America’s First Contract Pistol: North & Cheney Model 1799

Lot 1421 in the September 2019 RIA auction.

In 1798, the US Congress allocated a huge sum of money – $800,000 – to the procurement of military equipment to supplement the output of the Springfield Armory. One of the first contracts placed with this money was for 500 .69 caliber flintlock pistols from Simeon North of Berlin, NH. These would actually be the first contract of pistols actually made in their entirety by the contractor for the US – previously the government had procured parts itself and then contracted simply for their final assembly.

North was instructed to basically copy the French model 1777 pistol, but with a slightly longer barrel. This pattern is rather distinctive, with a brass frame and no wooden front hand guard. Cheney was paid $6.50 per pistol, and his production was so satisfactory that before the contract was complete he was given a second contract for another 1,500 guns, at $6.00 each. All 2,000 were delivered by September of 1802, and the work would be the start of a long arms making career for North and his descendants. Today only a tiny number (20 or so) of these Model 1799 pistols survive, making them a very scarce and very interesting piece of US martial history.


  1. The question that seems obvious: is that ramrod long enough? Does it stick back through the frame, and how does that fit?

  2. I think the greater concern in the 1790’s was Revolutionary France. Remember we waged a Quasi-war against the French Republic and almost became an ally of Britain. “In President John Adams’s annual message to Congress at the close of 1797, he reported on France’s refusal to negotiate a settlement and spoke of the need “to place our country in a suitable posture of defense”.[

    • Surely this was the origin of “Millions for defense, but one not one cent for tribute!”

      Ian and assembled, let me just recommend you to the mid-century murder mystery Murder In The Gunroom by H. Beam Piper. It is available in the public domain and among the luscious collection assembled by the murder victim is the North and Cheney flintlock. Anyone who likes guns will like that story.

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