Museum Object File Information:
Accession Number: JM76.026
Collection: Laurence Gouverneur Hoes Collection
Category: 5: Armaments
The catalog information presented below contains many incorrect and superficial assumptions and conclusions regarding the composition and provenance of this artifact. While there is a good amount of correct information, in many cases it is used to form conclusions about the artifact that are subjective at best, and utterly wrong at worst. The research citations are also limited.
Original Description: Flintlock gun. An iron ramrod is connected to the barrel of the gun. The stock is carved with the initials, “J M – W M -76.” The stock has seven components, including a brass side plate, two iron bands, an iron sling ring, an iron trigger plate and trigger guard and an iron butt plate.
During the American Revolution, the Continental Congress could not afford to supply all of the colonial troops with standard issue rifles or muskets. As a result, colonial soldiers often used their own hunting muskets and shot guns [ConnieWebb, “A Possible James Monroe Object: The Marked Gun” (Student paper, HISP 310: The Decorative Arts, April 1988). Her source for this statement is James E. Hicks, Notes on U.S. Ordnance (published by the author, 1940), i-iii]. This muzzle-loading flintlock gun belonged to James Monroe and, according to family history, he carried it with him when he fought in the Revolutionary War [LGH Inventory].
While he did bring this gun to the College of William and Mary, it is highly unlikely that he ever used it in the war [Monroe joined the Third Virginia Regiment in June, 1776. The regiment was outfitted with “Pennsylvania” rifles. Hanser, Glorious Hour of Lt. Monroe (New York: Athenaeum, 1975), 37; and Ashley Halsey, weapons identification expert, in an interview with Lee Langston-Harrison, Curator, and Connie Webb, MWC student, on March 25, 1988, verified that the gun was used as a fowling or sports piece, not a military weapon — the absence of a notch for a bayonet and the double-blade sight (rather than a single blade or pinhead sight) seem to confirm this statement]. The gun is crudely made, put together from parts of older firearms. Some of the parts may be French and English in origin, but the gun itself is American-made, probably by Monroe himself, or by a slave on the Monroe Hall property [Webb, “The Marked Gun,” 4. During the interview with Webb and Langston-Harrison, Mr. Halsey examined the gun and made the statement that the piece was “hand-made” from parts of other (and older) guns. It was his theory that the gun was assembled by a slave or the young Monroe]. The style of the piece is interesting — a cross between a sporting and a military gun. The hand-carved walnut stock, called a “half stock,” does not run the full length of the barrel, a typical trait of sporting guns (though it is possible that this was cut down from an original “full stock”). The butt of the stock has a “fish belly” shape, typical of American design [Ibid. Halsey suggests that this is a “typical Hudson River Valley” design. So too, the “comb,” which is unusually “high and thick,” suggesting an American make.]. The stock has seven components, including a brass side plate, two iron bands, an iron sling ring, an iron trigger plate and trigger guard and an iron butt plate — an interesting combination of military and sporting gun parts. The firearm’s “double throat cock” is shaped like a swan’s neck and is typical of French arms made between 1760 and 1800. Double throat cocks were typically used on military guns.
The barrel of the gun, a twelve-gauge, is octagonal for the first ten inches and then is rounded off for another four, a popular shape in the 18th century [Webb, “The Marked Gun,” 5].
An iron ramrod is connected to the barrel of the gun. Ramrods were used to push the ball and powder down the barrel. Iron ramrods were typically used for military guns in the 18th and 19th centuries. Hunting guns usually had wooden ramrods [Ibid., 6]. But the absence of a notch for a bayonet indicates this was not a military gun.
The gun is referred to as a “flintlock” because of the firing mechanism. The cock holds a piece of flint. When the gun is fired, the flit strikes against a piece of steel sending sparks into the powder pan. The powder ignites, flashes through a touch hole in the chamber, and frees the main load. The gun is not a rifle because it lacks the corkscrew grooves inside the barrel which would spin the projectile [Ibid., 2].
The stock is carved with the initials, “J M – W M – 76.” According to Monroe family history, these letters and numbers carved by Monroe stand for “James Monroe, William and Mary, 1776” [LGH Inventory]. It was typical of the period for gun owners to carve their initials into their guns to prove ownership [Webb, “The Marked Gun,” 7], though it is impossible at this time to say whether or not Monroe actually carved the initials himself.
While more extensive research is needed on this artifact, following is a brief summary of background information on French military muskets, as well as observed features of this artifact and their contexts (for reference, see article “The Revolutionary Charleville” by George Neumann, American Rifleman magazine, online at http://www.jaegerkorps.org/NRA/The%20Revolutionary%20Charleville.htm):
- The weapon is composed of elements from several different versions of French military and civilian muskets, encompassing years of manufacture from 1717 to 1777. Although produced at French arsenals in several towns, these weapons are generally called “Charlevilles” after the arsenal at Charleville-Mézières, Ardennes.
- Charlevilles were imported in large numbers into North America during the colonial period. Civilian models were carried by settlers and fur traders, and were supplied to Native Americans through trade and alliance with France. Further influxes of Charlevilles to the continent occurred during the French and Indian War (1754-1763) and Amercan Revolutionary War (1775-1783). During the latter conflict, Charlevilles were used both by the Continental Army and by French troops.
- Certain features present on this artifact correlate to known features on various models of Charlevilles produced over 70 years (1717-1777). Examples include the lockplate design (beginning with Model 1770); sling ring (dating from models produced prior to 1728); and sharply-combed, relatively straight stock (beginning with Model 1763). Other features are relatively crude, nonmilitary substitutions, such as the trigger guard and barrel bands.
- The musket’s barrel has had several inches crudely sawed off at the muzzle, eliminating the bayonet lug and muzzle cap that were common to Charlevilles models beginning in 1728. Roughly half the stock under the barrel has been removed. Both of these alterations are commonly found in smoothbore military long arms of the 18th and 19th centuries that were adapted for hunting use as fowling pieces.
- The initials “JM” and “WM,” and the year “1774” carved into the stock may be period markings, or may have been added later.
- While the features of the musket indicate considerable alteration, it is uncertain whether this occurred during the Revolutionary War era or at another time. The family tradition of James Monroe’s use of the weapon as a boy in Westmoreland County prior to joining the Continental Army in 1776 does not appear to be supported by the observable evidence. However, it is possible that Monroe acquired this weapon during the war. Further research and investigation is needed to determine whether the stock carvings are authentic.
Provenance: James Monroe – – – – Laurence G. Hoes – JMMF – State of VA.
Collector: James Monroe Museum and Memorial Library
Used: possibly carried while in Revolutionary War
Made: handmade by Monroe or a slave on the Monroe Hall property
Originally Owned By: James Monroe
Place of Origin: United States
Citation: “Musket.” JM76.026. James Monroe Museum and Memorial Library.
Halsey, Ashley and Lee Langston-Harrison, interview by Connie Webb, March 25, 1988.
Hanser, Richard. Glorious Hour of Lt. Monroe. New York: Athenaeum, 1975.
Hicks, James E. Notes on U.S. Ordnance. Published by the author, 1940.
Neumann, George.“The Revolutionary Charleville” American Rifleman magazine, http://www.jaegerkorps.org/NRA/The%20Revolutionary%20Charleville.htm
Webb, Connie, “A Possible James Monroe Object: The Marked Gun”, Student paper, HISP 310: The Decorative Arts, April 1988, 2,4-7.