Firearm with flint-striking ignition

A flintlock is a general term for firearms that use the flintlock firing mechanism. It can also refer just to the firing mechanism itself.[1] A flintlock uses a piece of flint held in a locking jaw. When the trigger is pulled, a hammer with the flint attached falls, striking a piece of steel called a "frizzen". This causes a spark which causes the gunpowder in the pan (directly below the flint) to ignite. Through a small hole, this ignites the main powder charge in the breech of the gun causing it to fire the round ball, shot or bullet. The flintlock was a very popular type of musket for over 200 years.[2] Flintlocks were available with smoothbore and later rifled gun barrels.[3]

Flintlock mechanism
A flintlock mechanism (French lock design)
Snaphaunce, an early flintlock
A snaphaunce, an early type of flintlock



The first form of flintlock appeared in 1570 and was called a snaphaunce.[4] About 1630, Frenchman Marin le Bourgeoys created the first "true" flintlock, also called the "French lock".[5] Bourgeoys was in the service of King Louis XIII of France for whom he created the flintlock mechanism.[5] The French lock simplified the Snaphaunce design by creating a one-piece, L-shaped frizzen. This is the style seen on most flintlocks today.

Like earlier designs such as the matchlock, the flintlock design was used for smoothbore long guns or muskets.[6] But soon it was used for shotguns and pistols. Officers on sailing ships and army officers used flintlock pistols as well.[6]

Famous flintlocks


Long guns

  • Popularly called the "Brown Bess", The British Land Pattern Musket - was produced between 1725 and 1838, the Land Pattern and its versions were all .75 caliber smoothbore muskets. They were the standard guns for all land forces in the British Empire.[2] They were replaced after 1838 by smoothbore percussion cap muskets.[2] Its effective range was about 100 yards (91 m) but in most battle situations the distance between forces was only about 50 yards (46 m).[7] Even at that range the gun was not particularly accurate. The British tactic was to fire in vollies followed by a bayonet attack.[7]
  • Fusil de chasse (French, meaning "hunting gun") - by the mid-18th century a light flintlock musket carried by an officer was called a fusil (corruption of the Italian fucile meaning flint).[12] Both the French and the British had versions of the officer's fusil. From this name came the term fusilier. British officers of foot were originally armed with a spontoon, but later the pole weapon was replaced by the officer's fusil.[12] A very similar but cheaper version was the "fusil de traite" (trade gun).[13] The officer's fusil is fitted for a sling and the stock is 4 inches (100 mm) shorter than the barrel to fit a bayonet. The officer's fusil was much better made. At 20 gauge (.62 caliber) the fusil was also considered a fowling gun (early predecessor of the shotgun).[12] Some American officers in the Revolutionary War also carried fusils.[a]


  • Kentucky pistol - Introduced about the turn of the 17th century it has remained basically unchanged. It is a somewhat awkward piece to load for inexperienced users.[15] The Kentucky had a tendency to hang fire (also called a misfire). The flint strikes the frizzen and ignites the powder in the pan but will at times burn slowly like a fuse. When this happens it is critical to keep it pointed at the target until it fires. The gun was typically .50 caliber and had an octagonal barrel.[16] The stock was typically curly maple and usually had a wood ramrod with a brass tip.[16]
  • Duelling pistols - While not a specific gun it was a type of flintlock weapon. Duelling pistols were made in matched pairs and usually were in a case. They were often an ornate and highly decorated gun intended to be used in a duel.[b] Until the 19th century most were single-shot flintlock pistols. Like other flintlock pistols, there is a noticeable delay between pulling the trigger and the gun firing.
  1. Reverend John Rosbrugh, the first American chaplain killed in battle, carried a French fusil.[14]
  2. A cased set of flintlock dueling pistols was presented to George Washington in 1778 by Thomas Turner.[17] Washington was opposed to dueling but accepted the finely crafted pistols.[17] The set is in the U.S. Army Museum at West Point.[17]


  1. "A Brief History on Flintlocks and Guns". Derpwell's Vault. Retrieved 2 August 2016.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 "Flintlock Guns". Military Factory. Retrieved 2 August 2016.
  3. The Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Early American Republic, 1783–1812, ed. Spencer C. Tucker (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2014), p. 220
  4. "Snaphaunce". Shire of Isles. Society for Creative Anachronism. Archived from the original on 21 September 2015. Retrieved 2 August 2016.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Jeff Kinard, Pistols: An Illustrated History of Their Impact (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2004), p. 24
  6. 6.0 6.1 "Early Firearms History". The Firearms Guide. Archived from the original on 1 July 2016. Retrieved 2 August 2016.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Kennedy Hickman (21 May 2015). "American Revolution: "Brown Bess" Musket". About Education. About.com. Archived from the original on 2 June 2016. Retrieved 3 August 2016.
  8. "Pennsylvania Rifle Historical Marker". Explore PA History. Retrieved 29 July 2016.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Philip S. Klein; Ari Arthur Hoogenboom, History of Pennsylvania (University Park; London: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1980), p. 102
  10. "U.S. Springfield Model 1795 Flintlock Musket Type I". NRA National Firearms Museum. Retrieved 2 August 2016.
  11. 11.0 11.1 John Stott (17 April 2014). "The U.S Musket Model 1795". johnniestott.weebly.com/. Retrieved 2 August 2016.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Don Troiani; James L. Kochan; et al., Don Troiani's Soldiers in America, 1754-1865 (Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1998), p. 36
  13. "A Fusil by any other name – French era guns". The French in Wisconsin. Archived from the original on 14 August 2016. Retrieved 2 August 2016.
  14. John Cunningham Clyde, Rosbrugh, a Tale of the Revolution (Easton PA, 1880), p. 55
  15. "Weapons Rundown: Kentucky Flintlock Pistol". History; Top Shot. A&E Television Networks, LLC. Retrieved 3 August 2016.
  16. 16.0 16.1 "Pennsylvania/Kentucky Pistol". Smithsonian National Museum of American History. Retrieved 3 August 2016.
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 "F is for Flintlock". Allen County Museum & Historical Society. Archived from the original on 17 April 2016. Retrieved 3 August 2016.

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