Author Topic: Average Bore Size For Rifle Pre 1830 ?  (Read 1216 times)

Offline Eddie Southgate

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Average Bore Size For Rifle Pre 1830 ?
« on: May 24, 2020, 05:00:32 AM »
Was reading a thread on another site and it was stated a number of times that most of the rifles used in the Eastern part of this country in the flintlock thru early percussion days were built to carry a ball .40 cal or under . I have seen and handled a number of original rifles of both types and they were all over .40 cal except one very late (1850"s) percussion rifle that was .37 caliber . What was the average caliber from say 1730 - 1830 ? Talking about rifles not Muskets  or Fowlers .
« Last Edit: May 24, 2020, 06:12:35 AM by Eddie Southgate »
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Offline Chowmi

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Re: Average Bore Size For Rifle
« Reply #1 on: May 24, 2020, 05:18:16 AM »
Far from an expert here, but I think that is far too general a question to yield an answer that will mean anything.

That is a 100 year time period, in which a lot happened, not to mention, a very wide swath of land. 

Settlement conditions and the size of available game changed over time, probably resulting in different bore size requirements, and that can be applied on different timelines to different areas. 

Even if accurate data for that question was available, what would it tell you?  I think, not much.  What is relevant in Massachusetts, might be entirely different in Virginia. 

I don't mean to be a nay-sayer here, but I think that without narrowing down the data to more specific time periods and geographic areas just won't give you an answer that means very much.

Cheers,
Norm

Edit:  I re-read your question and see that it is referencing another website stating caliber size .40 and under, vice your personal experience in handling originals.  I still think my point above is valid, but I will try to refine my answer here:

The idea that attaching a median value to guns made in a long period of time over a wide area of land is not particularly helpful.  In other words, the data you reference is not specific enough to be helpful.
Additionally, if you have primarily handled early guns from a specific area, then they are likely to be either above or below that median number (.40) referenced before.  Unless you have handled a full cross-section of guns from the time period and geographic area, then your data is not related to the data referenced in the other forum.

Again, not being critical here, just trying to suggest that a more specific question would potentially yield a far more valuable answer.

Cheers again,
Norm
« Last Edit: May 24, 2020, 05:27:47 AM by Chowmi »
Cheers,
Chowmi

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Offline JTR

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Re: Average Bore Size For Rifle Pre 1830 ?
« Reply #2 on: May 24, 2020, 05:24:04 AM »
Penn guns and the like, I'd say about 45 to 50-ish. Most larger than 45, and 52/53 on the upper end for average.

Just my experience, and other may vary,
John
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Online rich pierce

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Re: Average Bore Size For Rifle Pre 1830 ?
« Reply #3 on: May 24, 2020, 05:24:39 AM »
A hundred year span is too much to cover, and there were many regional differences as well. It’s best to focus on a specific area, timeframe, and intended customers. What interests you most?  New York rifles? Ohio? Illinois? Guns intended for the western fur trade? Tennessee “Southern mountain rifles”?

New England flintlock rifles 1800-1830 inexplicably range larger in caliber, often .50 and larger. 

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Offline Eddie Southgate

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Re: Average Bore Size For Rifle Pre 1830 ?
« Reply #4 on: May 24, 2020, 06:41:37 AM »
The first one on the thread referenced mentioned "The Ohio Country " and stated that it had it's game shot out to near extinction by rifles of .40 cal or less . They were referring to the 1700's .  He also stated that larger calibers didn't get to be a thing until the westward movement when larger game was normally encountered . Several others made similar statements .

 I am very far from an expert and probably most on this board have handled way more original rifles than I have . Was not looking for serious data only what you guys have observed in the rifles you have handled over the years you have been interested in them . I have had my hands on a moderate number of rifles from Pennsylvania and some from Maryland and Virginia and two rifles years ago that were said to be from an Ohio maker . Those were all flint rifles and all were over .40 caliber . The percussion rifles I have had my hands on were mostly from Tennessee and as many as not were over .40 cal but not as much so as the earlier rifles .

