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Charleville Trigger Guards

The early baluster Tulle musket pattern (1.) is circa 1697-1715. A popular, segmented, high-quality commercial hunting gun design with raised carving (2.) dates from 1720-1760. France’s double-pointed shape as used on Tulle’s marine hunting and military longarms (3.) is circa 1715-1755. The double-pointed military version was used on army issue Models 1717-1773 (4.), and a Model 1728 is shown. The Model 1774 (5.) shortened the forward end (the swivels moved underneath in 1754). The guard’s length was further reduced for this Model 1777 (6.). Its rear also became rounded, and two finger ridges appeared.
Charleville Locks

Tulle civilian and military locks (circa 1730-1755) had a flat/beveled edge plate, a lobed frizzen spring finial, a flat swansneck cock and a faceted flashpan, usually with an exterior bridle on the military patterns (1.). This example is marked, “A TVLLE,” below the pan (“V” became “U” in 1745). A distinctive vertical bridle joined the frizzen and frizzen spring screws on this Model 1717 (2.). The frizzen spring itself ended short of the forward lock screw tip, and its wide cock post faced a flat-backed upper jaw. The Model 1728 (3.) established a horizontal outside bridle and a rectangular cock post with a wrap-around oval top jaw. Its frizzen spring extended to cover the front lock screw tip. The new Model 1763 (4.) design installed a straighter 63⁄4" lockplate (shortened by 1/2" in 1766) that had a ring supported cock and added a horizontal hole to the slotted jaw screw. An American “U.S.” stamp appears on this tail (most are found without surcharges). The sling swivels have moved under the stock in 1754. Beginning in 1770, the lockplate, cock and flashpans became rounded and the cock’s post acquired a stubby upper end (5.). The Model 1774 (shown here) added a short, squared frizzen front stud. “Charleville” engraved under the pan establishes its source. The new Model 1777 (6.) introduced a sloping brass flashpan and bridle lacking a rear fence, plus a forward bend to the frizzen top. The shorter trigger guard also added two rear finger ridges.
Charleville Sideplates

The flat “L” sideplate with an oval center is found on most Tulle-made marine military and hunting guns (1.) circa 1720-1755. Observe the typical raised stock borders on this civilian fusil de chasse. An engraved triangular design was used with quality hunting arms (2.) circa 1730-1755. The early French rounded military “S” pattern and shoulder sling ring (held by a stud with a nut inside the stock’s lock cavity) are 1697-1715 (3.). The traditional flat “L” form began with the Model 1717; a Model 1728 (4.) is shown. Notice the absence of stock carving on France’s army muskets and continuation of the flat “L” shape in this lighter Model 1766-1777 series (5.). Its Model 1766 breech shows American 1777 New Hampshire markings.



By George C. Neumann

Used in large numbers by American Colonists and French troops fighting against the British, the “Charleville” muskets are the French arms that saved the American Revolution.

   The 18th century was a period of incredible change that reshaped the political map of Europe and the Western world—and that
reshaping included the birth of our own nation. Much of that change began with new arms and military tactics that evolved in the late 1600s when military firearms were improved by the addition of a bayonet that combined both the musket of the musketeer and the traditional long pike of the foot soldier.
   The French military was the leader in these major innovations, and it was the most progressive developer of firearms during the 17th and 18th centuries. The French introduced the plug bayonet for military use during the 1640s and the socket bayonet in the 1670s. Other advances included the final practical flintlock mechanism before 1700 and the creation of the first standard military musket in Europe in 1717. The French also added bands—to facilitate removing the barrel for cleaning—in 1728 and designed lighter firearm patterns. A smaller bore size (.69 cal. vs. Britain’s .75 cal.) was chosen to reduce weight in the field, and, in 1741, the steel ramrod was adopted. In 1754, a smaller officer’s shoulder arm was introduced, and the French military installed the first non-corroding brass flashpan in 1777, which was the same year it produced the important center-ring bayonet pattern. France also perfected the superior flake-type gun flint. Those cumulative steps led to a series of tactical innovations on the battlefields, spawning new wars and world alliances—from which America would not be excluded.
   The loss of Canada to Britain during the French and Indian War (1754-1763) motivated France to provide its innovative arms to the rebelling American Colonists and, by supplying as many as 200,000 muskets for Washington’s troops, saved our War for Independence. At least 90 percent of the small arms or their components used by the American Colonists came from Europe, and the majority were French. This article is intended to identify the most typical French arms that made our final victory possible.
   To understand the basic French firearms available in North America and those used in the Revolutionary War, they have been combined into three chronological periods:

