1792 Contract Rifle in Original Flintlock

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plmeek

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Not having access to Frank Tait's article, I don't know what his source is for 382 rifles being in Harper's Ferry when Lewis visited and how they are identified as some of the 1792 Contract Rifles.
kansas_volunteer says he has received copies of Man at Arms with Tait's articles and will report on what Tait gives as source information on the 382 rifles at Harper's Ferry. In the meantime, I found that Moller has provided the likely source in his chapter on "Model 1803 Harpers Ferry Rifle."

This is from Moller's Vol. 2, page 337.
Rifles at Harpers Ferry in 1801.jpg


So the rifles were moved from other repositories in Virginia to the new storage facilities at Harper's Ferry.

Interesting that Moller considered that they may have been rifles from the Revolutionary War!

He also acknowledges the other possibility that they may have been 1792 Contract Rifles from Wayne's campaign. Does anyone know what units were from Virginia that participated in Wayne's campaign?
 

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So the rifles were moved from other repositories in Virginia to the new storage facilities at Harper's Ferry.

Interesting that Moller considered that they may have been rifles from the Revolutionary War!

He also acknowledges the other possibility that they may have been 1792 Contract Rifles from Wayne's campaign. Does anyone know what units were from Virginia that participated in Wayne's campaign?
kansas_volunteer says he has received copies of Man at Arms with Tait's articles and will report on what Tait gives as source information on the 382 rifles at Harper's Ferry. In the meantime, I found that Moller has provided the likely source in his chapter on "Model 1803 Harpers Ferry Rifle."

This is from Moller's Vol. 2, page 337.
View attachment 86877

So the rifles were moved from other repositories in Virginia to the new storage facilities at Harper's Ferry.

Interesting that Moller considered that they may have been rifles from the Revolutionary War!

He also acknowledges the other possibility that they may have been 1792 Contract Rifles from Wayne's campaign. Does anyone know what units were from Virginia that participated in Wayne's campaign?
Phil,

I may be reading the Moller info you replied somewhat differently than you are.

As I noted back on page 6 in my post #112, when Wayne's Rifle Sub Legion became the 3rd U.S. Infantry, they would have been issued Muskets and turned in their 1792 Rifles.

The way I read the Moller info is those Rifles turned in from Wayne's Rifle Sub Legion were then stored at New London and Shepardstown until Harpers Ferry was able to take them.

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The Tait article is fact packed. I should probably read through it again and make notes to share here. The first thing he does is dispell the notion Lewis designed the 1803 rifle. HF did not receive the written order to begin designing the rifle until after Lewis departed.

A lot of space is devoted to tracking the movements of the 1792/1794 contract rifles. Some were issued to troops suppressing the Whiskey Rebellion, and then returned to storage.

As for slings on the Lewis and Clark rifles they were there. Engravings by artists known for precision depicting Lewis on his return in 1806 show him with a longrifle fitted with sling swivels. Tait found four contract rifles none of which have slings. These rifles were refitted with 1803 HF locks, but the locks are dated 1812, a year HF made no rifles. One of the four rifles, by Dickert, originally had a patch box cover nearly identical to that on the later 1803 rifles.

It was interesting to learn 1792 rifles were not marked US near the breech. That wasn't done until the 1794 contract when the preferred marking was United States, with US being acceptable.

A letter writer commented on Tait's article and Tait responded. That response runs a page and a quarter in 6 point type. I'll need my glasses and good light to get through it.
 

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It seems that Lewis first joined the Virginia militia, then the 1st infantry. An apparently drunken incident including a challenge to a duel ensued at some point, whereupon Lewis was transfered to a rifle sub legion of Mad Anthony Wayne's, commanded by William Clark. After that things apparently went smoother.
Auspicious beginnings to the Corp of Discovery for sure. This new information coming in suggests to me that the same group of rifles from Lewis' service days in the rifle company may have been present at Harper's Ferry when he arrived. I am not sure that idea has been advanced before. This line of thought is getting interesting.
 

