Breachloading Flintlock?


September 3, 2003, 01:54 PM
Im trying to find more information about a breachloading flintlock produced by the British around the time of the American revolution. Sorry but all I know at the moment was that it exists, dont even have a name.

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Mike Irwin
September 3, 2003, 03:08 PM
It's called the Ferguson Rifle, after I believe Captain or Major Patrick Ferguson.

Used a screw plug turned by the trigger guard to open the breech.

It was also rifled.

Ferguson outfitted at least one company with the rifles at his own cost, and did fairly well with them until he was killed in Battle.

After that, his company was disbanded, and most of the rifles disappeared.

Here's a picture of the action...

Go to any search engine and type in the words Ferguson Rifle, and you'll get TONS of information.

September 3, 2003, 06:24 PM
The USA also had a breechloader: the Hall rifle. It was issued during the 1830s and had a tip up breechblock that could be detached and used as a pocket pistol for those nighttime forays into the 'ville. Used during the Mexican War, IIRC. Later issued as a percussion lock, the Hall was notable as the first piece of machinery manufactured with interchangeable parts by Eli Whitney, who also manufactured the redoubtable Walker Colt. :)

Dave McCracken
September 4, 2003, 05:43 AM
A couple things about the Ferguson rifle...

Even with cleaner burning modern black powder, the thing fouls up past use in about 6 shots. This was a little worse than the muskets of the day. The muskets oft had special loads with smaller balls set up for when several shots had been fired and the fouling was building up.

That was a small drawback, the better accuracy and speed made the Ferguson a good battle arm, especailly when placed in the hands of someone who could really shoot.

And that's probably why it was withdrawn from use. Politics played a part, Major Ferguson had stepped on some toes and the Brits were losing lots of officers to 2nd generation Scot-Americans in the Continental Army with rifles and grudges against the British from the Clearances that killed off 1/3 of the Scots and caused another 1/3 to emigrate, mostly to America follwing the battle of Culloden, 1746.

The Brits were loath to use riflemen to take out enemy officers because of the class thing. Officers were nobility, and a weapon that effective against single targets wasn't what they wanted around.

They got over this by the time of the Napoleonic Wars, and troops equipped with the Baker Rifle were used to take out officers and artillery crews.

The big thing about the Ferguson and Hall designs was it showed that breech loading, with or without cartridges, was feasible, and led to the Sharps and Snyder precussion arms and thence to cartridge arms.

4v50 Gary
September 6, 2003, 12:10 AM
Best book to read is DeWitt Bailey's British Military Flintlock Rifles. Bailey not only discusses the rifle and its creator, but he gives the military history of the Ferguson rifle.

BTW, Ferguson's experimental corps of riflemen were not the only British riflemen of the war. 1,000 pattery 1776 rifles were made and issued out. Some of these went to the Queen's Rangers (Robert Roger's former Roger's Rangers renamed) which initially raised a squad and then increased it to about a platoon in strength.

While the Ferguson action could and did foul, the stunt about pouring water down the action cleared it immediately. Rinse your fouling away and you're back in action.

Ferguson was injured at Chadd's Ford (near Brandywine) and loss the use of his right arm after that battle. He spent a year recuperating and taught himself to write and fence with his left hand. He joined Cornwallis in his Southern Campaign and met his end at the hands of the patriots at King's Mountain (South Carolina). The National Park Site is remodeling their galleries (30 years is about right). You may want to drop in and visit them. They've got a replica that was made years ago. However, I don't think their replica had a tapered breech plug like the original did.

Mike Irwin
September 6, 2003, 10:41 PM

Didn't King's Mountain recover the original Ferguson that was stolen from them some years ago?

4v50 Gary
September 7, 2003, 12:33 PM
Mike, wasn't aware that King's Mountain NPS had an original Ferguson. They've got a replica (and you can tell. Breechplug isn't quite right and the stock looks thick at the wrist) that is on display.

There's only two known military Fergusons in this country. One is at Morristown, NJ and I forgot where the 2nd is located. The 2nd one was used as a pattern by Narraganasett Arms to make their limited run of 250 (?) of those rifles.

September 14, 2003, 01:06 AM
"...They got over this by the time of the Napoleonic Wars..." No, they didn't. The 95th Rifles were skirmishers and the forerunner of the Rifle Brigade. Their job was to be in front of the Thin Red Line shooting officers and French scouts doing the same job. The class structure and buying rank was alive and well during the Napoleonic Wars. Officers might have been noble, but having money was more important.

Mike Irwin
September 15, 2003, 02:21 AM
One thing that needs to be remembered...

Few of the French officers in the Napoleonic Wars had any sort of noble background.

