Mc Pheeters Antique Militaria
Home Page About Us Ordering Information Links



WAR OF 1812 CHIEF’S GRADE NORTHWEST TRADE GUN – SCARCE MAKER – THOMAS HAMPTON 1813-1816  – FULL ARRAY OF BRITISH BOARD OF ORDNANCE INSPECTOR AND ACCEPTANCE STAMPS – FEATURING CLASSIC WEAR AND REPAIRS - VERY NICE SPECIMEN:  Probably one of, if not the, most under appreciated firearm of the North American Frontier, the Northwest Trade Gun dates back to the earliest years of western expansion into the interior of the unexplored continent.  Arguably the most established and constant commodity of the fur trade, and traded to Native Americans and European trappers alike, the Northwest Trade Gun was manufactured for over 200 years with only minor changes in the pattern and specifications. 

While firearm technology certainly advanced, and for so many practical reasons the flintlock gave way to the percussion lock, and in turn the metallic cartridge dominated the market in the years following the Civil War, in reality no collection of firearms accumulated with the intent to represent American history can be considered complete without the inclusion of the Northwest Trade Gun.    

Within the category of trade guns, there is this well defined and long recognized subset of Chief’s Guns which were enhanced with finer mountings, embellished with engravings, and most noticeably, fitted with a silver medallion on the top of the wrist featuring a native warrior in high relief.  These guns were the top of the line within the field of trade guns and were intended, as the name implies, for presentations or gifts to the tribal leaders in order to curry their favor and cement alliances.  Certainly the British recognized the value of making these presentations, and although Chiefs guns were limited in production and likewise survive in smaller numbers today, they represented an important element in the arena of trade and diplomacy in the New World.   

These Chief’s grade trade guns are examined in detail in The Encyclopedia of Trade Guns, Volume 1 – Firearms of the Fur Trade written by James Hanson and published by the Museum of the Fur Trade, and I am grateful to the author for providing many of the details and historical context quoted in this description.  If your interest lies in the firearms of the Indian trade in North America, this volume is a “must have.” 

This Chief’s Gun was manufactured by Thomas Hampton (active as early as 1807 – died in 1824).  Hampton supplied a total of 1,135 guns under contract to the British Board of Ordnance during the years of 1813 through 1816 – specifically, during the course of the War of 1812.  Of Hampton’s total production, only 415 of these Chief’s Trade Guns were manufactured by his firm.   

The numbers of guns provided by the British government to their North American Indian allies during the War of 1812 represented a considerable expense, especially since the Board of Ordnance did so in addition to their responsibility to maintain current arming requirements of the standing army.  Indian Department agent John Askins at Michilimackinac wrote to his superior in 1813, “The quantity of guns required [to supply the Indians] tho great, appears to me to be insufficient to meet the demands.  It is well known that the Indians….always have the guns of their deceased Relation deposited in their graves which deprives the rising generations from benefiting….and Indians don’t by any means take that care of firearms which the whites do to preserve them….”   

Well used, and no doubt a survivor of use on the frontier, this Chief’s Gun shows evidence of having witnessed many years of history.  As will be described in detail below, the stock was fractured at the wrist and subsequently repaired, and the fore end was reduced from its original full stock profile to that of a half stock – perhaps at the same time as the repair was executed due to being damaged or broken away from the barrel in the same incident which fractured the wrist – but also a common modification to reduce the overall weight of the gun. 

The repairs executed on this early trade gun are consistent with the manner in which damaged guns were repaired during the 19TH Century and certainly well within the capability of not only European gunsmiths along the frontier, but Native American gunsmiths as well.  As history records, during the King Philip’s War of 1675-1676, the English killed an Indian blacksmith and destroyed two Indian forges on the Connecticut River, complete with materials and tools, indicating the Indians were equipped and had the skills necessary to repair firearms.  As early as 1780, missionary David Zeisberger reported that the Delaware people had “acquired considerable skill in making repairs…. Some have even learned to furnish them with stocks, neatly and well made.”   

Somewhat surprisingly, governments were also advocates of providing European gunsmiths to the tribes.  The French provided gunsmiths to the Iroquois, no doubt to further the competition with the British for alliances with the tribes.  The American colonists were not to be left out, as in 1750 Benjamin Franklin wrote, “…everyone must approve the proposal of encouraging a number of…smiths to reside among the Indians.  They would doubtless be of great service.  The whole subsistence of the Indians depends on keeping their guns in order…..A smith is more likely to influence them than a Jesuit.” 

Native gun smithing skills continued to expand through the 19TH Century and many surviving examples of the firearms carried by the Indians exhibit heavy use and very effective repairs and modifications which were necessary to keep them functioning and in use.  To a significant portion of the collecting world who actively seek these trade guns, such repairs are viewed as a desirable feature which adds considerably to the value.   