Group I: The Compagnies Franches de la Marine
(circa 1730-1755)

   While the British settlers created farms and towns in the European tradition (including a preference for heavy muskets and fowlers), settlers in New France focused on exporting furs and fish, which, in turn, required preservation of the existing forests. Thus, their early longarms were usually lighter, of smaller bore and better balanced for traveling in rough terrain. Captured examples were, in fact, preferred by a number of Britain’s new light infantry companies learning to fight in thick woodlands during the French and Indian War.
   From 1683 to 1755, the only professional troops defending French Canada were the Compagnies Franches. These units were under the naval ministry and differed from the regular army in uniforms, arms and accouterments. Two basic firearms patterns predominated from 1730 to 1755: the civilian hunting gun, or fusil de chasse, and the military muskets, fusils ordinaire and grenadier. (Most collectors use the term “fusil” in the British manner to identify a lighter and smaller bore musket. In France, the word referred to any smoothbore shoulder arm.) Most were supplied under navy contracts from the independent gunmaker at Tulle, but they were supplemented by others from St. Etienne.
   The designs were very similar, having pinned smoothbore barrels on slim, graceful walnut stocks ending in a distinctive Roman-nose butt with a high sloping comb. The locks included a flat/beveled edge plate, a swansneck cock and a faceted flashpan. Their Tulle-style barrels were octagonal at the breech for about 9 1/2" below a 2" section of 16 flats and an incised ring before becoming round for the rest of their length. Iron pipes secured a wooden ramrod. The civilian hunting pattern averaged 60" in length, mounted a 44 1/2", .62-cal. barrel and was stocked to the muzzle. It served as the typical longarm of Canada’s trappers, hunters, militia and Indian allies in the Colonial wars. Longer variations, fusil fin de chasse, having finer details and often brass furniture, were available for the more affluent hunters and as presentation pieces to Indian leaders. These civilian arms had no sling swivels but did include raised carvings around the lock, sideplate and barrel tang.
   The common military musket was very similar but had the upper stock cut back to accept a socket bayonet, a longer 46 1/2" barrel with a larger .66-cal. bore, and averaged around 7 to 8 lbs. in weight. An alternate form, originally developed for the grenadiers, added a center barrel band to secure a round, shoulder sling swivel on the inboard side (the second ring was attached behind the lower lock screw). Both of these military patterns included swivels after 1729. Most grenadier examples had shorter 44 1/2" barrels. The muskets from St. Etienne followed the Tulle form, but they often included iron furniture that copied the Army Model 1728 sideplate, trigger guard and buttplate. In 1744, three barrel bands were added to create Tulle’s “fusil domino” pattern, which saw little service in Canada.
   Although not officially part of France’s military aid during the Revolutionary War, many captured Tulle arms were already in American hands from earlier encounters, and their parts are often found remounted on Colonial guns.

