Simeon North has been called the Patriarch of US Pistol Makers by a variety of US martial arms researchers and collectors. The irascible North had been born in Berlin, CT on July 13, 1765, the same day as inventor Eli Whitney. It is ironic that the futures of both men would be intertwined in the naissance and development of New England manufacturing, the production of arms for a country that would not exist until more than a decade after their birth, and through the pioneering the concept of manufacturing with interchangeable parts. Young Simeon attempted to join the Continental Army in the fall of 1781, but the fall of Yorktown in October of that year had convinced most that the Revolutionary War was essentially over, even though it would technically continue for 2 more years, and Simeon was rejected. In 1795, rather than pursue the traditional and expected career as a farmer, he purchased a water driven sawmill and then refitted the mill to the manufacturing of farm implements, most notably scythes. During this time Simeon also formed a friendship with a local gunsmith names Elias Beckley, who likely had a significant influence on the young and impressionable entrepreneur and budding manufacturing mogul. By 1799, North felt sufficiently confident in his ability to manufacture firearms on a large scale that he solicited and received the first United States contract for the manufacture of military pistols. In cooperation with his brother in law, clock maker Elisha Cheney, North undertook to produce an Americanized copy of the French Model 1777 flintlock pistol, which will forever be known as the US Model 1799 “North & Cheney” Pistol. North received two contracts for the manufacture of the pistols, the first in 1799 for 500, and the second in 1800 for 1,500. In total he delivered 2,000 of the pistols between 1799 and 1802, successfully completing his first military contract and establishing himself as the primary US pistol contractor. In 1808, North again contracted to provide pistols to the US government. The gun was the US Model 1808 Naval Pistol. This time, Cheney was not involved, and his name disappears from the story of Simeon North’s gun making. North had expanded and modernized his manufacturing facility during the preceding decade and had been experimenting with the concept of making parts to such a tolerance that they were essentially interchangeable, or significantly more so than most items produced in the early 19th century. North applied his industrial knowhow and inventor’s eye to the modification, improvement and application of his interchangeable parts process to the sample pistol provided to him for the production contract. North improved and strengthened the pistol by including an iron backstrap that ran from the breech to the buttcap. He reasoned that since a naval boarding pistol was as destined to see as much service as a club as it did as a pistol, this modification would increase the survivability and service life of the pistol. US Naval manuals of the Federal Period even included instructions for how seamen show throw pistols as a weapon, once they had been discharged. Obviously, all of those Hollywood movies that show idiots throwing an empty gun at their assailant are really tipping their hats to the seamen from the era of “Old Ironsides”! North also made some minor modifications to the furniture and fittings in an attempt to make the parts more “interchangeable”. So favorably was North’s improved pistol received that he was granted another contract on November 11, 1811 for what would be known as the Model 1811 pistol. The contract called for 1,000 pairs, and these were the first of North’s pistols to be marked with inspection and proof marks from the Ordnance Department. North followed up on this contract with the Model 1813 pistol, which has the notoriety of being the first pistol manufactured for the US government on the principle of interchangeable parts, and with that specification included in the contract. It was at this time that North moved his primary manufacturing facility to Middletown, CT, leaving his son to operate the Berlin facility to manufacture parts. For nearly next two decades North would serve as the primary US military contract pistol maker and would manufacture large quantities of US Model 1816 pistols, Model 1819 pistols and Model 1826 pistols. He also entered the rifle manufacturing business by producing US Model 1817 “Common” Rifles on contract for the US government. When the Model 1826 pistol contract was completed, North acquired the contract to produce Hall’s Patent Rifles & Carbines for the US government. As Hall’s arms were manufactured on the principle of interchangeable parts, North was uniquely qualified to handle their manufacture. It is almost amazing to realize that during the 30 years that North served as the primary US contract pistol maker, 1799-1829, he produced some 50,000 flintlock pistols! These guns saw service in every US conflict from the “Shores of Tripoli” through the War of 1812, the Seminole Wars, the Blackhawk War and even during the Civil War; though as typically as percussion conversions. North was a pioneering arms maker, who left an indelible imprint on early US martial arms design and manufacturing techniques.
Simeon North’s contract to produce the US Model 1819 Pistol had its genesis in six sample pistols that were produced at Harpers Ferry during the summer of 1819. These pistols were improved versions of the Model 1816 pistol that North had been producing under contract. Like the M1816 the new design was a single-shot, .54 smoothbore flintlock pistol with iron mountings and a walnut stock. Unlike the earlier model the new M1819 had a longer, 10” barrel, slightly less than 1” longer than the earlier M1816 pistol’s 9.0625” barrel. The barrel was retained with a single strapped barrel band that was retained by a band spring, rather than the double-strapped M1816 barrel band and Wickham’s Improvement stud. The new M1819 also included two new features for US martial pistols; one that would be used on all other single-shot US martial pistols going forward and one that would never appear on another such gun again. The first was the introduction of a captive button head iron ramrod that was permanently attached to the pistol via a pair of curved swivel arms. Although the design was not particularly popular in the field, it prevented the loss of the ramrod and would remain a standard feature on US single-shot pistols until the end of their period of production. The second was the introduction of a sliding safety at the rear of the lock plate, behind the hammer. The safety worked as a tumbler block, essentially locking the hammer into the half-cock position. After loading, the hammer was pulled slightly further back from the half-cock position, the safety was slid forward, and the hammer released. The safety now engaged a notch in the rear of the tumbler that locked the hammer, preventing it from being cocked or released. By withdrawing the safety, the hammer could be fully cocked, and the pistol fired. The system was not popular and was never incorporated in another US single pistol. The conventional wisdom is that the safety was unpopular because it could become hung up on a holster flap when being drawn. I feel that the reality is that the design is simply awkward and the safety is somewhat difficult to engage and disengage and would have been almost impossible to operate smoothly under the stress of combat.
