supplied by the British to the Indian allies in Canada have
always attracted the attention of collectors paying high
However, the pistols given to Indians during the War of
1812 and later have often escaped notice and are still
reasonability priced. It has been thought by several
collectors I know suggest that “this weapon just
doesn’t look like very distinctive in Indian appearance and
most collectors do not know how to identify them”. The
best source of information about these pistols is an article
by DeWitt Bailey in the Museum of the Fur Trade Quarterly
(Vol. 21, No. 1, 1985). Entitles “Those Board of Ordnance
Indian Guns - Again!”
The article states: Britain had always supplied trade gods
to their Indian friends in order to assure their continued
loyalty and reward them for services rendered. Many of these
gifts included firearms, gunpowder and lead for bullets. In
the early 1700s, the Board of Ordnance supplied these weapons.
But this stopped in 1753, and the Board of Trade started
purchasing them on the open market with contractors of their
choice. Gunmaker Richard Wilson and his son William received
almost all of this business during the remainder of the 1700s.
When the American Revolution ended, British gifts to
Indians slowed to a trickle – especially weapons. When the
War of 1812 broke out, there was a sudden rush to arm
Britain’s Indian allies for defense of Canada. Because of
Canada’s population was so small at that time, Indian
assistance would be critical to any successful strategy. This
became increasingly apparent following the winter of 1812/13.
The first request dates to March 26, 1813. Documents
indicate that longarms and pistols were built to general
patterns that had already been used for previous Indian gifts.
Barrels and locks passed through Ordnance stores were sent out
to contractors for assembly into complete weapons. All
contractors were regular Board of Ordnance contractors.
Board of Ordnance Proof Marks
PRE - 1813 BIRMINGHAM PROOF MARKS
LATER - BIRMINGHAM
However, they were not required to make the Indian weapons
to the same standards as normal British military weapons,
especially when it came to uniformity. The barrels have
Ordnance inspector’s marks (a crown over a numeral), but
other parts so not seem to have gone through a full
inspection. These other parts (not all) only have Ordnance
storekeeper’s marks with government ownership marks being
applied to the locks and stocks. Shown are a few markings that
Dr. Bailey is referring too.
The first bill for payment of these Indian gift weapons is
dated September 30, 1813. Of the 11,690 weapons in the
original order, 1,000 were pistols. However, by 1816 the total
for all classes of weapons had grown to 26,786 with many
pistols included. Dr. Bailey was able to provide a list of
makers who were involved in these contracts: see chart.
John Gill 943
Thomas Hampton 1,135
Richard & Wm Hollis 1,215
Ketland & Allport 2,779
Ketland, Walker & Co. 2,983
Thomas Lowndes 1,267
Morris & Grice 1,821
Thomas Moxham 1,532
William J. Rolfe 1,335
Ramsay & Richard Sutherland 2,587
Henry & John Whateley 1,580
Robert Wheeler & Son 1,491
Willets & Holden 1,194
Of this grand total of
26,786 weapons, only 2,636 were pistols. The others were
Common Guns, Chief’s Guns or Rifles. Amongst the pistols,
531 were delivered in 1813, 1,319 were delivered in 1814, 786
were delivered in 1815 and none were delivered in 1816.
Note that all of the gunmakers in Bailey’s list were
regular Ordnance contractors and that most of them supplied
guns for the civilian trade as well. Some of them even made
guns that were sold to Indians through private sellers per
My father started collecting antique firearms in 1920
according to my Grandmother, his favorite were guns involved
with North America. Needless to say I grew up with antique
weapons ranging from wheel-locks, match-locks, flintlocks,
early cartridge conversions to WWII weapons. Then there were
always swords, sabers, knives, bayonets and spears, don’t
for get powder horns, flasks and ball/bullet molds. My
interest came by association with our house inventory my
mother claimed, “how could he have gotten interested in
anything that wasn’t related to his father’s interests”.
When we had an assignment in school I wrote about American
History, antique arms of North America and those that used
them. My friends had little interest in the antiques; their
real interest was in guns they could hunt with (modern).
My interest went even further as we lived in Eastern
Pennsylvania (history country). Living near Valley Forge Park
and having ridden by bike over hills there collecting bits and
pieces found in my travels of past encampments, once having a
driver’s license my ranging was Gettysburg and other
historical sites adding to my collection.
In the early ‘50s re-enactments were starting to appear,
not much for choices; Rev. War or Civil War, nothing like
today. My main interest was the mountain man (Davey Crockett
series was just starting on TV). The “Leather Stocking”
series was my reading material; this interest hasn’t changed
in 60 years.
