The Model 1799: America’s First Service Pistol

North & Cheney Model 1799 Pistol (RIA)

Long before the MHS, the M1911, and even before the Colt Single Action Army the U.S. adopted its first sidearm. After the Revolutionary War Connecticut gunmaker Simeon North won a contract to manufacture the fledgling nation’s first officially adopted pistol. The result was the North & Cheney Model 1799 flintlock pistol. Heavily influenced by the French St. Etienne/Charleville Modele 1777 pistol, which had seen action in America during the Revolutionary War.

The Rock Island Auction Company is selling a beautiful example of the extremely rare Model 1799 at their September Premier Auction. Expected to fetch between $55,000 – $85,000, the pistol is a rare piece of early American history. In the video below the guys from Rock Island take a look at the pistol and discuss its history and provenance:

North made his new pistols in Berlin, Connecticut. They fired a .72 caliber ball and a brass frame held together the lock, trigger mechanism and walnut grips. The ramrod, rather than running under the barrel, ran along the right side, back past the trigger to give the pistol a sleeker profile. While the Model 1799 was the first sidearm officially adopted by the U.S. government, the Continental Army had adopted the Model 1775. Based on a British, rather than French, design the Model 1775, made at the Rappahannock Forge in Virginia, fired a smaller .62-caliber ball.

North and his brother-in-law Elisha Cheney went into business between 1799 and 1802. During this time they produced around 2,000 in two contracts. The pistols saw action during the War of 1812. One may have been used by future Vice President Colonel Richard Johnson to kill the Shawnee chief Tecumseh during Battle of the Thames. Johnson capitalised on the event and later launched a successful political career.

North continued to make pistols, manufacturing the Model 1826 for the U.S. Navy. America adopted its last flintlock pistol in 1836, the same year Samuel Colt patented his revolutionary revolving pistol. It wasn’t until 1848 that the U.S. Army adopted its first percussion revolver – the Colt Dragoon.

Matthew Moss is a British historian specialising in small arms development and military history. He has written for a variety of publications in both the US and UK he also runs, a blog that explores the history, development and use of firearms. Matthew is also co-founder of, a new video series on historically significant small arms.


  • ExMachina1

    cue sarcastic drop safe quips in 3, 2,…

  • Martin Grønsdal

    They had aftermarket straight triggers then?

    • iksnilol

      Oh no, back in the day people were poor and the work was dangerous. After their appointed trigger bender died, in his honor (and due to budget cuts) they only made them with straight triggers from then on.

  • Kelly Jackson

    I’m sure all the action heros of the day used .72 caliber pistols.

    • Zebra Dun

      Lost in time is a written thread where folk argue the change from .72 cal to .62 caliber being less lethal.

  • Brett baker

    A better stopper than 9mm or .45.

  • codfilet

    Back then, the operators used specially-knapped flints……

  • The Forty ‘Twa

    The lack of rail space is a huge flaw.

  • Andy
  • gunsandrockets

    now this is what an 18th Century action hero would wield! A bayonet equipped blunderbuss pistol.

    Nice Dragoons

  • Peter Nissen

    Where’s Ian??????

  • Jim Slade

    Can Glock retroactively protest this?

  • ShooterPatBob

    Very interesting! This article made me do a little more digging, and I found out that the U.S. didn’t adopt percussion firearms until 1848. Resistance to change has been a recurrent theme since the beginning.

    • There were also, um, “issues”, with percussion caps in the beginning… whereas at least flintlocks had *known* issues and solutions.

      Plus, until the Minie ball rolled into the scene, there wasn’t really much point in changing.

  • schizuki

    No spare barrel in .300 Blackpowderout = fail.

  • derfelcadarn

    Very cool, they should have let Ian deal with it

  • Zebra Dun

    Does it come CA,MA compliant?