The Varnum House Museum is gearing up for its 2016 season, and we are currently seeking volunteers to act as docents (tour guides). Training will be provided.
For as long as anyone can remember… indeed, for many decades … this once rusty, broken down, and nearly forgotten flintlock sat in a corner of the Varnum House Museum’s Keeping Room near the kitchen hearth. The brass trigger guard with its simple, hand-engraved symbols had come loose from the stock. The brass ram rod pipes were loose or had fallen out completely. The metal ram rod was a later replacement. And the lock and its internals had been badly cobbled together rendering the old firelock non-functional. There was also a badly-filled hole in the top of the barrel and its thin muzzle was flayed and blown out at the end. The fragile, oil-stained stock was cracked in several places and was nearly black from lack of care.
Despite its worn condition and mismatched parts, this musket has historical value … and mystery. Who made this musket and when? Who owned it and what did they do with it? What do the hand-carved letters “IG” in colonial-era script represent? The owner’s initials? And who was the French (or Spanish?) “De Tovrette”… the name engraved in large letters along the top of the barrel? Could this have been cobbled together by an American gunsmith long ago and used by a local militia during the Revolution? These questions may never be answered, but here’s what we do know thanks to Varnum Member Russ Malcolm’s evaluation…
The gun is in original flintlock configuration. It is thought to be an early (1st half of 18th century) “put-together” by an American gunsmith using parts from different arms. Determining the date and origin of all parts may be difficult; some may be post 1750 and some appear to be commercial. The latter suggests fabrication for civilian use. The gun may also have been restocked. Overall length of the gun is 61.75 inches.
The 6-3/8-inch Dutch-style lock appears unmarked externally and is likely of commercial origin. The lightly engraved cock appears to be of the period, is likely of commercial origin, and may be a replacement. All external lock components except the frizzen (pan, frizzen spring, and associated screws) appear original to the lock. There is no external bridle to support the frizzen. The lock’s inner surface may be marked with the filer’s name but is not currently legible. Interior components look original. There is no interior bridle to support the sear and tumbler.
The 46.5-inch, .68 caliber barrel is marked “D E TOVRETTE N ?4” on the barrel top flat suggesting French origin. It is octagonal at the breech for about 9.75 inches, then round to the muzzle. An iron sight is brazed to the barrel top 1-1/8-inch from the muzzle. The uneven configuration of the muzzle suggests the original barrel may have been slightly longer. Additional letters (?VL?) or numbers and a possible barrel maker’s icon appear on the left flat at the breech. The barrel is pin-fastened to the stock.
The rough-grained stock appears to be walnut and of Dutch-Germanic configuration as denoted by the 0.5-inch flat extending from the butt plate to the trigger plate. It rates about good plus. The left butt stock shows the letters “IG”.
The stepped iron butt plate is attached with three screws and is probably commercial. The S-formed rounded iron side plate is probably early French. The side screws, tang screw, trigger, trigger plate and lower ramrod pipe are iron. The middle ramrod pipe is brass; the upper pipe is missing. The cut-down trigger guard assembly is brass and likely commercial. Its attachment to the stock with studs rather than screws was common on period put-together arms fabricated for civilian and even militia use. The steel ramrod is a much later replacement.
With the aid of Varnum Member Mike Bennett, Russ Malcolm graciously spent many hours restoring and preserving this now beautiful longarm that was hand-made before the American Revolution. All of the defects described above have been sorted and corrected. An old powder charge was also found and removed. Based on the newspaper wadding that was also removed, the charge had apparently been in there since the late 1800s! The musket will be returned to the Varnum House Museum and proudly displayed there in a more prominent location.
By Varnum Trustee & Armory Curator Patrick Donovan.