1815 with the simple oval iron patchbox of the US Model 1814 and later Model 1817 pattern rifles. Thus, a four-piece semi-decorative brass patchbox seemed strangely out of place on the rifle. The relatively narrow, 1 ½” butt certainly placed production of the rifle in the 1820s or later, as it did not have the wider butt associated with late 18thcentury and the earliest 19thcentury rifles. The left angled flat of the barrel is clearly stamped with the correct and completely authentic South Carolina marking S – CAROLINA, followed by a raised-P proof in a sunken sunburst. These markings are absolutely consistent with the handful of known examples of South Carolina militia rifles from the second quarter of the 19thcentury.

 

So, the question became, was this gun in its original configuration as acquired by South Carolina, other than the percussion alteration, or some form of full-stock rifle that had been further altered. The answer came in the form of Robert Sadler’s article about the Tryon gunmaking business, as well as referencing James D. Gordon’s Great Gunmakers for the Early West, Volume II – Eastern US. George Tryon was the grandson of the Low Country trader John Jacob Tryon. John Jacob had been quite successful during the 1700s in trading between Holland and new American Colonies and had acquired a substantial amount of land in the western Virginia frontier town of Winchester. On his final voyage to America he and his wife were killed in a shipboard fire, and their surviving son Jacob Henry Tryon was put ashore in Philadelphia with no worldly possessions nor any proof of ownership of the Winchester properties. Jacob was apprenticed to a tinsmith and learned that trade but died of scarlet fever in 1793. His son, George K. Tyron was only two at the time of his father’s death and was apprenticed to the Philadelphia gunmaker Frederick W. Goetz. Goetz had entered the gun trade 1805 and by the latter part of the decade was not only producing arms for the civilian and trade markets, but also US 1808 Contract Muskets. Goetz took George Tryon on as a partner in 1811 and by the following year Tryon was the owner of the company. By 1814, Tryon was receiving both US and state contracts for arms due to the War of 1812. He assembled two hundred seventy-six pistols from parts at the US Arsenal in Philadelphia for the US government in 1814 and also produced on hundred militia rifles for the state of Pennsylvania during 1814-1815. Tryon was a longtime friend and associate of JJ Henry and between the two of them they received a contract to produce repeating flintlock arms and swivel guns for the US Navy in 1814. In addition to producing arms, he manufactured gun parts, brokered gun parts from English and other sources, assembled guns from parts and essentially would do anything necessary to grow his young business. By 1829, he had acquired additionally property across from his original shop and established a true “factory” producing guns on an ever greater scale. He also produced a wide variety of copper, brass and tinware. These were logical off-shoots of his business as metal work was a major part of gun making and much of the same equipment and skills went into casting or making gun furniture as house wares. The quality of Tryon’s work is partly noted by one of his employees, Henry Lehman who worked as a gunmaker from 1831-1834. Lehman then returned to Lancaster, PA and established his famous Conestoga Rifle Works. From 1832-1837 Tryon partnered with Samuel Merrick, operating Tyron, Merrick & Company in addition to his own business. This firm not only made guns, but dealt in sporting goods, fishing tackle, jewelry and watches. In 1836, Tryon’s son Edward K joined the business and the company split into three distinct firms adding Tryon, Son & Company as the manufacturing arm producing parts and various goods, George W. Tryon & Company functioning as importers and dealers (essentially taking the place of the old Tryon, Merrick & Company business), and the original Tryon company continuing in gun making. During the early 1830s Tryon also received his first Bureau of Indian Affairs arms contracts. Between 1832 and 1855 the company would produce twenty-one hundred “Indian Rifles” and some five thousand five hundred and twenty-two “Northwest Trade” Guns. In 1839, Tryon, Son & Company received a Republic of Texas contract to produce fifteen hundred US Model 1816 Type III (M1828) Muskets for the new country, but only eight hundred and sixty were delivered. Two years later the firm received a contract to manufacture five thousand of the newly adopted US Model 1841 Percussion Rifles, better known today as the Mississippi Rifle. By the early 1840s the firm had adopted their “Golden Buffalo” logo,  which would appear on the arms the manufactured, retailed and “jobbed” for other retailers through the end of their manufacturing period. Their output of arms, particularly half-stock “plains” rifles was somewhat prodigious, and many western settlers started their journey with a Tryon percussion rifle by their side. The Tryon firm would remain in business as an arms manufacturer through the post-Civil War period, with sources listing dates of both 1868 and 1872 as the time they ceased gun production. However, the company remained in business as a retailer until 1894.