The ability of native gunsmiths to effect repairs, and the availability of European gunsmiths to the Indians, is particularly specific to this Chief’s Gun.  At some point, the wrist of the stock was broken, a common casualty due to the reduced diameter of the stock profile in this area and all of the inletting necessary to mount the lock, barrel and trigger assembly.  The impact which caused the break must have been substantial as the trigger guard was also severed along the same line of the break in the stock.  A very well executed repair was applied, with the stock rejoined so that it was very solid structurally with no looseness or movement due to the repair.  The joint was further supported with the application of two sheets of metal, one nailed to each side of the wrist with small nails around the perimeter.  The metal sheets were cut in such a way as to not cover the decorative oval plate on the top of the wrist nor the tang of the trigger guard.  The metal sheets have a nicely aged gray color, but they are not made of a ferrous metal such as iron or tin, and they are too hard to have been made of lead.  The color precludes them having been made of brass.  I suspect they were fashioned from thin sheets of pewter which would account for their color, and certainly pewter was common enough on the 19TH Century frontier in the form of table ware, serving pieces and other household furnishings.  To complete the repair, the trigger guard tang was silver soldered to repair the break.  As noted above, the repairs are very solid, allowing no movement in the stock, and it presents as a classic style of repair executed during the period.   

The most readily identifiable feature of a Chief’s Gun supplied by the British is the silver oval plate which is inlet into the top of the wrist.  Featuring an Indian warrior looking over his right shoulder and armed with bow and quiver of arrows, the plate was cast in high relief.  The plate is full form with no misshaping or damage and all of the details remain legible.   

This Chief’s Gun is maker stamped “HAMPTON” forward of the hammer on the lock plate.  The lock plate is also stamped forward of the maker’s stamp with the British Board of Ordnance crown and broad arrow acceptance stamp.  The tail of the lock plate is engraved with the correct boar’s head within a curled hunting horn.  

This gun was originally manufactured as a flintlock, and as was the case with so many of these guns, at some point in the period of its use it was converted to percussion.  The frizzen and pan were removed from the original lock plate which was retained, the flintlock hammer was replaced with a percussion hammer, and a drum and nipple was installed on the right side of the barrel.  The conversion was well executed and likely the work of a skilled gunsmith, were he European or Indian.  The lock functions properly with a notably strong hammer cock, and a smooth trigger pull.   

The half round, half octagon barrel, measuring the original 36 ¾” in length, is stamped on the top flat “LONDON” and with the Fox-in-the-circle mark used by the British Board of Ordnance beginning in approximately 1798.  The left flat of the barrel is stamped with the three correct government proof marks and all three are still legible.  The barrel features the two sets of “wedding band” rings where the barrel transitions from octagon to round.  The barrel is mounted with an inlaid silver front sight, shaped like an “X”, referred to at the time of manufacture and trade as a “spider sight”.   

The full form side plate is engraved with the correct trophy of arms consisting of a shield over a crossed bow and arrow.  The plate is attached with the two lock screws and a third wood screw anchoring the tail of the plate, in accordance with the established pattern.  The stock is stamped immediately above the side plate with the initials “J.S.H.” just to the right of the upper lock screw head, an acceptance stamp applied during the inspection process by a Board of Ordnance inspector.     

The trigger guard is full form in spite of the tang having been broken.  Both the front and rear tang finals retain all of their form and detailed engraving, and the face of the trigger bow is engraved with the same trophy of arms consisting of a shield over a crossed bow and arrow that is engraved on the side plate.   

The butt plate is full form and solidly attached.  The tang is engraved with the proper boar’s head within a curled hunting horn.  

The three beaded ramrod pipes are all present, the front two pipes having survived the shortening of the fore stock. These two pipes were remounted to the underside of the barrel with solder joints, albeit somewhat crudely executed.  Not the prettiest application of solder, but obviously effective to have survived the passing years.  There is a wooden ramrod present, and while I doubt it is the original rod, it does show evidence of age and use and probably is a period replacement.   

All of the brass furniture has a pleasing naturally aged patina and all of the original engraving is fully legible and easily viewed.      

The stock, retaining a rich aged color, is in full form save for the reduction of the forearm length and shows very little wear in view of its age and obvious use.  The stock retains its original shape and form.  Other than the repair to the wrist, there are no other splits or cracks.  The stock is generally smooth, having a naturally worn feel to it, with the edges softened through years of handling.  There are some naturally occurring minor dings and marks from the long term use.   

There is the “mirrored script R’s” storekeepers’ stamp immediately behind the rear tang of the trigger guard, a known inventory control measure used during the war to monitor distribution.  This stamp does not appear on all of these guns, so that it is present and remains legible is an added value.  

Despite obvious evidence of long and regular use on the frontier, this Chief’s Grade Trade Gun has survived in very good condition with a wonderful look and feel attesting to the history it witnessed, and is a very nice example of a very early 19TH Century trade gun that rarely appears on the open market today.  (1008)  $5750



Ordering Instructions

Identified Items  


Edged Weapons

Saddles and Horse Equipment


Collectors Ammunition

Uniforms, Insignia, Hats

Canteens and Mess Gear

Gun tools, Bullet molds and Parts

Field Equipment and Artillery

Original Ordnance Manuals, and Photos 

US Army Medical

Reference Books and Reprints