Group II: The Regular French Army in North America

   At the outbreak of the French and Indian War, France sent regular army regiments (troupes de terre) to defend New France beginning in 1755. They brought the heavier, standard muskets designed for open-field fighting in Europe. Most were produced under the supervision of artillery officers at the three royal manufactories: Charleville, St. Etienne and Maubeuge. Tulle became the fourth in 1777—primarily for naval arms. This period is best typified by two patterns, each identified by its original date of issue: the Model 1717 and the Model 1728.
   Both were approximately 62" in length and mounted a 46 3/4" barrel having a .69-cal. bore. The military walnut stocks omitted raised border carvings, but kept the Roman-nose butt with a high sloping comb. The flat/beveled lock held a swansneck cock plus a faceted flashpan and outside bridle. Total weight was 8 to 9 lbs.
   The iron furniture included a long, thin, worm-like pinned butt tang, a double-pointed trigger guard (with two screws), a flat “L” form sideplate and two round sling swivels on the inboard side. The round barrel’s breech was octagonal. The original wooden rammers were replaced by steel rods beginning in 1741.
   The Model 1717 was the first European standard-issue military arm. It had a pinned barrel, plus a center band to secure the forward side sling swivel. The distinctive lock is identified by a vertical exterior bridle between the frizzen and frizzen spring screws. Some 48,000 were manufactured.
   Although resembling the Model 1717, the Model 1728 had a horizontal exterior bridle and added three barrel bands. In 1754, the round sling swivels moved underneath the stock, but few of that pattern reached Canada. The Model 1728 was used in North America by the 1730s, and it became France’s workhorse musket until 1763. A total of 375,000 were produced.

Group III: France’s Aid to the American Revolution

   Following the momentous loss of New France to Britain in the French and Indian War, a new musket design, the Model 1763, eliminated the familiar Roman-nose profile and established a basic form that would endure through the Napoleonic years.
   To provide the embattled American rebels with aid before openly declaring war on Great Britain, the French first set up a dummy trading company, Rodrique Hortalez & Cie, operated by Caron de Beaumarchais. Working with American agents, primarily Franklin, Deane and Lee, they then condemned most of the muskets in their arsenals that had been produced prior to the new Model 1777 to make them available for shipment. The first of many Beaumarchais deliveries began in the spring of 1777 when three of his ships arrived in Portsmouth, N.H., carrying 37,000 stands of arms. At the same time, another vessel was sent to Philadelphia bearing 11,000 arms and parts. The New Hampshire shipments equipped much of the Patriot army at Saratoga in October 1777, and, by 1778, the majority of Washington’s regiments had replaced their earlier disparate mix of arms with French ones.
   After France officially entered the war early in 1778, it continued to send vast amounts of war materials. In addition to the early patterns already described, four models developed after the French and Indian War comprised most of the French arms supplied for use in American during the Revolution—the Model 1763, Model 1766, Model 1774 and Model 1777.
   The Model 1763 retained the three-band design and eliminated the traditional Roman-nose buttstock for a straight lower profile. The barrel was shortened to 44 3/4"; but it still kept a .69-cal. bore. The old octagonal breech was replaced with a round form with flat sides. A flat/beveled lock remained, but a new ring-supported cock was added. Moreover, an unusual, tunnel-like ramrod spring covered the channel between the two upper barrel bands. Its iron furniture, in turn, adopted a simple lobed butt tang (with a top screw), as well as bell-shaped sling swivels underneath the stock. Total production reached 88,000.
   The army quickly found the Model 1763 too heavy, which led to the lighter Model 1766 pattern. The 1766 reduced weight by shortening the lock, replacing the long, iron rammer cover with a spring under the breech and thinning the barrel walls. The steel ramrod also changed from a trumpet shape to a buttonhead. Today’s collectors commonly refer to these 1760s-period muskets as “Charlevilles,” although they were produced at all three royal manufacturers. Production reached 140,000 muskets.
   From 1768 to 1773, numerous earlier models were renovated in France. This included adding a third retaining spring behind the lowest barrel band on the Model 1766. Beginning in 1770, a rounded lock was introduced, as well as a lower, less-defined stock comb. The Model 1774 then shortened the trigger guard’s forward end and added a clip projecting out under the muzzle to snap over the bayonet’s new rear socket ring. The 1774 was the latest model supplied to the American rebels, and 70,000 were produced.
   The innovative Model 1777 became the standard issue for the French army through the Napoleonic Wars, and it was not included in shipments to the rebels. The model did, however, equip General Rochambeau’s regiments landing in Newport, R.I., in 1780 and others among the 16,000 French troops that served on American soil during the war. The new musket retained the three barrel bands and a 44 3/4" barrel, yet introduced a new sloping brass flashpan, cut a cheek rest out of the stock’s comb, installed two finger ridges on a shortened trigger guard and adopted a new, center-ring bayonet. Few of the early versions of this Model 1777 used here in America survived. They had a unique visible retaining screw on the outboard side of the top barrel band and lacked a rear spring for the center band.
   The avalanche of arms and their components, ammunition, accouterments, naval vessels, clothing, loans, technical advisors, volunteer officers and regular army regiments that France poured into America from 1777 until 1783 played a key role in the success of the Revolution. Our incredible victory resulted from the dreams, courage and brutal suffering of the colonists and their leaders; but without the aid from France, supplemented by efforts of Spain and the Low Countries, they could not have prevailed.
   As historical collectors, these surviving French arms speak to us of the significant price paid to win our freedom and the help that finally made it possible.
   Special appreciation is due to Joseph C. Devine and Lance Rickenberg for the photography for this article done at J.C. Devine’s facilities.

