Monday, October 16, 2023

BRITISH PATTERN 1738 HEAVY DRAGOON PISTOL by David Stavlo from Lodgewood Mfg

 The Pattern 1738 "Heavy Dragoon" pistol was the British army's first attempt at standardizing the cavalryman's side arm. Previous cavalry pistols had all been built to a loose pattern, but their length, styling and caliber all varied widely; depending on the tastes (and budget) of the contractors who supplied them to the military. In fact, the concept of "standardizing" the official look and dimensions of their military arms was not something that the British Board of Ordnance would adopt until roughly 1730, with the first issuance of the "King's Pattern" Brown Bess to regular troops. The King's Pattern guns were originally developed at the Tower of London, and received the official seal of King George I. Additional copies of this "sealed pattern" gun were then produced at the Tower, and sent to each of the country's military arms contractors; with instructions that all muskets produced hence forth should be exact copies of the sealed pattern arm. 

With the infantry muskets now standardized, the Board of Ordnance turned its attention to the rest of the military's branches; developing next, a new pistol for the cavalry. In keeping with the theme of standardization, the new cavalry pistol was developed to heavily reflect the design elements of the Brown Bess - the side plate, trigger guard, curved lock plate and and decorative stock moldings are all virtually identical to those found on the early Land Pattern Bess. Interestingly, the new pattern pistol was built in two different calibers: pistol bore (.56 cal) and carbine bore (.66 caliber). This caliber variance is perplexing given that the primary goal of the military's small arms re-design program was to standardize their weapons and alleviate some of the logistical issues associated with supplying an army whose arms were bored in a variety of different calibers. This decision to offer the new cavalry pistol in both pistol and carbine bore sizes may have been related to a longstanding debate that began in the early 18th Century and was still being argued among the British Board of Ordnance as late as the turn of the century - should the cavalry carry long arms that can be difficult to load and fire while mounted, or should the carbine be eliminated from the cavalry arsenal and supplanted with a traditional pair of pistols? 

Traditionally the pistol had been the only firearm carried by mounted troops. Fired during cavalry charges, pistols could be used to pour "harassing fire" into lines of enemy infantry; until the horsemen could ride in close enough to make use of their primary weapon: the saber. However, by the 1730's the first carbines were beginning to see issuance among some cavalry units, with proponents of the shortened muskets arguing the guns' utility at longer ranges in comparison to the pistol, and allowing the added benefit of being utilized as infantry weapons when dismounted. It's possible that the King's Pattern Heavy Dragoon pistol was originally intended to fire only pistol caliber ammunition, but was later adapted to accept the same ammunition as the carbine - again, all in an effort to promote standardization among the military. Unfortunately, because the date markings on the lock plates of original pistols correspond to the production date of the lock itself and not the date of the actual pistol to which the lock is mated, its not possible to take a survey of original guns to determine if this theory rings true. Especially when one considers that finished locks often sat in storage for several years before they were installed into a gun (interestingly, this was actually one of the factors that led the Board of Ordnance to discontinue the practice of marking the date of manufacture on the tail of musket lock plates in the 1760s - soldiers who were issued the guns would often complain of being issued an "old worn out gun" based on the date of the lock plate, despite the fact that the musket itself may have only just left the arsenal).

The new cavalry pistol was adopted in 1738 and dubbed the "Heavy Dragoon Pistol, Pattern of 1738". It would go on to see service in virtually every major 18th Century conflict in which the British military was involved, including the French & Indian War, Revolutionary War, and War of 1812. Because a large number of Heavy Dragoon pistols were sent to North America for the defense of the Colonies during the French & Indian War, the pistol saw extensive use in the hands of American cavalrymen during the War for Independence, as a large number still remained in colonial storehouses by the time Independence was declared in 1776; and many original examples can still be found bearing American markings on their stocks. 

This particular P1738 Heavy Dragoon pistol was recently finished by David Stavlo from castings produced by The Rifle Shoppe, in Oklahoma. Rifle Shoppe parts sets are marketed toward the advanced builder and this was certainly the case with this build. The first step in the build process was building the lock - the kit includes castings of an original lock plate and internal components, but the plate needed to be drilled and tapped for all of its screws, and all the internal components needed to be machined and hardened to go from a loose assemblage of cast parts to a complete and functional flintlock.  After assembling the lock, the finished lock parts were then sent out to have proper British military markings hand engraved into the lock plate, cock, and frizzen - the same way it was done nearly 300 years ago.

With the lock assembly complete, David began fitting and shaping the stock. The stock was carved from a blank of straight grained Walnut. David hand-fit each component to the stock to make sure the fit was similar to what's found on original Dragoon Pistols, produced during a time that predated modern stock bedding machinery. After all the parts were fit, David continued with the stock shaping. After studying quite a few original guns pictured in books like George Neumann's Battle Weapons of the American Revolution, David was able to work the stock down to the graceful profile of the original pistols; with special attention paid to the decorative lock mouldings, butt cap, and forestock. As an added bonus, David was able to inspect an original Ordnance Pattern Heavy Dragoon pistol and copy the gun's markings. This allowed us to have a full set of proofmarks/store keeper's marks made to the exact specifications of those found on originals. These stamps were applied the the butt stock, barrel, and tang of this pistol; making it a perfect replica - right down to the smallest of details. 

David continued by hand polishing all of the gun's brass hardware before a heavy patined finish was applied to the whole gun; giving the pistol the look of a well worn, battle hardened an antique. 

Finally, David test-fired the pistol with a .58 caliber ball over 45 grains of FFG (the barrel of this gun is nominally carbine caliber at about .63).

Copy and photography supplied by by David Stavlo from Lodgewood Mfg here.

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