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The ongoing theft of arms was a recurring theme during the Revolution, and apparently the US or United States marking was stamped on the contract rifles for the same reason. The government could hardly reclaim a rifle, even if justified, without a property marking. The Charleyville musket from the Revolution pictured in "The Book of Rifles" is clearly branded "United States" on the stock. I would think the practice would have been well established by 1792. Possibly an oversight in the paperwork resulted in the first batch not getting stamped? I would think any rifle coming into a Government facility without a stamp would have had one added pretty quickly
 
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Artificer

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Phil,

I may be reading the Moller info you replied somewhat differently than you are.

As I noted back on page 6 in my post #112, when Wayne's Rifle Sub Legion became the 3rd U.S. Infantry, they would have been issued Muskets and turned in their 1792 Rifles.

The way I read the Moller info is those Rifles turned in from Wayne's Rifle Sub Legion were then stored at New London and Shepardstown until Harpers Ferry was able to take them.

Gus
OK, I've been going into the U.S. Army records for the original 1st-4th U.S. Regiments founded in 1796, that came from Wayne's Legion's 1st-4th Sub Legions.

I realized I mistakenly wrote about a Rifle Sub Legion earlier, after looking these things up.

In fact, EACH of Wayne's original four Sub Legions had a Rifle Bn in it. So that meant there were four Rifle Bn's and that would explain why the figures Phil gave from Moller originally were that most of the first 1792's were sent to Fort Pitt for the Legion's four Rifle Battalions.

Now, when those four Sub Legions got turned into the "regular" U.S. 1st through 4th Infantry Regiments, they would have turned the rifles in after obtaining enough muskets to replace them.

I imagine the 100 rifles sent to Staunton were for a Militia formed/encamped there and would then join Wayne's forces, but I have no documentation for that. However if not for that, it was a secure enough area to store rifles on the Eastern Edge of the Blue Ridge/Appalachian mountains. Perhaps something like a "forward supply storage point or depot" as we would think about it today.

VERY much looking forward to the Tait article info from Kansas Volunteer.

Gus
 

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It seems that Lewis first joined the Virginia militia, then the 1st infantry. An apparently drunken incident including a challenge to a duel ensued at some point, whereupon Lewis was transfered to a rifle sub legion of Mad Anthony Wayne's, commanded by William Clark. After that things apparently went smoother.
Auspicious beginnings to the Corp of Discovery for sure. This new information coming in suggests to me that the same group of rifles from Lewis' service days in the rifle company may have been present at Harper's Ferry when he arrived. I am not sure that idea has been advanced before. This line of thought is getting interesting.
Actually I brought it up a few pages back as informed speculation and more recently Phil brought it up from Moller's book.

Gus
 

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Another line of research has brought forth information that the Contract Rifles were built fairly light, and in the very nearly .50 military caliber would have been fairly obnoxious kickers. Probably not the best choice to bore out to a larger caliber. There are many wonderful attributes to a light heavy caliber hunting rifle, but not one you are going to shoot a great deal. A careful look at the existing buffalo rifles from the west reveals a tendency for heavy barrels. They were transported in wagons or horseback usually, shot from a stand, kicked like all creation and heavy was good for the necessary 100 shot +- strings. It seems the expedition rifles were used and shot a great deal, but those guys were men unaccustomed to the usual comforts, so maybe it was not a deal.
 

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The slung and bayoneted militia rife is turning up somewhat more often than I first thought. Not hanging on every wall, but one or two here and there. None of them can be documented as Contract rifles, but apparently the idea was out there. Possibly individuals who lived in the outmost frontier areas realized the possibility of doing military duty occasionally and had there normal subsidence rifles built to a more military spec. A sword bayoneted one? Hardly. Only the Baker rifle was available at the time, and it was a continent away.
 

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I found some time to do a bit of research on Indian Saddles that you pointed out. I am of the opinion that the Indian saddle evolved mostly from contact with the mountain men and soldiers. The Plains Indian was nobody's fool, and leatherwork was a way of life with them. I am pretty sure they developed working saddles that suited their needs nicely, but all of the early vintage pictures I could find showed the braves mounted bareback without so much as a blanket. The plains Indians of Lewis's time had very little contact with whites, white contact slowed steadily after Fort Mandan then began picking up again as he entered the Columbia and began to approach the Willamette Valley.
 