Charleville Fore-Ends/Muzzles

This fore-end is typical of the Tulle-type musket issued to the Compagnies Franches (1.). Its stock was cut back for a socket bayonet (top stud) and the single center barrel band held an inboard shoulder sling swivel that identifies it as a grenadier pattern. Rolled sheet iron thimbles secured a wooden ramrod. The Model 1717 (2.) had a pinned barrel, wooden rammer, a single center band, and mounted a 3/4" iron strip below the stock’s tip. The three barrel bands on the Model 1728 (3.) have a rear spring only for the square-backed top band. After the French and Indian War, this revised Model 1763 (4.) lengthened the top double-strap barrel band and added a middle band spring. A tunnel-like iron ramrod cover reached between the two upper bands. The earlier wooden ramrods changed to steel beginning in 1741. A lighter 1766 pattern (5.) added a sloping tail to the top band, dropped the long rammer cover and altered its metal rod to a button head. The French bayonet stud position was changed frequently. The innovative Model 1777 (6.) introduced a wavy edge between the top band’s straps, dropped the two upper band springs and added a screw head to the lower outboard side of the top band. Its steel ramrod, in turn, had reverted to a trumpet head in 1774.


Evolution of the French Longarms (1730-1783)
Arms from the author’s collection. Photos by Lance Rickenberg of J.C. Devine, Inc.
These light, well-balanced firearms intended for wilderness use were favorites of New France’s woodsmen, militia and their Indian allies. The long, slender walnut stock had a Roman-nose butt and extended to the muzzle. Its flat/beveled lock, in turn, mounted a swansneck cock and a faceted pan, but lacked an exterior bridle. Raised stock carving surrounded the barrel tang, sideplate and lock. The French naval ministry controlled New France and contracted for most of these arms from the independent manufacturer at Tulle, plus some from St. Etienne. Tulle-style iron furniture included a flat, “L” sideplate with an oval center, a double-pointed trigger guard and a butt tang ending in a pear-shaped finial. This example has a 44 1/2", .62-cal., smoothbore pinned barrel, a wooden ramrod and no sling swivels.
   Length: 60 3/4"          
   Barrel: 44 1/2", .62 cal.
Lock: 5 3/4"x1"
Trigger Guard: 11 1/2"
Butt Tang: 3 1/4"
Sideplate: 3 1/2"
Furniture: Iron
Weight: 6.8 lbs.