 
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Offline Chowmi

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Re: Average Bore Size For Rifle Pre 1830 ?
« Reply #5 on: May 24, 2020, 08:02:38 AM »
The first one on the thread referenced mentioned "The Ohio Country " and stated that it had it's game shot out to near extinction by rifles of .40 cal or less . They were referring to the 1700's . 

I find that interesting, but it raises the question of where did the information come from and what was the size of the game at the time? 

I also suspect that our idea of bore sizes at the time might be skewed by the fact that over time, many well used guns had their bores "refreshed" some number of times during their life.  Depending on how much refreshing was done, and how vigorous it was, we see a gun that is a larger caliber than it was when made.  How much larger?  I don't know. 

I haven't handled that many either, and can't say I remember the caliber of most that I have!

Since it might appear that I'm just throwing stones and avoiding the question, I thought I would do a small sample look.
So, to help answer the original question, I had a look through RCA Vol 1, chapter 9: The Lancaster Connection.  13 guns listed the caliber.  Smallest was .45, largest was .60.  Average of the 13 was .53

Cheers,
Norm

Cheers,
Chowmi

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Offline Eddie Southgate

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Re: Average Bore Size For Rifle Pre 1830 ?
« Reply #6 on: May 24, 2020, 09:40:03 AM »
Norm ,Rich and John , Thanks .  That answers  the question in my mind , mostly over .40 caliber . One of the posts stated that Daniel Boone's favorite rifle was .25 caliber , as far as I know he is supposed to have carried a .44 that was made by his brother .  He could have owned a .25 but that would not have been what he depended on for food and safety on a daily basis .
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Offline BruceH

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Re: Average Bore Size For Rifle Pre 1830 ?
« Reply #7 on: May 24, 2020, 01:43:41 PM »
I see that Daniel Boone rifle caliber quote come up often, mostly as a .29 caliber.  I think it is a great misquote.  I am by no means a language scholar, but the spoken language back then (for him) was probably a mixture of Quaker and whatever else influenced it.  He may have told someone he carried a 29, but I bet it was a 29 bore (53-54 caliber) - not a .29 caliber.  I don't think they were using the term caliber during Boone's time.  As a hunter, I also don't think he would rely on a .29 caliber for his hunting exploits either.  Just my personal thoughts.

Offline smart dog

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Re: Average Bore Size For Rifle Pre 1830 ?
« Reply #8 on: May 24, 2020, 01:51:41 PM »
Hi Eddie,
A while ago, I tabulated data from published sources on about 75 long rifles made around the Rev War period and shortly after (1760-1790).  I only included rifled guns, no smooth rifles, assuming some smooth rifles might have been rifles previously and bored smooth later in their active life.  Of course some rifles could also be bored larger and rifled after much use but I had to live with that caveat.  Anyway, cailbers ranged from 0.41 - 0.69 and the average was 0.52.

dave
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Offline Elnathan

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Re: Average Bore Size For Rifle Pre 1830 ?
« Reply #9 on: May 24, 2020, 04:19:32 PM »
I think a lot of the published bore sizes are over-estimations. A lot of originals are coned or filed out or worn out at the muzzle, and if you just measure at the muzzle it looks larger than it really is, and any time I see or hear of any discrepancy between the published caliber and new measurements, the caliber always seems to go down, not up....

There are a couple schools of thought on the subject of original caliber size of rifles in the Eastern Woodlands during the Trans-Appallachian settlement and Revolutionary periods, debated here periodically with occasionally quite a bit of heat. I've been dragged kicking and screaming into the "small-ish bores" camp over the years, mostly due on the basis of the written evidence - George Hanger claims that nothing over 36 bore (i.e., .51 caliber) was used, Joseph Doddridge claims that nothing below 45 bore (around .47 caliber) was considered adequate, and Isaac Weld, writing about rifles in the late 1780s, gives a range of 30 to 60 bore (.53 down to around .43). Both Hanger and Doddridge should be taken with a grain of salt (Hanger because he tends to exagerate his own expertise, Doddridge because he trying emphasize the contrast between the plain and noble pioneers with the decadent youth of his own day), but they do provide a starting point, and suggest that the average bore for the Revolutionary War period and the decade or so afterwards was a bit less than some of the modern estimations based on surviving guns and a good bit more than the squirrel guns your other website is claiming.