September 15, 2003, 06:30 PM
IIRC, there was an account that Ferguson himself passed up a shot at an officer in the Revolutionary Army, because the officer was riding away and Ferguson did not think it would be proper to shoot him in the back. That officer was supposedly George Washington. Forgot which source it came from, it was in an article on the rifle. FWIW, Louis LaMour wrote a novel, titled "The Ferguson Gun".

4v50 Gary
September 16, 2003, 12:27 AM
I interpret Dave McCracken's comment about "getting over" meant that the British by Napoleonic times had no reservation about shooting officers anymore. Certainly the 95th did as did other riflemen in British service (5/60 Royal Americans, King's German Legion, Portugese Cacadores).

Here's an anecdote from Butler on the 5/60 Royal Americans: [i]"'In this battle,' says Colonel Leslie, who was present, 'the 60th Riflemen, who were all German, showed great tact in tacking advantage of the ground and dexterity in the use of their arms. General Fane, observing one of these men successsfully hit one or two French officers who were gallantly exposing themselves in front of their men, exclaimed in the excitement of the moment, 'Well done, my fine fellow! I will give you half a doubloon for every other one you bring down.' The man eagerly loaded again, fired and hit another, then looking at the General he said Gravely, 'By God I vill make my vortune.' A sequel no dobut to this story is told by Landmann. Seeing himself covered by a French marksman that officer called a Rifleman of the 60th to shoot the man. The Rifleman took not the slightest notice, but brought down a French officer instead. Landman, who was happily missed by his enemy, angrily asked why the Rifleman had shot the French officer instead of the man. The cool reply was 'It vas more plunder!'"

Now, it wasn't just the purse, watches or jewelry the rifleman was after. The lace from a uniform was salvagable and sold too. Peons didn't have gold lace but officers did. :)

On the Ferguson & Washington incident, it may have been Washington, but it hasn't been positively established. Ferguson didn't know what George looked liked and described it to others who asserted it was Washington. It still is an interesting story leaving a lot of "what ifs" and conjecture and is certainly worth retelling. So, thank you for retelling it!

4v50 Gary
September 25, 2003, 10:07 PM
Just found out about the Lorenzoni system that not only was breech-loading like the Ferguson, but also contained internal magazines in the stock that held both powder & ball. Now, there was an English system that also did this and required very fine workmanship to ensure that the gun wouldn't Ka-boom. The one thing about the Lorenzoni system is that it also had a magazine for priming the pan. Gee, turn one handle like the Ferguson (separate from trigger guard) and then turn the trigger guard to charge with ball & powder. Restore trigger guard, restore breech-plug and prime (dunno how that's done from magazine). Time frame? We're talking pre 1720.

There's a picture of a German made one (Master Daniel Lagatz) from the collection of the Kremlin in Treasures of the Moscow Kremlin - Arsenal of the Russian Tsars. Check out page 134-135.

September 27, 2003, 09:54 PM

Mike Weber
September 29, 2003, 02:04 PM
The Rifle Shoppe is offering Ferguson Parts for building your own. I've got another Ferguson question. Years ago I saw pictures of a very finely made pair of Scottish Iron butted pistols these were engraved and it is my understanding that these were recovered from pommel holsters from a pannicked horse, that was captured by American Revolutionary forces. These pistols were said to have belonged to a Major Ferguson who was killed in battle. Would this be the Same Major Ferguson of Ferguson rifle fame?

4v50 Gary
September 29, 2003, 10:57 PM
250 reproductions were made by Narragannsetts Arms in Indianapolis, IN about two years ago. Said guns came with bayonet, sling, display board and certificate of authenticity (as if you need one). The first one (or was it a prototype was given to the Royal Scots Regimental Museum in Edinburg Castle). One was also donated by them to the NMLRA for a fundraising raffle. They finished the production and the owner sold to a fellow who moved the business to KY (?).

Fergusons are notoriously weak around the lock. The ideal Ferguson would be a polymer stock that is painted to look like plain walnut. It would also have a stainless barrel, brass breechplug and stainless triggerguard & lock.

Regarding the pistols, I don't know of any other Major Ferguson who served in the war. Never read about him carrying pistols but he may well have. He mostly waved his sword and tooted on is whistle. Forgot which book I read but one loyalist was threatened with death unless he taught them Ferguson's command system with the whistle.

October 1, 2003, 12:06 PM
This past July at Dixon's Rifle Makers Fair there was a gentleman who manufactures Ferguson Rifles (long waiting list and very expensive). He demonstrated his rifle all day long and didn't clean. He claimed that you need to use the correct type of powder and it was critical that the breechplug be machined with a slight taper.

Maybe he'll be there next year.

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