The professional infantry defending New France prior to the French & Indian War were the naval ministry’s Compagnies Franches. Their muskets, fusils ordinaire, came mostly from Tulle, plus St. Etienne. They resembled the Tulle hunting gun with a Roman-nose butt, similar iron furniture, a flat/beveled lock, a wooden rammer and a smoothbore, Tulle-type pinned octagonal/round barrel. The stock, however, was cut for a socket bayonet (top stud), while the barrel was lengthened to 46 3/4" with a larger .66-cal. bore and an exterior bridle installed. A revised version for grenadiers (shown here) added a center band holding an inboard, round sling swivel (the second ring was behind the lower lock screw) and shortened the barrel to 44 3/4". Many of the St. Etienne arms followed Tulle’s configuration, but substituted the French army’s Model 1728 sideplate, trigger guard and buttplate designs. Weight averaged 7 to 8 lbs., and all raised stock border carving was gone.
   Length: 59 3/4"
   Barrel: 44 1/2", .66 cal.
Lock: 6 1/2"x1 1/4"
Trigger Guard: 11 1/2"
Butt Tang: 4 3/4"
Sideplate: 4"
Furniture: Iron
Weight: 7.8 lbs.

France was the first country in Europe to establish a standard army musket with its Model 1717. It had a pinned, 46 3/4"-long, .69-cal. barrel, plus a single center band mounting a round, inboard sling swivel (the other ring was below the lock’s lower side screw). An exclusive, vertical outside bridle joined the frizzen and frizzen spring screws. The flat/beveled lock also included a swansneck cock having a flat-backed top jaw and a frizzen spring ending short of the side screw tip. Its walnut stock displayed a Roman nose with a round wrist and an absence of raised stock borders, while the round barrel showed an octagonal breech that continued a flat top panel to the bayonet lug. Its iron furniture contributed a long worm-like pinned butt tang, a flat “L” sideplate, a double-pointed trigger guard (with two screws) and four 1 1/8" iron pipes for a wooden ramrod. Normal weight was 8 to 9 lbs. Production totaled 48,000. This example’s “crown/SE” mark identifies St. Etienne.
   Length: 63 1/4"
   Barrel: 47", .72 cal.
Lock: 6 1/2"x1 1/4"
Trigger Guard: 11 1/2"
Butt Tang: 4 3/4"
Sideplate: 3 7/8"

Furniture: Iron
Weight: 7.8 lbs.

This important workhorse musket introduced a new horizontal exterior bridle and replaced the prior barrel pins with three iron bands, of which the center one held a side sling swivel. A rear spring secured the top band; the other two were held by friction. Additional changes included a longer frizzen spring on the flat/beveled lock to cover the forward side screw tip and a cock’s post that was rectangular with a wrap-around oval upper jaw. Its barrel remained 46 3/4" long and in .69 caliber, keeping the previous octagonal breech and flat, top panel. The iron furniture continued the long, narrow butt tang, flat “L” sideplate, double-pointed trigger guard, and round inboard sling swivels. It had a walnut stock with a Roman-nose butt and sloping comb that omitted both an escutcheon and raised carving in the French military tradition. A steel rammer replaced the wooden rod beginning in 1741. Production reached 375,000 muskets, and the “SE” lock stamp identifies this example’s origin as a St. Etienne.
   Length: 62"            
   Barrel: 45 7/8", .72 cal.
Lock: 6 1/2"x1 1/4"
Trigger Guard: 11 3/4"
Butt Tang: 4 3/4"
Sideplate: 4 1/8"
Furniture: Iron
Weight: 8.2 lbs.

The 1763 Model was part of a reorganization of France’s armed forces after the French and Indian War. Its basic, new, three-banded pattern had a straightened butt profile that continued through the Napoleonic years. Moreover, the barrel was shortened to 44 3/4", though it was still in .69 cal., and the earlier octagonal breech became rounded with flat sides. A revised flat/beveled lock mounted a ringed cock having a notched upper post, a wrap-around oval top jaw, plus a hole in the slotted jaw screw. An exclusive feature was the long “U”-shaped iron strip riveted to the top band’s underside that extended back to cover the ramrod channel to slip under an added lip on the center band. Rear springs held the two upper bands, but not the bottom one. The iron furniture introduced a lobed butt tang (top screw) and bell-shaped sling swivels underneath, but retained the earlier “L”-shaped sideplate and pointed trigger guard. Its steel rammer now had a trumpet shape. Total weight was nearly 10 lbs., and 88,000 were made.
   Length: 61 3/8"
   Barrel: 45 1/4", .78 cal.
Lock: 7"x1 1/4"
Trigger Guard: 8 7/8"
Butt Tang: 2 1/2"
Side Plate: 4"
Furniture: Brass
Weight: 9.1 lbs.