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The Continuing Saga of the Ketland Contract Locks

In Post #68 of this thread, 4575wcf posted this photo of a McCormick Horse Pistol ca. 1797 w/ Ketland Contract 3/4 Lock.


Unfortunately, 4575wcf didn't provide a source for the picture or the reference to a McCormick Horse Pistol ca. 1797 w/ Ketland Contract 3/4 Lock.

I spent some time searching the internet for the source of the photo, which I never found. I did find a copy of Ed Bitter's ASAC paper on "The McCormick Pistol Mystery - An Update". A few hours later, 4575wcf posted his Post #70 where he quoted some info from Ed Bitter's paper and finally gave the reference for it.

Ed Bitter's ASAC paper is very interesting and does provide some more information on the Ketland contract locks that's not mentioned in Moller's section on the Ketland locks. The most striking difference is that Moller didn't call the 1550 locks delivered on Aug 5, 1800 as 3/4 locks as the documentation that Bitter cited clearly does. I'm not sure why that wasn't important enough to Moller mention. I assume he was aware of Bitter's article as he is listed on the ASAC's website as a member -- George D. Moller (1933-2021). In his defense, Moller's primary area on interest and expertise was shoulder arms, and he may not have paid as much attention to military pistols.

Moller may not have fully understood what the meaning of "3/4 United States hardened locks". The use of "3/4" to designate a type or size of a Ketland lock may have been unique to Ketland or at least to English gun makers and dealers. I'm not sure that I've seen it used by American gun makers or merchants of the period. It is a bit of a misnomer as the dimensions that Bitter gives for his example locks are larger than three quarters of the larger 6+ inch locks that Moller describes. The fraction "7/8" would be a more accurate term to use.

In any event, the information in Bitter's paper shows that there was a lot more variety in the Ketland contract locks than Moller assumed. I think it's worth reviewing Bitter's information.

Bitter describes and shows pictures of five locks--four are from pistols and one from what he calls an "Indian musket lock." I'm not sure what "Indian musket" he is referring to. The U.S. government had rifles, a few smooth rifles, a Model 1807 Springfield Indian Carbine (smoothbore), and a bunch of Northwest trade guns made for Indians as treaty and annuity presents and trade items in the U.S. Factory System.

Moller describes and has pictures of a McCormick marked smooth rifle made with a Ketland lock marked "UNITED STATES" on the tail on pages 368-370. But this gun has 6½" lock, so it's not the same "musket" and lock that Bitter pictures.

Bitter's locks are as follows:
  1. is a McCormick marked U.S. Horseman's Pistol with a 5-13/16 inch long lock
  2. is a McCormick marked Ship's Pistol with a 5-12/16 inch long lock
  3. is a McCormick Ship's Pistol with a 5-8/16 inch long lock - the lock is stamped "KETLAND & Co" but not UNITED STATES
  4. is a Ship's Pistol by an unknown maker with a 5-11/16 inch long lock with the typical Ketland contract lock markings
  5. is the "Ketland Indian musket" lock which is 5-13/16 inches long and stamped "KETLAND & Co" with "UNITED STATES" on the tail
These locks range from 5-13/16 inches to 5-1/2 inches long. Only two are of the same length. They vary in markings with three having "KETLAND & Co" engraved in script letters and two with it stamped in block letters. All but one has "UNITED STATES" on the tail. The one without "UNITED STATES" on the tail may be a commercial Ketland lock and not a Ketland contract lock but Bitter still considers the pistol as a likely government Ship's Pistol.

Lock on Pistol #1 -- 5-13/16" plate
Ketland Contract Lock_1 copy.jpg


Lock on Pistol #2 -- 5-3/4" plate
Ketland Contract Lock_2.jpg


Lock on Pistol #4 -- 5-11/16" plate. This lock has been reconverted to flint.
Ketland Contract Lock_4.jpg


Lock #5 on "Indian musket" -- 5-13/16" plate
Ketland Contract Lock_5.jpg


Lock on Pistol #3 -- 5-1/2" plate
Ketland Contract Lock_3.jpg


I showed the lock on Pistol #3 last because it's probably not a Ketland contract lock but rather a commercial lock that the gun builder purchased from a merchant or directly from the Ketland import house in Philadelphia. It isn't very visible in the photo, but the lock on Pistol #3 has "KETLAND & Co" stamped like Lock #5 rather than engraved like the other three locks.