One additional bit of evidence that I recently ran across for what was preferred c. 1790 along the frontier can be found in the correspondence regarding the first rifles produced for the US Army, quoted here: https://americansocietyofarmscollectors.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/1982-B47-Pre-1814-U-S-Martial-Contract-Rifles.pdf
To summarize: When General Hand initially sounded out the gunsmiths about producing rifles for the Army, he initially selected a bore of 45 balls to the pound, or .47 caliber. Henry Knox had this changed to 40 bore (.49 caliber), remarking that he wanted a 32 bore (.53 caliber) but "as prejudices are formed by the frontier in favor of small bores" he would compromise at around .50 caliber.

In 1792 the Chicamauga Cherokee and the Shawnee and other Ohio Indians were still actively resisting White encroachment - the war that had begun in along the frontier in 1775 had continued since that time and did not end until a couple years later. Plus, while I'm not sure when the woodland buffalo was completely eliminated west of the Appalachians, I do believe that the last elk were only killed in Tennessee in 1810. Accordingly, the trend towards sub-.50 calibers was already pronounced prior to the end of hostilities and the complete elimination of big game along the frontier (although big game had been getting scarcer even prior to White settlement), and shouldn't, as it usually is, ascribed to the passing of frontier conditions.
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Offline backsplash75

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Re: Average Bore Size For Rifle Pre 1830 ?
« Reply #10 on: May 24, 2020, 05:41:18 PM »
About .50 seems "average" or "normal"  for 3rd qtr 18thc rifles.

The 87 rifle balls dug from what may have been a target range at Valley Forge were estimated by weight to be .43-49" - this assumes .32-.41s are buckshot and the 44 @ .69 caliber balls were musket sized (Historical Archaeology of the Revolutionary War Encampments of Washington's Army p17). Same books lists refs for .40-.60" for Cowpens, under .60 at Monmouth.


rifle ball @ Ligonier that is a .56"

blue licks KY rifle ball is a .55"

Kent in Susquehanna's Indians on an early Conestoga PA dug rifle: .55 caliber, 35-inch rifled barrel with a flared muzzle.   p247

American Rev War captured rifle @ Woolrich/Tower is a .45

--------------------------------------------------

Virginia Gazette, Purdie, July 26, 1776, page 4



STOLEN from my company of marines, at Fredericksburg, a RIFLE GUN 3 feet 8 or 9 inches barrel, about half an inch bore, with a brass box, marked on the top square of the barrel Frederocksburg, and the maker's name, which I do not remember Whoever brings the said gun to me in Hobb's Hole [Tappahannock] , or to col. Fielding Lewis in Fredericksburg, shall have 20s. reward, paid by GABRIEL JONES, captain.

Virginia Gazette, Purdie, January 12, 1776, page 3




Henry's Quebec account:


Comfort came to me in the shape of lieutenant, now general Nichols, then of Hendricks. He had two hats—he presented me one: Money was out of (he question, an order upon my father, dated at this place, for the price of twelve dollars was accepted, and afterwards in due time, paid honorably. This gun was short, about 45 balls to the pound [44 balls to the pound = 0.474], the stock shattered greatly, and worth about 40 shillings. Necessity has no law. Never did a gun, ill as its appearance was, shoot with greater certainty, and where the ball touched, from its size, it was sure to kill. This observation, trifling as it may seem, ought to induce government to adopt guns of this size, as to length of
barrel, and size of ball.