The Model 1763 was too heavy, and this lighter revision became the Model 1766. Its similar flat/beveled lock (with a ringed cock) was shortened by 1/2", while the walnut stock was slimmed and the Model 1763’s long, iron, ramrod cover was replaced by a pinned spring under the breech. A thinner-walled barrel kept its 44 3/4" length and .69-cal. bore. The uppermost of three barrel bands replaced the prior squared-back edge with a sloping tail, and only the bottom band still lacked a rear spring. Its steel ramrod was changed back to a button-head form. The lock face of this example is marked, “Maubeuge,” and production reached 140,000. Circa 1768-1773 many existing muskets were upgraded in France. The Model 1766 revisions added the bottom band spring and that final configuration was subsequently copied by America after the Revolution as its first official arm, the U.S. Model 1795. This example is marked on the breech as one of those delivered to New Hampshire in 1777, “NH 3B No. 288.”
   Length: 60 1/2" 
   Barrel: 44 3/4", .72 cal.
Lock: 6 1/4"x1 1/4"
Trigger Guard: 12 3/4"
Butt Tang: 2 1/2"
Sideplate: 3 7/8"
Furniture: Iron
Weight: 8 1/2 lbs.

The Model 1774 was the newest of the patterns sent to the American rebels. As the 1770s progressed, the musket innovations continued. Similar shaped flat locks became rounded with rounded cocks and flashpans in 1770. In this Model 1774, the front end of its trigger guard was shortened to 2", a forward lip appeared on the center band, and the lower band showed a convex screw head that held an internal ramrod spring. Most of the iron furniture remained the same. In addition, the frizzen replaced the previous curled tip by a squared front stud. An exclusive feature was the spring catch projecting out under the muzzle to snap over the rear socket ring of a new bayonet design. The walnut stock reduced the comb height, while a steel trumpet head rammer replaced the prior button head. A total of 70,000 were manufactured. The lockplate of this example is marked under the pan by its source, “Charleville.”
   Length: 60"  
   Barrel: 44 3/4", .72 cal.
Lock: 6 1/4"x1 1/4"
Trigger Guard: 11 1/4"
Butt Tang: 2 3/8"
Sideplate: 3 7/8"
Furniture: Iron
Weight: 9 lbs.

The innovative Model 1777 continued with modifications as the French standard musket throughout the Napoleonic Wars. It was not shipped to the American rebels, but did arm General Rochambeau’s regiments leaving for America in 1780 and others that served on our soil. The new pattern retained a 44 3/4", .69-cal. round barrel but introduced several changes. They included: a slanted brass flashpan (no fence) and bridle; two, rear-finger ridges on a shortened trigger guard; a cheekrest cut into the buttstock’s inboard side; a forward spring for the lower barrel band; a bend at the top of the frizzen; and a radical, locking center-ring bayonet. Collectors often incorrectly date this arm by the barrel tang marking, “M.1777,” which was continued into the 1800s. To identify the first version, which was used here in the Revolution, look for a screw head on a raised collar at the lower outboard side of the top barrel band. That early form lacked a middle band retaining spring. This example’s lock is marked “St. Etienne.”
   Length: 60"   
   Barrel: 44 3/4", .73 cal.
Lock: 6 1/4"x1 1/4"
Trigger Guard: 9 7/8"
Butt Tang: 2 1/2"
Sideplate: 3 7/8"
Furniture: Iron
Weight: 8.7 lbs.
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