The Evans Family of Valley Forge - Tredyffrin Easttown Historical

The Evans Family of Valley Forge:
The U.S. Model 1816 Flintlock Musket
Scott Houting
Museum Specialist, Valley Forge National Historical Park
The region of southeastern Pennsylvania played a long-standing role in the
development of martial firearms following America's War for Independence of
1775-1783. The noted firearm historian, James B. Whisker, states in his
1990 work, Arms Makers of Pennsylvania, that by 1775 Pennsylvania
introduced "the beginnings of an arms industry that would, first, arm us
during many wars, and .. . train the craftsmen who would produce the
guns of artistic merit in the four or five decades after the Revolution."
(Whisker, Arms Makers of Pennsylvania, p. 13).
While Whisker wrote primarily of the American rifle industry of Lancaster
and Berks Counties, by 1797 the region around Philadelphia was
contributing immense time, talent, and resources to a growing military
arms industry. Prevalent among these Philadelphia arms makers was the
Evans family of Evansburg, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. By 1821
the Evans family became established in the village of Valley Forge. Here,
where 50 years earlier, the Continental army spent the winter of 1777-1778, the
Evans family made significant contributions to the production of the United
States' most prolific firearm of the 19th century—the U.S. Model
1816 Flintlock Musket.
This example of the standard U S. Model 1816 Flintlock Musket was manufactured
by William L. Evans at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. The .69 caliber muzzle-loading
musket weighed about 10 pounds. This musket was the standard firearm carried by
U.S. infantry forces from 1816 to 1842. This musket, made at Valley Forge, includes
the standard socket bayonet. Author's Collection.
Before examining the history of arms making at Valley Forge from 1822 to
1836, it is necessary to address past misconceptions and beliefs regarding
firearm production at Valley Forge. Although full of patriotism and "answering the
call" fervor, it is now known that, contrary to past writings, muskets were not
made at Valley Forge during the American Revolution. The point is well made by
the early 20th century arms historian, L.D. Satterlee in his work "Owen Evans:
Gunmaker and Valley Forge."
In 1938, L.D. Satterlee set out to investigate the traditional belief that "there was
a gun factory at Valley Forge during the American Revolution and whether it
manufactured the Model 1777 (French Musket), or any other model." (Satterlee,
"Owen Evans: Gunmaker and Valley Forge." p. 1). To support his theory that
gun making at Valley Forge during the American Revolution was often based on
oral tradition, Satterlee critiqued various sources. His findings were conclusive.
Satterlee's investigation first led to the 1910 work of a Mr. Charles Sawyer,
Firearms in American History. Sawyer's book concluded that arms were
manufactured during the American Revolution at Valley Forge. He based his
conclusions largely on firearms found marked "V. Forge" on their lockplate, near
the hammer. Today, we know such markings were put exclusively on the 1816
contract musket, the feature topic of this article. For Satterlee, Sawyer's
comments lacked clarity, leaving him to question what the author, Charles
Sawyer, meant by this statement.
L.D. Satterlee continued his investigation of the legend of guns being made
at Valley Forge by reviewing the 1916 edition of W. Herbert Burke's Guide to
Valley Forge. Founder of the Washington Memorial Chapel, and active collector
of Washingtonian memorabilia for the earlier Valley Forge Historical Society,
Burke wrote on page 178 of this early park visitor's guide, "Perhaps one reason
for the destruction of the forge, by the British is to be found in an old musket in
the Valley Forge museum. It was made at Valley Forge in 1777 for the American
Army." (Satterlee. p. 1).
The musket Burke referred to was a French Model 1754 Flintlock Musket
fraudulently marked "Valley Forge." Today, no official records stating gun
making at Valley Forge during the American Revolution have been found.
In the end, past writings regarding the making of muskets at Valley Forge
have resulted in more questions than bona fide evidence. To understand,
then, the history of arms making at Valley Forge, the author submits that the
story begins with the infancy of military arms making in the United States in 1794.
In 1794, the young United States found itself on a course toward war with
France. To counteract the French threat, on 2 April 1794 the United States
Congress passed a resolution, that among other things, authorized the
establishment of two national armories to make weapons for the United States
infantry. The two armories were located at Springfield, Massachusetts and
Harpers Ferry, Virginia (later in 1863 in West Virginia). The following year, 1795,
Congress adopted an old workhorse of America's War for Independence, the
Model 1763 French Flintlock Musket as a pattern for the United States' first
standardized military musket. Known as the Model 1795 U.S. Flintlock Musket,
production began at Springfield Armory the same year.