In the early 70s I started writing stories about a few
friends and my experiences; shooting black-powder, primitive
camping, cooking, knife and hawk throwing contests, etc.
Surprisingly others started writing about their outings and
events they were involved with, we shared information every
issue. This writing experience was a tool to reach others with
like interests that has continued since those early years.
I wanted to share this information so you would understand
my background and interest in the early flintlock pistols
mentioned. Dr. DeWitt Bailey researches and writes about
historic guns, their makers, those connected with the British
Board of Ordnance (English Proofing).
My father and I collected North American made firearms,
trading guns of builders from other countries for additional
American Arms. For over a half century we have had medium to
very large collections. One “grouping” my father’s
reference to our wares was over 400 weapons. Those
“groupings” have changed several times with his and my
Through the years as we both grew older our interests
changed from wheel-locks, match-locks, and early cartridge
conversions firearms probably because of the numbers. The
swords, sabers, knives, bayonets and spears found themselves
on the chopping block as did other accessories like the powder
horns and flasks. Our interests were directed to NRA 80% or
better - excellent to fine condition and a time frame of the
French and Indian War to the War of 1812 or a few years later.
My father was a personal friend of Turner Kirkland of
“Dixie Gun Works” fame; this was a long friendship that
started in the mid 40s until Turner’s passing. A good source
for what we needed. We also knew many noted museum curators
along with well known private collectors in North America. It
was funny how the field got smaller of available items of
interest with our new plan for a collection.
With this new mindset we spent our evenings talking to
other collectors and weekends at gun shows, selling, trading
or swapping for weapons wanted and moving old inventory no
longer interested in. This became a double edge sword, seeing
weapons that I grew up with leaving was sad, but then it was
exciting to see prime American made arms coming to our new
can not believe the number of weapons available that were
American made, fitting our time frame. That in some cases guns
found weren’t even good parts guns. With my fathers
connection with Dixie Gun Works, the museums and serious
collectors we saw hundreds of weapons that fit our specs.
When you set your standards high the field of available
items of interest gets narrow very fast, now looking at a
number of weapons at a time and passing on 9 out of 10 viewed.
Finally after 5 year (preset time limit) we had a nice
collection of approximately 30 arms.
The pistol pictured below was a survivor from my fathers
earliest collecting. This pistol came from an estate sale in
1928, seems some of General Anthony Wayne’s household items
became available with a remodel of the carriage house making
new quarters for the chauffer and other servants that cared
for the estate. Along with the pistol came a bamboo sword cane
of late 1700s or a little earlier and a few other smaller
In appearance, size, lock design, barrel and breeching
along with calibers and common details they look like the
British Board of Ordnance pistols made by Blair, Dawes or
Ketland. For most part to the average collector (not
specialized in just American made only) they think the pistol
is English, with no Board of Ordnance proof marks?
American Indian Trade Pistol - War of 1812
American Trade Pistol - General Anthony
Wayne’s estate sale 1928.
Some small American contractors that furnished common guns,
rifles, and pistols (not Chief’s guns) had barrels and locks
that had no markings like their counterparts. These guns are
becoming harder to fine now that it’s found there aren’t
as many survivors as once thought.
Common stampings found on NW Company guns, in some cases
the only approval mark found on the entire gun.
The North West Company used the “fox” stamping
and had adopted the “fox in the circle” - facing to
the right with its tail lying down. The reorganization
of “Hudson’s Bay Company and the North West Company in
1821”, “The Hudson’s Bay Company adopted another
style “fox”, this one is facing to the left
and has an upstanding tail, in a rectangle with a rounded top,
thus called the “tombstone fox”.
Stamping found on HBC & NWC guns. In some cases the
only approval mark found on the gun.
name “Northwest Gun” is not derived from the North West
Company. As early as 1761, the internal correspondence of the
Hudson’s Bay Company contains reference to “the N W
Guns.” Per company records the North West Company was not an
enduring organization until 1783 - 84. (Hanson 15). The true
nor’westers of the early 19th century still used the term;
example, David Thompson a known trader for the North West
Company in 1811, showed in his records for items of trade,
“8 N W Guns” valued at 16 beaver a
This is only one
example of many found, that the “N W Gun” was a general
term when referring to this trade article.
Tryon & Son
Leman along with
a number of other contractors worked with the “Commissioner
of Indian Affairs”. This is just a few of the
more common makers seen, there are many found that are
called by their state’s name; example “New
England Contract Militia Musket” or “Pennsylvania
Contract Militia Musket” along with the other
states names from the original 13 colonies.
are just a few of the better known producers of American
“Inspector Marked” arms.
