Friday, November 18, 2016

"In a Very Rusty Condition" - British Stands of Arms Issued to Massachusetts Provincial Soldiers During the French and Indian War

During the French and Indian War, Massachusetts Bay Colony encouraged its provincial soldiers to provide their own arms, rather than rely upon the government. For example, Governor Pownall declared in the Boston Gazette that “as most people in North America have arms of their own, which from their being accustomed to and being so much lighter than the Tower Arms, must be more agreeable and proper for them, General Amherst, as an encouragement for their coming provided with good muskets, engages to pay every one they shall so bring that may be spoiled or lost in actual service at the rate of twenty-five shillings sterling.” Jonathan Barnard of Waltham, Massachusetts petitioned the Massachusetts colony to be reimbursed for the loss of a firearm by his son who was killed “in a battle near Lake George”. This effort was met with moderate success and as a result, a shortage still existed. In turn, Massachusetts was forced to petition Britain for military supplies.

The arms shipped to Massachusetts were generally referred to as a “stand of arms”. Firearms were issued in complete sets or “stands”, meaning that all of the basic components and accouterments needed to use the firearm were included. These components included the firearm itself, a bayonet fitted to the gun, bayonet scabbard, sling, a belly box with a waist belt and leather frog. Unlike the better quality cartridge boxes issued to regular regiments, the belly boxes that came with the stands were simple wooden blocks with cartridge holes drilled in it. Two thin leather strips were nailed to the front of the box for a waist belt, which carried the frog, scabbard and bayonet.

It appears that the number of rounds a cartridge box could hold varied from box to box. In a letter of Henry Bouquet to Forbes, dated June 14, 1758, the author notes, “I have noticed a great inconvenience in the use of cartridge boxes for the provincial troops. They do not know how to make cartridges, or rather, they take too much time. In the woods, they seldom have time or places suitable to make them. These cartridge boxes hold only 9 charges, some twelve, which is not sufficient. I think that their powder horns and pouches would be more useful, keeping the cartridge box, however, to use in case of a sudden or night attack.”

Artifacts recovered from the British man-of-war Invincible, wrecked in the Solent while sailing for the invasion of Louisbourg in 1758, also provide detailed information about cartridge boxes. Among the items recovered in 1979 was a nine-hole belly box with part of the leather flap still intact. In the “General Orders of 1757 Issued by the Earl of Loudoun and Phineas Lyman in the Campaign Against the French”, the orders indicate effective “July 2d, 1757, at Fort Edward, that Each Man be provided with 24 Rounds of Powder & Ball.”

Bayonets recovered from fortifications manned by Massachusetts provincial troops suggest the bayonets issued consisted of flat bladed socket bayonets manufactured in England between 1700 and 1730. At other archeological sites in the Lake Champlain region, it appears Massachusetts provincial soldiers were also issued Dutch rectangular bladed bayonets manufactured in the 1720s.

Massachusetts soldiers received powder horns, powder flasks, knapsacks and bullet pouches. An inventory of equipment provided by the government to Massachusetts troops participating in the 1755 Crown Point expedition suggests the following equipment was distributed “1200 cartouch boxes . . . 1500 powder flasks … 1300 powder horns … 1500 worms & 1500 wires . . . 1500 knapsacks and bullet pouches.”

Naturally, one must ask what type of musket was issued as part of the stand of arms. In the fall of 1755, then Governor Shirley described the 2000 stands of arms he received to include “ Land muskets of the King’s pattern with double bridle locks, old pattern nosebands and wood rammers.” In the spring of 1756, 10,000 stands of arms were shipped to the colonies, including Massachusetts. The shipment consisted entirely of “Land service muskets of the King’s pattern with brass furniture, double bridle locks, wood rammers with bayonets & scabbards and tann’d leather slings.” The descriptions of these muskets, particularly with the emphasis on “double bridle locks”, suggest the muskets issued to Massachusetts provincial troops was the 1742 King’s Pattern (often and erroneously referred to as the 1st Model Brown Bess).

The 1742 King’s Pattern was the successor to the 1730 pattern and represented the majority of muskets shipped from England to Massachusetts during the French and Indian War. The 1742 musket’s overall length was 61 11/16 inches, its barrel length was 45 1/2 inches and its caliber was .77. This firelock featured a double bridled firelock, a wood ramrod, a brass nose band to slow wear on the fore end of the stock and a redesigned oval trigger lock. All furniture was brass.

However, the 1742 pattern was not the only type of musket delivered to Massachusetts. Because the British government could not always keep up with demand and wartime shortages, the colonies also received Dutch muskets produced between 1706 and 1730. Dutch muskets were generally 61 3/8 inches in length; its barrel was 45 7/8 inches and had a caliber of .78. Its furniture was composed of iron or brass, the ramrods were made of wood and the lock plate was rounded (as opposed to flat). As described above, the accompanying bayonets were short-shanked rectangular blades.

Unfortunately for Massachusetts Bay Colony, the muskets and related equipment supplied by the British government were not top of the line. On July 16, 1756, Colonel John Winslow and Lieutenant Colonel George Scott both complained that the arms they received “are in very bad condition.” That same year, Virginia’s Lieutenant Governor Robert Dinwiddie complained about a shipment of arms that was received and slated to be shared amongst the American colonies, including Massachusetts. According to Dinwiddie, the stands of arms were “in a very rusty condition, and it w’d appear they had been under water for months.” The previous year, on September 28, 1755, Governor Shirley and Major General William Pepperrell both received correspondence highlighting the inadequacies of weapons and equipment sent to Massachusetts provincials. “The locks being wore out and the hammers so soft, that notwithstanding repeated repairs they are most unfit for service, particularly Sir William Pepperrell’s Regiment being old Dutch arms. The holes of the pouches and boxes are so small that they cannot receive the Cartridge, nor is there substance of the wood, to widen them sufficiently. The leather scanty and bad likewise.”

Of course, in the eyes of the British government, the stands of arms provided to Massachusetts soldiers were property of His Majesty and were expected to be returned to officials at the end of each campaign. Yet despite the existing deficiencies, Massachusetts soldiers often refused to return these stands of arms. In 1757, the British Comptroller Furnis complained “out of the 2,000 [stands of arms] issued to the Province of the Massachusetts Bay, he has just yet received 300 only.” Two years later, Governor Pownall complained “I had caused about three thousand stand of arms to be delivered to the men, raised the last year for His Majesty’s service, under General Abercromby; I have an account of one hundred and fifteen only, as yet returned.”

Assuming the numbers are accurate, at least 4585 British and Dutch muskets, belly boxes and bayonets remained in the hands of the Massachusetts provincials by 1759. Thus, it is highly plausible that many of these muskets, especially the 1742 King’s Pattern, were utilized by Massachusetts militia and minute companies on April 19, 1775 and during the subsequent Siege of Boston.

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