Along with the adoption of the 1795 musket, the military initiated further
research and development programs at the two national armories designed
to refine and improve the standardization of the musket. By July 1815, the
U.S. Ordnance Department moved closer toward an improved standardized
musket. In a letter of June 10, 1815, Colonel Decius Wadsworth of the
Ordnance Department wrote the Secretary of War, Alexander Dallas, noting
several points which should be considered when designing a new pattern
musket. The specifics of this 1815 letter are not important to this brief essay.
What is important to understand is that through this letter, the U.S. Ordnance
Department designed, approved, and manufactured a new gun, the U.S. Model
1816 Flintlock Musket, which became the most prolific and dependable infantry
firearm for the nation's military from 1816 to 1844. Some sixteen independent
and private contractors, including the Evans family, augmented the nation's two
national armories in the production of the U.S. Model 1816 Flintlock Musket. At
this point, we channel our focus to Valley Forge.
After America won its independence in 1783, the iron industry at Valley
Forge slowly declined as a profitable business. By 1802 a slitting mill once
operated on the west side of Valley Creek was idle. The last forge at
Valley Forge was in ruins by 1816. At this point, Mr. John Rogers, an
iron industrialist from Philadelphia, purchased land on the west side of
Valley Creek, setting the stage for firearms manufacturing at Valley Forge.
The Upper Merion 1814 tax rolls include an assessment on seventy-five
acres of land owned by John Rogers located along the west, or Chester
County side, of Valley Creek. (Microfilm. Montgomery County Historical
Society, Norristown, PA). Listed with John Rogers is Mr. Joshua Malin
of Upper Providence in Delaware County. Apparently shortly after the
1814 purchase, Malin, a cousin of Rogers, rebuilt the dilapidated slitting
mill on the west side of Valley Creek. This structure, rebuilt to Malin's
specifications, measured eighty feet long by thirty feet wide and was
complete with a "tilt mill" at one end and a small foundry between the main
building and the dam. This refurbished structure, it is now believed, became the
factory where the 1816 contract muskets were manufactured at Valley Forge.
The first documented government contract for muskets made at Valley Forge
originated in Richmond, Virginia. On July 28, 1817, Mr. Alex McRae of
Richmond, signed a contract with the U.S. Ordnance Department to supply
10,000 muskets, of 1816 pattern, at $14.00 each. Unable to fill his obligation,
McRae's contract was terminated "having failed to deliver arms, according to the
terms of his contract, a suit was instituted against him and his sureties, in July,
1820." (A Collection of Annual Reports... To The Ordnance Department,
Volume I. p.113). The contract was transferred to John Rogers and Brooke
Evans of Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. "It may be proper to remark, that the
contract with Alexander McRae, of Virginia, made July 28, 1 8 1 7 , . . . has been,
with the consent of the Department, transferred to John Rogers and Brooke
Evans, of Pennsylvania." (Ibid). With this transfer, the first documented firearms
contract at Valley Forge had been approved.
Brooke Evans, who migrated from Sheffield, England, was a Philadelphia
hardware merchant whose business was registered at 120 High Street.
Official records state from March of 1821 to December of 1823, Evans
and John Rogers manufactured "Under this agreement, five thousand
seven hundred and thirty muskets, of approved quality, have been delivered; and
no doubt is entertained of its being satisfactorily fulfilled within a short period."
(Ibid). The partnership between Brooke Evans and John Rogers then dissolved,
John Rogers entered into a lone contract with the government for an additional
5,000 muskets.
This second contract for the Model 1816 musket was awarded to John Rogers on
January 2, 1825, for 5,000 muskets at a price of $12.25 each. The delivery rate
was set at 1,000 stands per annum. (Gluckman, American Gun Makers, p. 183).
Each stand consisted of a musket, bayonet, and musket tool.
John Roger's contract for 5,000 muskets introduces a third player into the
history of firearms manufacturing at Valley Forge. Unable to get into production
for lack of capital, Rogers apparently entered into a partnership with William L.
Evans of Evansburg, Montgomery County.
William was the sixth child of another known Pennsylvania musket maker,
Owen Evans. He was born on May 28, 1797 in Limerick Township,
Montgomery County. By late 1825, William L. Evans, partnered with John
Rogers, began production at Valley Forge on the U.S. Model 1816 musket.
