The year 1793, ten years after the end of the American Revolutionary War ended, would find the French embroiled in a revolution of their own and again at war with England. Secretary of War Henry Knox assessed the arms situation and what he found was not good. Precious few arms were found suitable for service, and these included a mixture of French and British muskets and therefore not of uniform caliber, a critical consideration in the logistics of war.
Further, the 1790’s would usher in the beginning of the American two-party system. The pro-British Hamiltonian Federalists would rise to power over the French-leaning Jeffersonian Republicans. This internal power struggle in America begged the question with regard to martial firearms: If we are to rely on a European supplier of firearms, from whom would we obtain those firearms? As it turned out, instead of an ally, the US would almost go to war with France in the so-called Quasi-War (1798-1800). At the same time, the British government would refuse to allow Ketland, a major firearms manufactory, to fulfill a 10,000 arms contract with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Considering the condemnable state of arms and perhaps anticipating our political dilemma with regard to European alliances, in 1794 Congress approved the construction of two federal armories for the purpose of manufacturing small arms. The locations chosen were the already existing Springfield, Massachusetts arsenal and Harpers Ferry, Virginia, the latter location chosen presumably to be nearer Washington, DC. These armories began production in 1795 and 1800, respectively.
Because our national defense was still heavily dependent upon militia, and because the nascent federal armory system was not yet fully operational, parallel arms procurement measures were taken. Most notably, the United States government along with the Commonwealths of Virginia and Pennsylvania procured arms from alternate sources. In 1794 and 1798 contracts, the U.S. government solicited nearly thirty private gunmakers to manufacture approximately 47,000 arms (of which perhaps one-half were ever made).
In Virginia’s 1797 legislative act, Virginia authorized the construction of their own state armory at Richmond and also secured arms from several private contractors. Private contractors also supplied arms to other states and for individual sales. All of the armory and contract muskets in this period, variances among manufacturers notwithstanding, are of the period-termed “Charleville Pattern” or “Charleville Musket” design.