Sweet Little Sixteen

Fate certainly plays a role in any collector's life. Maybe it's getting to the gun show and still finding that shootable Model 1855 on the table. Or maybe it's the Christmas Party where your wifes' coworker says, "So, I hear you like old guns." That's where this story starts.

Somewhere in the not too distant past, my penchant for Civil War ordnance came to the attention of one of the people Mrs. Kelley works with. I told him it could be worth some value if it was old enough, but he said it was just sittin' around his house gathering dust and he'd love for me to have it. I said sure, I'd love to have a chance to restore an old gun to shooting condition, so one day I traveled down the road, and picked up a well worn Model 1816 Musket, converted to percussion. It had initials carved in the stock, and the stock had been shortened and the front band was removed. But it was definitely an 1816, even if it's last duty had been dropping geese out of the sky on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay when Teddy Roosevelt was president. It had definite potential. The photo shows the condition of the 1816 when I received it.

The Model 1816 U.S. Flintlock Musket was produced by both the Springfield (1816-1840) and Harper's Ferry (1816-1844) Armories. During this period, three distinct styles of M1816 developed. The early, or first, style is most often characterized by the use of a stud in front of the trigger guard for mounting of the rear sling swivel, and usually carries an 1817 date on the lockplate. Type II M1816 have browned iron and barrel, have the sling swivel integral to the trigger guard, and usually carry 1822 to 1831 dates. The Type III M1816's have bright finished barrels and furniture (difficult to tell after 175 years!) and are dated 1831 to 1844. The M1816 is distinguished as being the most abundantly produced of all American flintlock muskets, with more than 325,000 produced at Springfield and 350,000 produced at Harper's Ferry. Additionally, more than a dozen contractors also made Model 1816 Muskets during it's production years, adding more than 146,000 muskets for a grand total of 821,421 M1816 Muskets produced. The photo shows the "Harpers/Ferry/1824" marked lockplate. The table below summarizes the M1816 Contractor Production.

Contractor Production of Model 1816 Muskets

typeContractorLocationQuantity ProducedLockplate Date(s)
IIIBaker Philadelphia->100 1837
IBuell Marlborough, CT->300 unknown
I Carruth Greenville, SC-3,031 1818-9
IBrooke EvansPhiladelphia 10,0001824-5
IIW.L. EvansEvansburg, PA -1,5001832-3
IIIR & JD JohnsonMiddletown, CT --6001831-4
IIID. NippesMill Creek, PA-1,600 1837-40
allH. OsborneSpringfield,MAunknownseveral
IIIN. StarrMiddletown,CT15,300 1829-40
allA. WatersMillbury, MA36,0001817-36
IIIEli Whitney, Sr.,(1st contract)New Haven, CT15,0001826-30
IIIEli Whitney, Jr.,(2nd contract)New Haven, CT24,0001837-41

The advent of the Model 1842 Musket made the M1816 obsolete, but not unserviceable. Eventually, most made their way to storehouses and armories. Beginning in 1848, when more than 700,000 of all types of flintlock muskets where reported in storage, the most serviceable where converted to percussion ignition. Three types of alteration were performed. All alterations involved grinding the flash pan down and replacing the hammer. The "French Style" conversion added a drum and nipple to the flashhole. The "Belgian Style" involved plugging the vent hole with a weld and tapping a nipple directly into the barrel. This is the type of conversion that was only done at Harper's Ferry and Springfield, and is sometimes referred to as an "armory conversion." The last type of conversion was used late in the renovation process, beginning about 1852, and involved adding a bolster to the breech of the barrel, so it is termed the "Bolster Style" of conversion. Some M1816s originally made at Armories were converted by contractors, while some of the contractors' production was modified to percussion at Harper's Ferry and Springfield. All of the production and modification possibilities result in a collectors dream/nightmare, for in the M1816 there are numerous combinations of producer, type and modifier available to collect. I have personally seen original contractor muskets with armory conversions, as well as my own armory produced/armory modified model.

The converted Model 1816's saw active service in the early years of the War of Northern Aggression on both sides. The famous Texas Brigade (CSA) and Iron Brigade (USA) both saw action with M1816's, some still in original flint also saw service.

The Model 1816 which I possess is a Belgian Alteration, as seen in Picture 1. The lockplate is dated 1824 and it was created by the Harper's Ferry Armory in that year. It may possibly have seen service in both the Mexican and Civil Wars before it's sale in the military surplus market. The M1816 in my possession had all of the usual problems associated with "attic guns." The condensation of moisture, both inside and outside the barrel, as evidenced by the erosion of the wood surrounding the breech area and noticeable in Picture 2. The barrel was plugged with a combination of insect nests and sludge from standing upright and open at the muzzle for fifty years. At first, I feared the worst and considered the weapon loaded; the blockage was about as long as a shot load would have been. I fabricated a safety stick from a 1/4 inch dowel and began gingerly working on the barrels obstruction. As dead insect larvae and dirt began to emerge, I knew the barrel was NOT loaded, and I dug out the debris with a piece of hacksaw blade epoxied on the other end of the safety stick. This got about 80% of the dirt out, and soaking, elbow grease and a .69 brass bore scrapper got out the rest. The iron work all needed cleaning, which was accomplished in a oil bath, where it soaked for a couple of weeks.

One of the peculiarities of the Model 1816 is that it was not manufactured to "standards and gauges" by either contractor or armory. Therefore, a Bottom Band from one 1824 Harper's Ferry may or may not fit another 1824 Harper's Ferry musket! This fact makes restoring "sporterized" pieces all the more difficult, because not only do you have to find an original replacement part, but it may not fit, even if original. Restoring a M1816 is a lot like building a 95% inletted kit; both take painstaking patience and perseverance.

As fate would have it, I traveled to Gettysburg with a mental note to check out the sutlers for some M1816 parts. My first stop was at Bill Osborne's Lodgewood Mfg., and after we talked about the weather, I mentioned my recent acquisition and need for replacement wood for the forestock and a front band. "Got something even better than replacement wood," Bill said, and handed me an original, excellent to fine grade, M1816 stock. No kiddin'. He even had an original M1816 front sight on hand. After exchanging pictures of presidents and more gossip, I was on my way with almost very thing I needed for my restoration already in hand.

The real work began when I returned. As already mentioned, the M1816's where assembled one-at-a-time, and my stock needs fitting to the other parts. The bottom photo shows my progress to date, and I hope to have my '16 ready to go in time to shoot in the Fall Nationals this year.

If you don't want to wait to find and restore an original M1816 Musket, a wonderful rendition is available from Dixie Gun Works (901-885-0700)in both flintlock and percussion. The flintlock (catalog no. FR0305) is being offered at a special price of $625.00, and the percussion conversion (PR0257) is $785.00 and N-SSA approved. I spoke with young Mr. Kirkland at the DGW tent at Gettysburg, and he informed me that they would be continuing this special price for a little while longer, so don't wait to long to order. Dixie also has a bayonet for the M1816 and sells tons of supplies that smoothbore shooters need.

Readers interested in Model 1816 Muskets should access the webpage for 1816's at http://www.his.com/~pallte/1816.htm. Robbie West of the ODD gave me this tip. Thanks Rob!

Smoothbore shooting is growing in popularity in the N-SSA, and I hope to see more Model 1816 Muskets on the line in the future. Until the next time, promote responsible gun ownership, shoot safe and have fun.

1998 by Tom Kelley

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