This is just a tiny sampling of the 3,000 rifle locks that the government purchased from Ketland, but it is still interesting that no two of these locks are exactly alike. Lock #1 and Lock #5 are the only two that are the same length. Locks #1 and #2 and possibly #5 (the photo is too dark to tell for sure) have similar bridles on the tumbler and sears, but they aren't exactly the same. The bridles and sears on Locks #3 and #4 are distinctly different.

The mainsprings on all five locks are different. One wonders how much difference there is in the location of the stud on each and the lengths of their short and long legs. The frizzen springs are not the same. They each have different finials and some appear to be different in size.

There are decorative details in the tail of each lock that are different and there are some differences in the shape of the tail. The cocks are similar, but not exactly alike.

There has been some discussion about the challenges of replacing an existing lock on a finished rifle with a new lock. There are some critical dimensions that need to be met for it to be practical:
  • The new lock should be the same or slightly larger in length and height than the old lock to fill up the existing lock mortise
  • The distance from the center of the pan to the bar of the sear should be the same or else the trigger may need to be relocated and/or modified
  • Since the Ketland locks had the sidelock screw holes already drilled those locations need to be the same on the old and new locks or new holes would need to be drilled through the stock
Now fitting 15 different locks to 15 rifles at Harper's Ferry wouldn't be that big a task. But Lewis also wanted 15 spare locks, and since he didn't know which lock on which rifle was going to need repairing or replacing, all 30 locks needed to be the same size and the same critical dimensions listed in the bullet points above. He also knew that the repairs and replacements would be done in the wilderness with limited tools available compared to what was accessible at Harper's Ferry.

If he had several hundred Ketland locks to chose from and several hundred rifles to pick from and given enough time, he could have likely found 15 suitable rifles and 30 suitable locks. But it would not have been a trivial task and would have taken some time.

Ideally, it would be best to have the hundreds of rifles and hundreds of locks at the same location to get the best match of both. As far as we know, that could only have been accomplished at Schuylkill Arsenal. Even though there were 300+ rifles at Harper's Ferry, there is no record showing that any of the Ketland contract locks had been sent there.

Ed Bitter's ASAC paper also helps explain why that is the case. Bitter lists six gunmakers that received parts from Schuylkill Arsenal to build pistols and the dates that these gunmakers returned the finished pistols to the Arsenal. All six gunmakers were in the Philadelphia area at the time, though some had worked in New Jersey previously.

Moller found records that Robert McCormick and John Miles also made rifles for the Office of Indian Trade using Ketland locks from Schuylkill Arsenal.

Moller also noted that Joseph Henry of Philadelphia and John Guest of Lancaster received Ketland locks from the government to build 1807 Contract Rifles. These same gunmakers are recorded to have received Ketland locks for rifles they made for the Indian Department in 1808 and 1809.

The surviving records show that Ketland contract locks from Schuylkill were utilized by Pennsylvania gunmakers to make pistols and rifles for the Army, Navy, and Indian Department.

From 1790 to 1800, Philadelphia was the capital for the United States. Even after the President and Congress relocated to the new capital, Washington, D.C., in 1800, they were still building the buildings and offices for various departments and agencies. Philadelphia continued to be the home for many of these departments and agencies for several years after 1800. The Purveyor of Public Supplies was one of these positions that remained in Philadelphia.

U.S. Musket and rifle contracts from the late 1790s and early 1800s were to gunmakers in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Vermont, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. None were to Virginia gunmakers.