Records generally agree that William completed the contract for 5,000
muskets over the next three years. Known muskets from this contract are
dated from 1826-1828 on the musket's lockplate behind the hammer.
(Flayderman, Flayderman's Guide to Antique American Firearms . . . and
their values, p. 436/
On May 3, 1831, William L. Evans was awarded a second, and final, government
contract for the U.S. Model 1816 Musket. This contract for 1,500 muskets, at a
price of $12.45 per stand, was to be delivered within two years to the Frankford
Arsenal in Philadelphia. Surviving muskets of this contract, the last documented
government arms contract at Valley Forge, support the belief that all 1,500
stands were delivered. By the closing months of 1833 firearm manufacturing at
Valley Forge neared completion.
When an 1844 flood of Valley Creek washed out the former mill of Evans' musket
production, the factory was not rebuilt. The once active musket manufacturing
business at Valley Forge was over. Family genealogical records indicate that
William L. Evans died on August 6, 1861. William's body "is buried in the family
plot in the old churchyard of St. James Perkiomen Church at Evansburg."
(Gluckman, p. 61).
This close-up photograph of the Evans contract Model 1816 Flintlock Musket lockplate
clearly shows the stamped markings. Stamped forward of the cock (hammer) is
"W.L. Evens" followed by an eagle and "V. Forge" for Valley Forge. Behind the
hammer note the date "1826" and stamped "U.S." Author's Collection.
A few final thoughts will complete this study of firearms manufacturing at Valley
Forge. Firearms historians generally agree that gun manufacturing at Valley
Forge was part of a larger picture. It is believed that the barrels and other iron
components of the Evans' 1816 contract muskets were made at Valley Forge.
These parts were then crated and shipped to a factory in Evansburg, near
Collegeville, Pennsylvania, where the actual muskets were assembled. Arcadi
Gluckman, and his co-author L.D. Satterlee comment in their work, "It is believed
that barrels mostly were made at Valley Forge, the rest of the arm being made at
the factory at Evansburg." (Ibid. p. 61). This factory, possibly located at Pechin's
Mill, south of the Perkiomen Bridge, was the established mill operated in previous
years by Owen Evans, the father of William L. Evans.
It should be noted that this work is not the definitive study of firearms production
at Valley Forge. To date, the lack, or unknown existence, of government records
related to musket production at Valley Forge leave the subject open to continued
research. The actual location of the mill along Valley Creek within Valley Forge
National Historical Park is speculation at best. (To date, archeological survey
records do not locate the exact location of the mill.) The author continues his
research into the intriguing story of firearms manufacturing at Valley Forge.
Section of a page from the original 1831 Ordnance Department contract with William L. Evans of Valley
Forge, Pennsylvania. This contract, dated 3rd May 1831, was the last contract with William Evans. The
muskets covered by the contract were delivered by 1833. Courtesy National Archives, Record Group 156.
Sources Consulted:
A Collection of Annual Reports and other Important Papers, Relating to The Ordnance
Department. Vol. I: 1812-1844. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. 1878.
Flayderman, Norm. Flayderman's Guide to Antique American Firearms... and their values. 5th
Edition. Northbrook, IL: DBI Books. 1990.
Gluckman, Arcadi. American Gun Makers. Harrisburg, PA.: The Stackpole Co. 1953.
Montgomery County Tax Assessment-Upper Merion Township (microfilm reel for 1789-1844).
Montgomery County Historical Society. Norristown, Pennsylvania.
Satterlee, LD. "Owen Evans: Gunmaker and Valley Forge." Hobbies. October, 1938.
Whisker, James B. Arms Makers of Pennsylvania. Selinsgrove, PA: Susquehanna University
Press. 1990.
This article summarizes a program presented by the author to the Tredyffrin Easttown
History Club in May 2003 on military firearms production at Valley Forge.
Frankford Arsenal, Philadelphia in 1832 at the time William L. Evans
delivered his muskets according to his 1831 contract with the U.S. Ordnance
Department (see the 10th line in the partial reproduction of the contract above).
The arsenal was established in 1815 but not entirely completed until 1831.
It consisted of six large stone buildings and two small workshops, forming a
square, besides a magazine and gun shop. Saturday Evening Post, April 7, 1832.
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