 

Robert Sadler’s article pictures and describes a half-stock Tryon marked percussion rifle that is nearly identical to the example offered here, simply without the South Carolina markings. Mr. Sadler refers to the model or pattern of gun as an Elk County (Pa.) Style Rifle. The rifle is a half-stock percussion gun that is nominally .52 caliber, with a 35 1/8” octagonal barrel that is marked TRYON PHILADA. The gun is brass mounted with a skeletonized, semi-pistol gripped triggerguard and a four-piece decorative brass patchbox with an urn shaped finial, very similar to the patch box on this rifle. The example listed by Sadler has a Truitt Brothers & Co marked lock, which would date it to circa 1847-1861. It would seem that this was the percussion evolution of an earlier flintlock rifle pattern that was already in production at Tryon. This makes perfect sense when the Whitney contract is analyzed. It appears the South Carolina order for the rifles was placed in the summer of 1834, and even if placed at the beginning of the year, it would have been impossible to build some two hundred rifles from scratch and deliver them by October, as no facility to make rifled arms existed in the Whitney facility. Even hiring a “jobber” to produce the guns would have certainly created a lead time of several months to a year during that period. Whitney clearly turned Tryon, who was already producing a rifle that closely conformed to the US Model 1803 Pattern, which could likely be delivered with very little delay. When the rifles arrived, the State of South Carolina was obviously happy with the overall quality of the Tryon guns and since their maker was clearly marked on the guns, when it was time to order more rifles in 1842, the state by-passed Whitney and went directly to the manufacturer. At that time, the state ordered exactly what they wanted, a full-stock rifle that could accept a socket bayonet with the simpler Baker style patch box. It is worth noting that these were also .52 caliber rifles, like the example here. Since other South Carolina rifles exist that are .54 caliber, the most reasonable explanation is that South Carolina was also receiving .52 Hall Rifles during this period, under the Militia Act of 1808, for use in the Second Seminole War. As such, there may have been some thought about keeping the ammunition of the same basic caliber. Based upon all of the research and the lack of identified extant examples from this contract, I am firmly convinced that this rifle is one of the two hundred South Carolina Militia Rifles acquired from Whitney during 1834.

 