I have several common rifles, rifles and pistols with just
inspector markings or other militia markings. One has several
militia stamps found on the wood, one mark on the butt and
another near the tang area. “With no markings these guns
are less desirable because of the lack of the “Inspector
Marks”, the advanced collector’s thoughts. You
wouldn’t believe how many times we have heard that
AN AMERICAN FIRM’S SUCCESS:
George W. Tryon was apprenticed to a Philadelphia gunsmith,
Frederick Goetz. Tryon became a partner in just a few months;
George bought out the older partner. Gunmaking was mainly done
by hand in the early years. The Tryon shop was located almost
across the street from the “Camel Tavern” and the famous
old “Buck Tavern”. Tryon and his workman did not have far
to go for a tankard of ale.
From 1817 to 1837 Tryon founded three separate companies:
Tryon & Son, Geo. W. Tryon & Co. - and Tryon, Merrick
& Co. - importers of military and Indian Trade Guns often
sold to such customers as the Commonwealth
of Pennsylvania, the
Republics of Maryland and South Carolina.
To show the costs; they received an order for 1000
flintlock rifled guns of approximately .45 cal at $12.50 each
from the Commission of Indian Affairs. For this sum they were
required to furnish the following accessories with each rifle:
Each rifle shall be enclosed in a first rate woolen cover,
they shall be secured in strong boxes, no more than
twenty-five per box. Each rifle shall be delivered with a
bullet mold, a wiper, a charger and every other implement
necessary to make a complete “outfit”. As low as $12.50
for a rifle and all accessories, and much lower prices for the
smoothbore flintlock Indian Trade Guns. As were some other
weapons designed for the Indian trade by Tryon as later
These guns made for the Indian Trade have always appealed
to me being cheaper, a little easier to find and just a little
different with their history.
The old statement we have all heard “there’s nothing
that won’t change as research improves and continues”
is so true.
Just think of how history was changed when Otzi (The
Iceman) found in the Alps in 1991. His copper ax changed
history books by moving the “Copper Age” back thousands
of years. He changed history again with being the
oldest human found in tack and changed it one more time
being the oldest human ever found fully clothed with all
his accouterments. That’s just one example of how modern
research and methods will continue to make our understanding
of material things and life in general clearer and more
Prices on Indian Guns today, inspector marked or not
We had a trade gun at the Museum of the Fur Trade was in
average condition, NRA 68%-70% good condition. Charles E.
Hanson, Jr. looked it over, pulled the lock looking to see if
it had once been converted and reconverted, he started his
bidding wanting the gun for the museum. Charley started to try
and buy the gun in hand, bidding over the two thousand dollars
mark, my father looked at me and told me to “kick his
butt” for not buying more of these damn “cheap guns”.
Dad then told Charley he had paid $1.25 for a converted gun
(not there at the time) and $1.50 for the untouched gun he was
looking at in 1922 or 1923. Mr. Hanson about lost it when it
finally registered what was said.
Pretty good return on your money, when by the turn of the
century (2000), either one of the guns was valued at well over
the $3,000.00 mark. Who said “antique guns weren’t a
good investment”! NRA poor to good condition American
made NW trade guns are bringing over $1,500.00. NRA very good
to excellent condition are over $3,000.00. Additional money is
added for age, maker, limited numbers, inspector marked or not
and any information on who may have used the gun originally.
Just in the last few years, the interest has grown, so have
the prices on the originals, the old story of “supply and
Fun stuff folks “keep your eyes open and your ear to
the ground” is one of my favorite saying and pretty much
can be used with many situations.
Take care; hope I didn’t bore you too much or get off the
subject to far. That’s one problem you’ll find when
researching history, American History is easier to follow than
that of Europe. One reason is the United States of America is
a baby when compared to other countries that have factories
and foundries that are older than we are.
Bailey, DeWitt,“THOSE BOARD OF ORDNANCE INDIAN
GUNS-AGAIN!” The Museum of the Fur Trade Quarterly, Spring
Blackmore, Howard L., “GUNMAKERS OF LONDON 1350
-1850”. York, PA , 1986. 126-127.
Bailey, DeWitt and Nie, Douglas, “ENGLISH GUNMAKERS.
LONDON ”, 1978. 43.
Rywell, Martin, “GUN COLLECTOR'S GUIDE”.
1961-1962 Edition, Pioneer Press. Harriman, Tennessee.
Gluckman, Arcadi, Col. & Satterlee, L.D., "American
Gunmakers", Harrisburg, PA : Stackpole Co., 1940.
Conner, Barry, “Buck”., “Success in the North
American Fur Trade”, Historical Enterprises, Mason,
Carey, Merwyn. A., "American Firearms Makers",
New York, NY : Thomas Y. Crowell Co., 1953.