This may have been because there weren't that many gunmakers in Virginia, and those that were, didn't have the capacity to make large numbers of guns required by the U.S. contracts. When the Virginia Manufactory became operational in 1802 and the Harper's Ferry Arsenal about the same time, both had to recruit gunmakers from out of state to staff up. Some of these are well known to us today. James Lakenan, Jacob Hawken's first partner in St. Louis, was recruited from Massachusetts to work in the Virginia Manufactory when it started up. Jacob Hawken and some of his brothers (not Samuel though) worked at Harper's Ferry from 1808 to 1818. Henry Derringer worked at the Virginia Manufactory in 1807 and 1808.

Schuylkill was at the center of government in Philadelphia and at the center of government purchasing agents. It was near the center of gun manufacturing. That made it the center for U.S. gun contracting.

Harper's Ferry Arsenal and Armory, on the other hand, was set up to store and manufacture U.S. arms similar to the Springfield Arsenal. Neither of these were involved with the government's gun contracting activities.

It's purely speculative to think that any of Lewis's "short rifles" were fitted with Ketland contract locks.
 

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Another line of research has brought forth information that the Contract Rifles were built fairly light, and in the very nearly .50 military caliber would have been fairly obnoxious kickers. Probably not the best choice to bore out to a larger caliber. There are many wonderful attributes to a light heavy caliber hunting rifle, but not one you are going to shoot a great deal. A careful look at the existing buffalo rifles from the west reveals a tendency for heavy barrels. They were transported in wagons or horseback usually, shot from a stand, kicked like all creation and heavy was good for the necessary 100 shot +- strings. It seems the expedition rifles were used and shot a great deal, but those guys were men unaccustomed to the usual comforts, so maybe it was not a deal.
From the little I've gathered about the 1792 rifles, the design of the butt plates and stock lay out helped with recoil significantly.

Further, I don't know about most folks, but I don't remember how recoil felt on heavy recoiling guns when hunting (as long as it was shouldered properly) and I darn sure never felt recoil in combat. (More important things on my mind at the time. Grin.)

Gus
 

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"One of the four rifles, by Dickert, originally had a patch box cover nearly identical to that on the later 1803 rifles."

I find this very interesting! Thank you for mentioning this!!!!

Articifer,

I’ve never minded the recoil of a 50 calibre RB in the slew of 50 calibre rifles Ive own thru the years. I never even considered it an issue. :)
 

plmeek

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As I noted back on page 6 in my post #112, when Wayne's Rifle Sub Legion became the 3rd U.S. Infantry, they would have been issued Muskets and turned in their 1792 Rifles.
Now, when those four Sub Legions got turned into the "regular" U.S. 1st through 4th Infantry Regiments, they would have turned the rifles in after obtaining enough muskets to replace them.
When and where did this occur? Were the rifle Sub Legions turned into "regular" Infantry Regiments at the start of Wayne's campaign at Fort Lafayette, later renamed Fort Fayette, near the old Fort Pitt? Or latter during Wayne's campaign at Fort Lafayette, later renamed Fort Fayette, near the old Fort Pitt? Or after Wayne's campaign and when they were disbanded?

My thinking is that if the rifles were turned in near the old Fort Pitt, then they most likely would have been returned to Schuylkill. If the Sub Legions became "regular" Infantry Regiments after the campaign and some were from Virginia, I could see them taking arms (rifles) back to Virginia and turning them in when they mustered out.

My point being, if the rifles at Harper's Ferry were 1792 Contract Rifles from Wayne's forces, they had to get from near Fort Pitt or the Ohio Country to Virginia some how and at some time. That's why I asked if some of Wayne's troops were from Virginia or nearby?
 

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When and where did this occur? Were the rifle Sub Legions turned into "regular" Infantry Regiments at the start of Wayne's campaign at Fort Lafayette, later renamed Fort Fayette, near the old Fort Pitt? Or latter during Wayne's campaign at Fort Lafayette, later renamed Fort Fayette, near the old Fort Pitt? Or after Wayne's campaign and when they were disbanded?
The Sub Legions were turned into regular Infantry Regiments after Wayne's campaign (and his death as well) in 1796.