Col. George Hanger

I never in my life saw better rifles (or men who shot better) than those made in America; they are chiefly made in Lancaster,
 and two or three neighboring towns in that vicinity, in Pennsylvania. The barrels weigh about six pounds two or three ounces,
and carry a ball no larger than thirty-six to the pound;  [36 balls to the pound = 0.506 caliber] at least I never saw one of the larger caliber, and I have seen many hundreds
and hundreds.




order of the Provincial Congress of South Carolina, dated February 24, 1776:

"Resolved, That Mr. Bee, Captain John Huger, [and ten others named] be, and they are hereby appointed, commissioners to contract for the making, or purchasing already made, any number, not exceeding one thousand stand, of good Rifles, with good bridle-locks, and proper furniture, not exceeding the price of thirty Pounds each; the barrels of the Rifles to be made not to weigh less than seven pounds and a half, or be less than three feet eight inches long, and carrying balls of about half an ounce weight [219 grains/.53 cal-0.526 or 218.8 grains]; and those new ones already made, not to be less than three feet four inches long in the barrel." {American Archives, 4th series, V., col. 581).
]


Travels through the states of North America, and the provinces of ..., Volume 1 [1790]
 By Isaac Weld

http://books.google.com/books?id=SgZMAAAAYAAJ&dq=rifle%20patches&pg=PA117#v=onepage&q&f=false



RIFLE GUNS. us style that they do now of the removal os the seat os the federal government, saying, that it must be again changed to Philadelphia; but the necessity of having the seat of the legislature as central as possible in each state is obvious, and if a change does take place again, it is most likely that it will only be to remove the feat still farther from Philadelphia. On the fame principle, the assembly of Virginia meets now at Richmond instead of Williamsburgh, and that of New York state, at Albany instead of the city os New York.Several different kinds of articles are manufactured at Lancaster by German mechanics, individually, principally for the people of the town and the neighbourhood. Rifled barrel guns however are to be excepted, which, although not as handsome as those imported from England, are more esteemed by the hunters, and are sent to every part of the country. The rifled barrel guns, commonly used in America, are nearly of the length of a musket, and carry leaden balls from the size of thirty to sixty [30 = 0.538 60 =0.427] in the pound. Some hunters prefer those of a small bore, because they require but little ammunition; others prefer such as have a wide bore, because the wound which they inflict is more certainly attended with death; the wound, however, made by a ball discharged  from one of these guns, is always very dangerous. The inside of the barrel is fluted, and the grooves run in a spiral direction from one end of the barrel to the other, consequently when the ball comes out it has a, whirling motion round its own axis, at the fame time that it moves forward, and when it enters into the body of an animal, it tears up the flesh in a dreadful manner.
The best of powder is chosen for a rifle barrel gun, and after a proper portion of it is put down the barrel, the ball is inclosed in a small bit of linen rag, well greased at the outside, and then forced down with a thick ramrod. The grease and the bits of rag, which are called patches, are carried in a little box at the butend of the gun. The best rifles are furnished with two triggers, one
 of which being first pulled sets the other, that is, alters the spring, so that it will yield even to the flight touch of a feather. They are also furnished with double sights along the barrel, as fine as those of a surveying instrument. An experienced 'marksman, with one of these guns, will hit an object not larger than a crown piece, to a -certainty, at the distance of one hundred yards.
 Two men belonging to the Virginia rifle regiments a large division of which was quartered in this town during the war, had such a
dependance on each other's dexterity, that the one would hold a piece of board, not more than nine inches square, between his knees, whilst the other shot at it with a ball at the distance of one hundred paces. This they used to do alternately, for the amusement of the town's people, as often as they were called upon. Numbers of people in Lancaster can vouch for the truth of this fact.
Were I, however, to tell you all the stories I have heard of the performances of riflemen, you would think the people were most abominably addicted to lying. A rifle gun will not carry shot, nor will it carry a ball much farther than one hundred yards with certainty.

