Other than the British Land Pattern series of “Brown Bess’ muskets, no long arm is more synonymous with the American Revolution than the French “Charleville” pattern musket. This generic collector term applies to all French military pattern long arms from the period of significant colonial unrest; covering roughly the early 1750's, through the Seven Years War (French & Indian War) and into the period of the Revolution itself, as well as the Federal Period thereafter. Like the use of “Brown Bess’ to generically classify all English military muskets of the period, the term “Charleville” covers a wide array of French military arms patterns from the woefully obsolete M1717 and M1728 through the more “modern” M1754, M1763, M1766 on to the later production series of 1770's era muskets that culminated in the M1777. Of all these patterns, the M1766 is probably the musket most often thought of by the typical collector, looking for a French musket from the period of the American Revolution. It is also the M1766, with the modifications of 1770-1771 that would form the basic pattern for the US muskets to be produced at the National Armories of Springfield and Harpers Ferry; the US M1795, known during the period as a “French Pattern” musket.
The French M1766 Musket had its genesis in the Post French & Indian War period, as the French analyzed their defeat in North America and subsequent loss of most of their colonial possessions in that region. From a small arms perspective, the French high command felt that the pattern of muskets that had seen service in the war (primarily older M1717 and M1728 infantry muskets, along with some of the newly adopted M1754s) were too long, and too fragile for use in the North American wilderness. The senior French government arms inspectors at the French national armories at Charleville, Maubeuge and St. “tienne were consulted, and the French Model of 1763 was designed, based upon the recommendations of the inspectors from Charleville and Maubeuge. The new musket had an overall length of slightly less than 61” with a .69 caliber barrel that was between ““ and 1/8” short of being 45”. This was a reduction in length from the M1754 which had a barrel between 46 ““ and 47” and an overall length of about 63”. The earlier M1717 and M1728 infantry muskets had similar dimensions, so the new M1763 represented a significant shortening of the gun. The new gun was much hardier as well, with a beefed-up stock, slightly heavier furniture and a barrel that weighed 4.3 pounds on its own. This meant that the new musket weighed in at a rather hefty 10 “ pounds. It did not take long for the new musket to be found to be somewhat heavy and unwieldy in the field. From the early part of the 18th century, well into the World War II era, it has been generally conceded that optimal overall weight of the infantry long arm with bayonet is around 10 pounds total. This meant the new gun was simply a little too heavy for optimal service. After only three years of manufacture and roughly 88,000 muskets produced by the three arsenals, a new pattern of French infantry musket was adopted, the Model 1766. The new musket featured a lighter barrel, lock and stock, reducing the weight of the gun by more than two pounds from its immediate predecessor, weighing in at a very comfortable 8.36 pounds according to George Moller’s research. The new musket was still a .69 caliber flintlock smoothbore gun with an overall length of about 60”. The barrel was still slightly under 45” in length, with the standard measurements being given as between 44 5/8” and 44 7/8”. The barrel was retained by three flat barrel bands, a vertical screw through the breech plug tang and transverse screw through a groove in the breech plug that served as the rear lock mounting screw. The upper two bands were retained by springs with studs to the rear of the bands, while the lower band was not retained and was secured simply by friction. A small, rectangular bayonet lug was located under the barrel, about 1 1/8” from the muzzle, which extended from the stock about 3”. Like most French musket barrels of earlier pattern an “anti-twist” lug was brazed under the barrel to engage a slot in the stock that kept the barrel from rotating in the stock. The M1766 also introduced the ramrod spoon to French muskets, a spoon-shaped spring in the stock that applied friction to the ramrod, preventing it from slipping out of the stock accidently. The M1766 had the spoon pinned to a lug under the barrel. In most future pattern arms, the spoon would be pinned directly to the stock instead. The “anti-twist” lug would also be eliminated in future models. The new M1766 lock was slightly smaller than its predecessor, measuring 6 ““ in length with a pronounced teat at the rear. The flat plate with beveled edges was 1 3/16” in width and had a removable, faceted, fenced and bridled iron flash pan. The flat, reinforced cock had a heart-shaped hole and was beveled on its edges as well. Lock markings varied with the arsenal, with the arsenal’s name typically engraved in script along with an arsenal viewer’s mark. The breeches of the barrel received similar view marks. The musket was equipped with a pair of bell-shaped sling swivels, which were mounted to lugs under the middle band and forward of the triggerguard on the trigger plate. A button-head ramrod was retained in the channel under the barrel for loading the gun. In all, the three French arsenals produced some 140,000 M1766 muskets for the French military between 1766 and 1769, with an unknown number also being produced for export and sale by the government.
As previously noted, French pattern muskets were second only to British “Brown Bess’ pattern muskets for use during the American Revolution. Some estimates place the total of all French muskets imported for Colonial use during the war at approximately 80,000. While it is difficult to assess how many of each pattern was imported, the majority of the arms were of “obsolete” patterns, in other words guns that were not of recent production or those that had not been upgraded to current standards. It is reasonable to assume that based upon available numbers at least half of the French muskets imported for Continental use were of the M1763 or M1766 patterns. With the adoption of a variety of improvements to the M1766 in 1770, and the ultimate adoption of the subsequent M1770-71, M1773, M1774 and finally the M1777 patterns, a process of upgrading the older guns in service began. This was to make the guns more uniform and to more closely represent the current standard. For example, in 1770 the bayonet lug of earlier guns was ordered to be relocated from the bottom to the top of the barrel, 1 ““ from the muzzle. The following year the lug ordered to be moved again, this time back under the barrel, but further back from its original location to a distance of 1 7/8” from the muzzle. In 1773, all older M1763 and M1766 muskets in stores were upgraded by adding a band spring to retain the lower barrel band, which had previously been friction fit. By tracing the series of upgrades and modifications performed to a particular musket, it can reasonably be deduced which guns may have been exported for use during the American Revolution. The guns that were apparently no longer in French inventories would not have the most recent modifications and upgrades, suggesting they may have been sent to America for the war.
