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

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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.

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