Innovative for its time, the Ferguson rifle is considered by many to be the king of early breech loading rifles, and the most desirable, bar none. This is an extremely rare example of a Ferguson pattern rifle made in the late 18th century as a fine sporting rifle for a high ranking officer or a very important individual. These rifles were originally invented by Captain Patrick Ferguson with intent for military use in 1774 and granted 1776 dated British patent number 1139. To operate, the knob protruding off the rear of the trigger guard is able to be turned one rotation clockwise utilizing a multi-start thread system, which opens up the top of the breech end of the barrel, allowing access for loading of powder and ball; during a time when loading from the muzzle end with a rammer on a smoothbore musket was commonplace. In a combat scenario, the advantages of this system include the ability to reload drastically quicker, and also the ability to reload from the prone position in order to keep oneself from being exposed to the enemy, a feat near impossible with a muzzle-loading musket. An 1888 biography titled "TWO SCOTTISH SOLDIERS", by James Ferguson states, “Always on the outlook for opportunities of action, he [Patrick Ferguson] regarded with attention the aspect of affairs; and the outbreak of war with the revolted colonies found him intent on the invention of a new species of rifle, with which to counteract the superiority as marksmen of the American backwoodsmen.”. The "Annual Register" of June 1st, 1776 states, “Some experiments were tried at Woolwich before Lord Viscount Townshend, Lord Amherst, Generals Harvey and Desaguliers, and a number of other officers with a rifle gun upon a new construction by Capt. Ferguson of the 70th regiment; when that gentleman, under the disadvantages of a heavy rain and a high wind, performed the following four things, none of which had ever before been accomplished with any other small arms... 1st- He fired during four or five minutes at a target, at two hundred yards distance, at the rate of four shots each minute... 2nd- He fired six shots in one minute... 3rd- He fired four times per minute, advancing at the same time at the rate of four miles in the hour... 4th- He poured a bottle of water into the pan and barrel of the piece when loaded, so as to wet every grain of powder, and in less than half a minute fired with her as well as ever without extracting the ball. He also hit the bull’s eye at 100 yards, lying with his back on the ground; and, notwithstanding the unequalness of the wind and wetness of the weather he only missed the target three times during the whole course of the experiments. The captain has since taken out a patent for the said improvements.” After this demonstration, Lord Townsend, the Master General of Ordnance, directed one hundred rifles to be made for British Military use and for Patrick Ferguson to oversee their manufacturing. In 1777 Captain Ferguson would be put in command of a rifle corps to go fight in the Revolutionary War, carrying military pattern Ferguson rifles. Ferguson's men would see action at the battle of Brandywine all the way through to the Battle of Kings Mountain in 1780, where Ferguson was surrounded and killed. This rifle was not one of the military issue rifles and does not have a fitting for a bayonet lug, but appears to have been made as a sporting piece as mentioned above. It features Ferguson's patent multi-start screw breech plug system, which allows opening of the breech with one turn. There are known to be slight variations in design by the different makers of the limited known surviving examples of Ferguson rifles, and this example has an eleven-thread breech plug without Ferguson's improved grease slots on the sides of the plug. The barrel features eight-groove rifling with thin grooves and wide lands, measures at approximately .65 caliber and is likely intended for use with .615 caliber bullets as used in the military pattern rifles (they have the same .65 bore diameter). Border and scroll engraving is seen on the breech area of the barrel, lock, hammer, breech screw plug, trigger guard and brass buttplate. Silver blade front and fixed notch rear sight ahead of the breech plug. The top of the barrel is marked with London crown proofs, "(star)/RW" makers mark and "LONDON" behind the notch rear sight. The lock is signed "Barnett" in fancy script at the center below the flashpan, equipped with a roller frizzen and is unmarked on the inside. William Wilson and Robert Barnett originally apprenticed under Richard Wilson (father of William, passed away in 1766), who was a maker of sporting guns and British Ordnance guns. Richard Wilson passed away prior to the manufacture of this rifle, and his son William Wilson (I) took over the Wilson firm and would continue using Richard Wilson's "(star)/RW" makers mark as seen at the breech of this example. At the time this Ferguson pattern rifle would have been made (post-1777) William Wilson would have been in a partnership together with Barnett; explaining the Wilson maker marked barrel and Barnett signed lock. William Wilson's only recorded apprentice was Thomas Barnett (son of Robert), who was turned over to William in 1780 until he was later made free of the Wilson company in 1786, continuing the Barnett line.
Very good, exhibits strong traces of original brown finish mixed with brown patina overall, a few occasional patches of very light pitting, and crisp markings and engraving. The brass fittings retain a pleasing original golden aged patina. Stock is very good as restored, with replaced forward sections of wood to the rear of the muzzle, some light handling marks, a few scattered moderate pressure dents, a few cracks on bottom around the breech plug (a known occurrence on Fergusons) and running beneath the lock, minor cracks at various edges, slightly undersized at the edges of the buttplate, and an otherwise attractive figure overall. Absent ramrod. Mechanically excellent, the threaded breech plug operates smoothly with tight fitment. With only a few Ferguson pattern rifles of any kind left, mostly residing in museums, this is a truly unique opportunity to own this most historic rifle!
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