Offered here is a well-used, but essentially untouched French M1766 “Charleville” Musket that has a legitimate chance of having been imported for use during the American Revolution. While it bears no Continental, US or State markings or surcharges, the gun shows the 1771 upgrade to the bayonet lug; relocating it to 1 7/8” from the muzzle, under the barrel, but does not show the 1773 upgrade of adding a spring to the rear barrel band. This would suggest that the gun was no longer in French inventories at a time when that upgrade would have been applied. While known generically as the “Charleville”, this musket appears to have been produced at the Maubeuge Arsenal, and bears a weak script marking on the lock that appears to read Maubeuge. The lock also bears a (CROWN) / C inspection along the upper edge, between the cock and pan. The only other discernable arsenal mark on the gun is an M inspection at the breech, again suggesting Maubeuge. The only other external markings are some letters carved into the buttstock. On the obverse they are the letters A L, carved upside down with the “A” carved in such a way as to suggest the Masonic square & compass symbol. On the reverse, the letters H C are carved. The carved letters are also suggestive of North American use, as such carving would never have been tolerated in the French military.
The musket remains in about GOOD+ condition, and other than being a high-quality, old re-conversion to flint, is essentially untouched. The metal has a thick, brown, heavily oxidized patina overall, but bright steel is still visible under the barrel bands when then are moved. This indicates a natural, rather than a chemically applied, patina. The barrel remains full-length, measuring 44 “, with 3” extending beyond the stock. The barrel shows some scattered minor surface roughness, pinpricking and some minor pitting at the breech, but is really in wonderful condition for a gun that is around 250 years old! The bore of the musket is in about GOOD+ condition as well. it has the same dark, heavily oxidize patina as the exterior of the barrel and shows light to moderate pitting along with oxidized crust along its entire length. The lock, as noted has only weak markings. It show some light to moderate pitting and wear and has a similarly oxidized patina as the balance of the gun. The lock is a high-quality re-conversion to flint, and the gun was likely a drum converted percussion alteration at some point during the mid-19th century. The re-conversion appears to have primarily used original, period parts, although the top jaw screw and hammer screw both appear to be of incorrect patterns, although they are certainly old. The job is well enough done that it is not obvious externally, although the poor fit of the pan on the interior of the lock is a tell-tale sight. The lock is partially functional with strong springs and holds well on full-cock. However, the tumbler and sear to both too worn to hold at the half-cock position. The musket retains both original bell-shaped iron wire sling swivels and an original, period ramrod. The button head rod is about ““ short of full-length, measuring 44 “. It no longer has threads at the end and has been tapered and turned into a sort of ersatz wiper, with last ““ of the pig-tail shape broken off. The ramrod retention spoon is missing from the gun, but this internal part is not visible and does not affect the display of the musket in any way. As is so often the case on these guns, the stock shows the most wear and damage. Typically, the thin forends show significant splintering, wood loss and sometimes breaks. This gun is no different, except that for the most part the wear has not been repaired or concealed. The obverse of the forend shows about 8” of minor slivering and chipping along the upper edge where it meets the barrel. The reverse shows slivering and loss that is similar in length but is deeper and includes more lost wood. In both cases the patina of the exposed metal suggest the loss is very old, if not to the period of use, and not more recent damage. The stock shows a couple of more major cracks as well, one on the obverse running diagonally from the barrel channel to the stock flat, about 5” in length and another that wraps under the lock mortise. These show old, glued repairs and appear to be mostly stable. A much smaller crack runs from the rear lock screw to the barrel channel and another more major crack extends from the rear of the breech plug tang to the rear of the lock mortise. This latter crack shows an old, crude glue repair as well. A thumb-nail sized chip of wood is missing from the leading edge of the lock mortise and a large number of assorted bumps, dings, minor mars and small areas of wood loss are scattered over the entire musket. While the description may sound like the stock is not in very good condition, it is simply an honest listing of the flaws. Amazingly the stock appears to have survived unsanded and has a lovely, uncleaned patina that is very attractive. The failings in the lightness of the stock were issues that were resolved by slightly increasing the bulk and girth of the 1770’s era French muskets.
Overall this is a very attractive, heavily patinaed example of a French M1766 Musket with the 1771 modification but without the 1773 modification, suggesting it may well have been in North America for the American Revolution. Although the gun is a re-conversion to flint it is well done and is not an obvious re-alteration. The gun has a very pleasing look, some very nice period initials and is priced very reasonably for a 250-year-old military musket with this much eye appeal. Rarely can you buy so much history for so little money!
Please note that the gun will measure in excess of 60” when packed, so extra shipping cost will apply, and US Postal Shipping will not be an option due to the excess length.SOLD
Tags: French, M1766, Charleville, Musket