The condition of this incredibly rare and possibly only surviving example of the South Carolina 1834 Militia Rifle Contract is about FAIR. While the metal rates closer to “Good”, the wood certainly rates “Fair” or worse. The octagonal barrel retains clear and crisp markings throughout, including the TRYON • PHILADA • and S – CAROLINA marks. The barrel appears to retain traces of period brown, mixed with a mostly untouched and moderately oxidized plum brown patina that has been lightly cleaned in some places to make markings easier to read and that shows high edge wear along the sharp angles and at points of contact. The metal is mostly smooth with some light pitting at the muzzle, some more moderate pitting at the breech around the bolster, some scattered oxidized surface roughness and some scattered dings and impact marks. The bore of the rifle rates about GOOD. It is moderately pitted and heavily oxidized but still retains deep, crisp rifling. The rifle is altered to percussion via the “French” or “Drum” method, which was the most common system of percussion alteration for rifles during the 1840s and 1850s. The hammer is a simple period civilian percussion hammer with a damaged skirt at the nose, that is held in place with an old, handmade nut. Nearly every flintlock arm in storage in the state of South Carolina was altered to percussion immediately prior to, or during the opening months of, the American Civil War. The percussion alteration of a flintlock South Carolina militia rifle is expected, with original flint examples being almost impossible to find. The lock is moderately pitted and retains no legible markings on the exterior and is unmarked on the interior as well. The lock needs mechanical attention, as it will not reliably hold at full-cock. This appears to be due to a worn sear or tumbler notch. No half-cock notch is provided in the tumbler and it appears the set trigger must be pulled to engage the sear when cocking the rifle. The double-set triggers appear to be original to the rifle but could be a later addition. The buckhorn rear sight appears to be from the period of use of the gun but is difficult know if it was ever replaced. It has been with the rifle for an exceptionally long time and the patina matches the barrel perfectly. The front sight appears to be original and period as well. The brass furniture all has a thick, dark and uncleaned patina that is very attractive. The triggerguard is a very old replacement, possibly due to breakage of the original guard when the stock was damaged. The patchbox is missing its latch and catch, so it will not stay closed. A lovely geometric brass toe plate decorates the flat bottom edge of the stock to the buttplate. The wooden ramrod appears to be a very old replacement and cannot be removed from the stock as it is stuck tightly. The rod has been with the rifle for a very long time, but probably does not date to the period of use. The worst part of the rifle is the stock, which has suffered severe damage through the lock area and was poorly repaired. Thankfully it was repaired at all, as the gun would no longer exist otherwise. The stock appears to have been completely broken through the lock mortise and it is likely that the original triggerguard was broken at that time as well. The stock was amateurishly repaired with a combination of pins, nails, a screw and glue, with no real effort put into making the repair remotely pleasing to the eye. Small pieces of wood have also been haphazardly added around the lock mortise to replace various pieces that were lost during the breakage. A talented wood restoration gunsmith could likely improve this significantly, given the time, money and motivation. However, despite the major repair, the gun still exists and may well be the only known example, so I am thankful to whoever salvaged the rifle. Other that the replaced triggerguard, the ramrod and possibly the front lock screw, the gun appears to remain in 100% original and period of use condition. In addition to the major repair through the lock area, the stock shows numerous small splinters and areas of wood loss along the upper edge of the forend, most notably on the reverse. There is also an old repair at the toe of the stock. The stock also appears to have been lightly sanded at some point in time. Despite all of this the wood retains an attractive, untouched appearance and good age that has developed since the time of the repair. Whoever fixed the gun probably wanted to save it for sentimental reasons, suggesting that it may have been an old family piece with a story that is now lost to the ages. 

 

An old brass museum collection tag is attached to the triggerguard which reads in three lines: J.M. Davis / 6923 / Memorial. This indicates that the gun was previously part of the Davis Arms & Historical Museum Collection. The J.M. Davis collection in Claremore, OK is billed as the “largest privately held firearms collection in the world,” although I have a friend in Titusville, FL who might argue with that statement. The Davis Arms & Historical Museum Collection was established in 1969 and is celebrating its 50thAnniversary this year.

 

Overall this an extremely rare, if well used, example of what appears to be the only known South Carolina Militia Rifle from the Whitney 1834 Contract. With only two hundred rifles delivered and no other known examples, this is a gun that seriously deserves to be back in South Carolina, probably in the collection of the South Carolina Relic Room & Military Museum. However, this is a first come, first serve business. While the condition may set off some potential buyers the extreme rarity of this rifle has earned it a place in the most advanced collection of US military and state contract rifles. This rifle more than likely saw some three decades of service in as many as three major wars! First fighting the Seminoles in the 1830s and 40s as a flintlock, second possibly seeing Mexican-American War service as a flint rifle as well, and finally fighting against the Union for the State of South Carolina in the early 1860s. I would be willing to bet even George Moller’s extensive and encyclopedic collection of US military rifles does not contain one of these Whitney contract, Tryon produced militia rifles for South Carolina. There may not be another example to own, so this may well be your only opportunity to acquire a rifle of this pattern. When trying to determine the value of what is for all practical purposes a “one of a kind” South Carolina Militia Rifle, I found similar examples of percussion altered 1842 South Carolina contract Tryon rifles that sold in the $9,000 and up range. This one is much rarer, but of lesser condition and is priced extremely fairly considering its immense rarity and importance to the arms collecting community.


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