   

« Last Edit: May 24, 2020, 05:47:58 PM by backsplash75 »

Offline Elnathan

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Re: Average Bore Size For Rifle Pre 1830 ?
« Reply #11 on: May 24, 2020, 06:04:56 PM »
~ .55-.58 balls from archeological contexts could easily by from trade guns. Just because it isn't either musket or buckshot doesn't make it a rifle ball.
A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying...cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects. -Robert A. Heinlein

Online rich pierce

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Re: Average Bore Size For Rifle Pre 1830 ?
« Reply #12 on: May 24, 2020, 07:08:22 PM »
I’m very much early-biased in longrifle taste, fascinated by 1770s and earlier rifles. I do agree that most rifles had relieved muzzles and this can cause the “measurements” of caliber to be over-estimated by up to 2 calibers. A .50 could measure .52 at the muzzle.

In addition to period accounts I find it helpful to look at trade rifles and contract rifles as these were rifles likely intended to be suitable for “most anything you’re likely to encounter” on the frontier.
St. Louis, Missouri

Offline Eddie Southgate

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Re: Average Bore Size For Rifle Pre 1830 ?
« Reply #13 on: May 24, 2020, 07:29:48 PM »
The last known Woodland Bison was killed in 1825 , there were still some few Elk in the 1870's but what I have read says they were considered extinct not later than 1890 .  They were around a lot longer than I was thinking .

 Thanks for the help .


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Offline wmrike

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Re: Average Bore Size For Rifle Pre 1830 ?
« Reply #14 on: May 24, 2020, 07:47:58 PM »
Years ago I surveyed all the published bore sizes I could find.  The sources ran the gamut from Kindig to whatever I could find on Bedford rifles, and everything in between.  I stayed out of Ohio, West Virginia, and points west.  Pretty much Golden Age stuff, with minor amounts of pre-Revolutionary thrown in.  The average bore from 400 rifles was 0.494 - call it 50 caliber.

We could assume that Lancaster-attributed rifles might be skewed toward "early" and would therefore have larger bores.  But that same data set shows the average bore size in 55 Lancaster rifles was 50 caliber. 

Fifty looks like a sweet spot.

Offline Karl Kunkel

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Re: Average Bore Size For Rifle Pre 1830 ?
« Reply #15 on: May 25, 2020, 03:41:56 AM »
Thought I recalled seeing somewhere on here that the average eastern PA bore size ran 49 - 52 caliber, 42 -44 inches long.
Kunk

Offline Eddie Southgate

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Re: Average Bore Size For Rifle Pre 1830 ?
« Reply #16 on: May 25, 2020, 06:34:16 AM »
Thanks for all the info .
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Offline Carney Pace

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Re: Average Bore Size For Rifle Pre 1830 ?
« Reply #17 on: June 02, 2020, 12:52:27 AM »
For along time it was common to describe the bore size in balls to the pound, not in caliber diameter.
Most of the old moulds were stamped that way.  I.E. 32= 32 balls to the pound, 218.7 grains which is approx. .527 dia.

Carney

Offline Seth I.

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Re: Average Bore Size For Rifle Pre 1830 ?
« Reply #18 on: June 02, 2020, 04:36:40 AM »
The 1792 contract rifles were specified to be .50 caliber but are noted by Flayderman to vary between .45-.50 which fits in with the ranges people have generally listed thus far, and I believe most of those I've handled have been within that range as well with maybe a few larger.
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Offline Elnathan

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Re: Average Bore Size For Rifle Pre 1830 ?
« Reply #19 on: June 02, 2020, 02:39:35 PM »
The 1792 contract rifles were specified to be .50 caliber but are noted by Flayderman to vary between .45-.50 which fits in with the ranges people have generally listed thus far, and I believe most of those I've handled have been within that range as well with maybe a few larger.

I was under the impression that there is exactly one 1792 contract rifle still existing, and it has been restocked, rebreeched, and percuss'd over its lifetime. Are there more out there?
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Offline Seth I.

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Re: Average Bore Size For Rifle Pre 1830 ?
« Reply #20 on: June 03, 2020, 01:33:24 AM »
I have no idea how many are out there and haven't actually dug into them in a while. If I recall correctly from reading about them a few years back, I believe surviving documentation relating to the contracts from the 1790s included specifications for calibers and the caliber depending on the specific contracts varied a bit between .45 and .50. Again, I haven't read about them in detail in a while, so I'm not positive on that and don't have time right now unfortunately to go digging through my books to see where I was reading more about them.