My thinking is that if the rifles were turned in near the old Fort Pitt, then they most likely would have been returned to Schuylkill. If the Sub Legions became "regular" Infantry Regiments after the campaign and some were from Virginia, I could see them taking arms (rifles) back to Virginia and turning them in when they mustered out.

My point being, if the rifles at Harper's Ferry were 1792 Contract Rifles from Wayne's forces, they had to get from near Fort Pitt or the Ohio Country to Virginia some how and at some time. That's why I asked if some of Wayne's troops were from Virginia or nearby?
1627495780078.png


I was going off the information you provided from Moller and shown directly above, I.E. southern federal repositories in New London and Shepardstown. I may have incorrectly assumed he was talking about New London, VA and Shepardstown VA (now W VA)?

During the period when Lewis visited HF, it really was not yet set up to store arms. (At least as far as I have been able to determine from going to many places that described the early years of Harpers Ferry.) The "Small Arsenal Building" was not begun until later and finished until 1806. The only place to store arms while Lewis was there was the third floor of "The Factory" where they were already storing lumber and stock blanks, plus completed arms. Still it seems they squeezed in the 300-382 1792 Rifles in that third story storage area.

Gus
 
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These are all very speculative thoughts for us to consider. Unfortunately all we have is some documentation and very little to tie it together. Also as a thought exercise, we have the benefit of 230 years of improvements to fog up our thought exercise. What we do know is that Lewis was familiar with rifles. While Lewis was in Philadelphia before he went to Harper's Ferry, he studied all the available journals that would indicate the fauna he would encounter on the great plains. He was aware of the "white" (grizzly) bears, the herds of buffalo and the other large animals such as elk that he would find while the Corps traveled to the west coast. He would have known that the 49 caliber 1792/1794 rifles were inadequate for use on the plains and further west. Depending on the size of the barrels, the gunmakers would have known that the 1792/1794 rifles would have been difficult to modify for the interchangeable locks and after boring the barrel out to 54 caliber may not have been able to stand up to the loads needed in a 54 caliber rifle for buffalo and grizzly bears and elk. We do know that Dearborn studied and made suggestions for improvement of the prototype 1803 rifle that was sent to him prior to approval of the contract for the 4000 1803 rifles. That rifle was 54 caliber. Lewis had the more or less nonspecific orders from Jefferson to Harper's Ferry to build what he wanted. It is not out of the realm of our thought experiment to believe that Lewis had seen and handled one of the 1803 prototypes. These had the advantage of being designed for the interchangeable locks that he knew he would need while the Corps of Discovery. Lewis wasn't the only person to have believed that the most significant part of a flint lock rifle is the lock based on his experience as part of a rifle company and with the use those rifles would have on the plains, Rocky Mountains and the Oregon / Washington forests the locks would be likely to fail at some point in time. Then, it is pure speculation that since those rifles were not authorized for production, the manufacture of the 15 rifles would have been kept discrete and the production would have been under the table so to speak. As to why Lewis, who was so enamored of the frame for his metal framed boat, would have not recorded his thoughts for the requirements for a rifle for the Corps is perplexing to say the least. But there are no descriptions of any of the rifles (or muskets) other than Clark's Small rifle and the air gun and the air gun's description is woefully inadequate. For that matter was Clark's Small rifle made by Small or was it of small caliber or both. I believe that there are some references to the rifle using balls of 100 to the pound or approximately 36 caliber.
 

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BTW, the ground floor of "The Factory" (as they called it in period letters and what we would call the Armory) at Harpers Ferry while Lewis was there, held large equipment including one Trip Hammer and forges. The second floor was devoted to the "Lock Filers" and those who finished the parts and stocked the guns. The third floor was used to store lumber/stock blanks and arms they had completed - until they were shipped out. It seems that's where they also stored the 1792 rifles they had on hand.

Gus
 

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Oh, the "Small Arsenal" as it was referred to in period letters was the first Arsenal or Storage Facility built at HF for Arms. (An Armory is where they made/make Arms while an Arsenal was where they store/d arms.) It wasn't begun until after Lewis was there and it was not finished until 1806.

However, in period letters they referred to the Armory quite often as "The Factory" and that may be confusing to some of us today.

Gus
 
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