On July 21, 1819 North received a contract to produce 10,000 pairs of the new Model 1819 Pistol, at the rate of $16 per pair, with all deliveries to be completed by the end of 1824. Deliveries commenced the following year, with 2,000 guns being completed, inspected and delivered during that year. An additional 7,000 were delivered in 1821, 8,000 in 1822 and 3,000 in 1823. In September 1823 an additional 400 guns were ordered and these pistols were delivered before the end of that year as well. In all, 20,400 of the guns were delivered between 1820 and the end of 1823. The earliest deliveries had locks that were not dated. All subsequent deliveries have locks dated 1821 or 1822, with none known dated 1823. This indicates that North completed all of the locks that he needed for the initial 20,000 gun contract, as well as at least 400 spare locks, by the end of 1822. Interestingly, the Ordnance Department hired rival Middletown, CT gunmakers Robert and John D. Johnson to prove North’s barrels. As a result, the majority of US M1819 pistol barrels are marked with the initial “RJ” or “JDJ”, indicating they were inspected and passed by either Robert or John D. Johnson. The Model 1819 pistol would be the last flintlock pistol that North would produce for the Army, with the Model 1826 pistol being the last he would produce for the Navy. In many ways the Model 1819 represented the ultimate evolution of the US Martial Flintlock Pistol from its beginnings as the North-Cheney version of the French M1777 pistol, through the early Federal Era pinned barrel guns of the M1808, to the clunky M1813 and M1816 pistols, finally resulting in the elegant lines of the Model 1819 pistol, one of the most attractive of the US Martial Flintlock Pistols to be produced.
Offered here is a VERY GOOD condition example of a US Model 1819 Flintlock Pistol by Simeon North. The pistol is marked on the lock, forward of the hammer S. NORTH in a downward arc over a spread-winged eagle that is flanked by the letters U and S over MIDLTN CONN. in an upward arc. The rear of the lock is dated 1821. In this case, we know that this pistol was part of the 7,000 pistols delivered in that year, as the cartouche on the counterpane is the script ET of Elisha Tobey, who inspected 1,000 of the M1819 Pistols in 1821. The breech of the barrel is clearly stamped in three lines: JDJ / P / US. The only other markings are two weak sets of sub-inspection initials stamped into the wood. The first is what appears to be the initials JD stamped above the side plate, forward of the rear lock bolt. The other is what appears to be the initials LT, stamped into the lower left side of the grip. Both sets of marks are deeply stamped and slightly worn, making it difficult to decipher them. The cartouche is weak as well but remains legible. The lock markings are clear, with the exception of the first part of the “S. NORTH” name, which appears to have been poorly stamped. The pistol remains mechanically functional, with the lock operating on both half and full cock, and the sliding safety securely locking the hammer at the half-cock position as it should. The only mechanical issue noted is that if the safety is off, the hammer will fall from the half-cock notch if the trigger is pulled. The lock and barrel both remain in their original flintlock configuration. The pistol is not reconverted from percussion. The lock retains all of its original parts and many of the internal parts retain some nice fire blued finish. The touchhole remains unmolested and shows good angle and taper. The bore of the pistol is in about GOOD+ condition. The bore is dark and oxidized and shows moderate pitting along its length. The metal of the pistol has been lightly cleaned and has a mottled dark gray over pewter patina. Scattered flecks of surface oxidation and age discoloration are evenly distributed over the metal, giving the gun a salt and pepper appearance. The metal remains mostly smooth, but there is some pinpricking and light pitting scattered within the discoloration. The original swivel ramrod remains in place under the barrel and remains fully functional. The original brass blade front sight is in place near the muzzle, with the original rear sight in place on the breech plug tang. The stock remains in about VERY GOOD condition as well. The stock is solid, full-length and free of any breaks or repairs. The stock shows numerous bumps, dings and scattered mars over all of its surfaces, but appears to have escaped any sanding. Some of the sharp edges show some light rounding, but this appears to be from nearly 200 years of handling and use, rather than any sanding. The stocks shows moderate use, commensurate with the condition of the metal of the pistol.
Overall, this is a nice, solid, 100% complete and correct example of a US Model 1819 Flintlock Pistol. The pistol remains in its original and unaltered flintlock configuration, is well marked and displays nicely. This would be a fine addition to any collection of early US martial flintlock pistols and is certainly an example that is fairly priced and requires no apologies for its originality or completeness.SOLD