Here is what The Rifle Shoppe says about them:
http://www.therifleshoppe.com/catalog_pages/us_arms/(us_contract_rifles).htm
Quote
1792 US Contract Rifle

At the end of 1791, the United States was very worried about the indians on the frontier. With General St. Claire and the American Army so soundly defeated and almost annihilated by the Indians in November 1791. The Government decided to raise a standing army, but needed muskets and rifles desperately. In haste they let contracts to individuals, to make these arms as fast as possible to arm this new army. On January 4, 1792, the Secretary of War, Henry Knox wrote a letter to General Hand in Lancaster, Pennsylvania authorizing him to get with the area gunmakers and contract with them to make 500 to 1000 rifles as quickly as possible. On January 13, 1792, General Hand wrote back and said “he received his letter of the 4th and he had already started the gunsmiths to work preparing the barrels, locks, and mountings and should have some rifles ready in another week and was preparing a standard rifle to work from. After examining a number of guns from different gunshops he settled on a 44 1/2 inches barrel in 47 caliber.” He sent Henry Knox a standard rifle about which Henry Knox then wrote back to General Hand on February 4th, 1792 and told General Hand “he wanted the barrel shortened to 42 inches, the caliber changed to .49, and said the standard rifle was not very well stocked, that the lock needed a fly and that well seasoned maple wood must be used.” Between April 1792 and December 1792, 1,476 rifles were delivered by 11 different gunsmiths (that is 15 guns per month per maker). George Moller shows records in his book that these were issued out as fast as they were finished. The Government still needing more rifles, contracted for more of the same rifle in February 1794. By November 1794 they had 2,000 more finished by 17 gunsmiths in 9 months (that is 14 guns per month per maker). Some of these were rejected and sent back to the gunsmiths to rebuild. Most all the 1792 contract rifles were shipped to Schuykill Arsenal at Philadelphia and issued out from there. The 1792 Contract Rifle was just a plain Pennsylvania-Kentucky Rifle with a 42” Full octagon barrel in .49 caliber with a patchbox. It would have no military styling at all. None of these rifles were ordered with sling swivels. Many of these were also sent to the Indian Trade Department for gifts to the Indians. All 1792 US Contract rifles were manufactured with full octagon barrels.
1807 US Contract Rifle

Because of the high possibility of war with England, the Government put out contracts for rifles, pistols and swords in 1807. The only specifications for the rifles were 38” one third octagon two thirds round barrel in approximately .53 caliber. Once again none of these rifles were ordered with sling swivels. Most of these guns had Germanic locks or forged American locks, but there are examples with Ketland marked locks that could be purchased from the Government. The barrels should be marked US with full length maple stocks. They had simple brass patchboxes, some similar to the 1803 Harpers Ferry, some with different finale’s. From the beginning, there was very poor quality control as to the caliber and workmanship. Many barrels burst when proofing. It was so bad with these rifles that they still had not been issued out by 1810 when they were reinspected and 1,778 of the 1,779 were condemed as unfit for service. The inspector told them “it would have been better to throw the money down the river than to buy these arms.” The rifles were reinspected in 1811 by a new inspector, who upon proofing 16 guns, had 8 burst. He stated “the barrels varied from 8lbs 2oz to 4lbs 3oz in weight. The locks were so bad it was not worth the time even to repair them. The mountings were all different. He suggested they should dispose of them.” Because of the war most were issued out anyway. You will find some of these surviving 1807’s around with 1812 Harpers Ferry locks in them, so it is possible that the government took some of the better ones and fitted new locks to them. I have seen many people building this type of rifle calling them a model 1792, but as you can see by the government specifications they are two totally different rifles. All 1807 US Contract rifles were manufactured with half octagon, half round barrels.
*All opinions expressed here are mine alone and are NOT meant to represent those of any other entity unless otherwise expressly stated.*
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