Saturday, October 24, 2020

"I Made Me a Cartridge-box": A Quick Primer on Muskets and Cartridge Boxes on the Eve of April 19, 1775

Let’s be honest, the Nerds love it when Joel Bohy and David Wood host a military weapons talk. 

For those who may be interested, this upcoming Wednesday the Concord Museum will be hosting a seminar on the weapons used by Massachusetts Provincials and British soldiers on April 19, 1775. 

According to the Concord Museum’s website:

Learn about the firearms that were used at the start of the American Revolution on April 19, 1775! In this virtual event at 6pm on 10.28, experts Joel Bohy of Bruneau & Co. Auctioneers & the Concord Museum's Curator, David Wood, explore the objects that played a part in the events of that fateful day. Participants will experience historic objects like never before, all are welcome! 

Go to to register now!

This program is an event of the Cummings Davis Society, which helps support acquisitions & preservation of the Museum’s distinguished collection for future generations.

The Nerds would encourage all of our followers to check out this presentation.

Of course, in anticipation of this event, we went back and examined some of our own notes and research on the makeup of muskets and cartridge boxes within ranks of the American forces on the eve of Lexington and Concord.

Militia and minutemen obtained their firearms from a variety of sources.  These sources included fowling-pieces; imported muskets sold by local merchants; muskets and equipment captured from enemy troops (most notably the French and Spanish); locally produced weapons; stands of arms issued by the British government to Massachusetts provincial and militia soldiers during the French and Indian War; and finally, the rare procurement of a musket from a willing British soldier stationed in Boston.  

Thus, it was not uncommon to observe within the same militia company, 20 gauge fowlers, 12 gauge fowlers, 1742 King’s Pattern musket (often and erroneously referred to as the 1st Model Brown Bess), Dutch muskets, Spanish muskets, American muskets with parts obtained from several sources and French muskets within the same militia company.  

The makeup of muskets within the ranks of the Lexington Company on April 19th was no different.  Benjamin Locke’s musket was of French origin while Captain John Parker’s musket was a combination of English, American and French parts. An archaeological survey of the Parker’s Revenge battle site inside Minute Man National Historic Park yielded several small caliber musket balls of American origin.  The size of these balls suggests that many of the Lexington men were firing fowling guns as the retreating column passed by.

Recent research has also revealed the popular assumption that militia and minutemen of Massachusetts carried their ammunition in various, individualistic ways to be incorrect. 

Instead, most towns undertook a variety of steps to ensure its minute and militia companies were somewhat uniformly armed with belting, bayonets and cartridge boxes.  In Bradford, the town resolved “Voted, That the Selectmen provide bayonets and cartouch boxes for the Minute-Men on the town cost, to be returned to the town after they are dismissed from the service.” Residents of Brimfield resolved that it “provide for 50 minute men a Cartridge Box, Knapsack, and thirty rounds of cartridge and ball a sett for each private in said Company to be provided imemdiately.” Finally, in March of 1775, the Town of Ashburnham voted that Captain Jonathan Gates be instructed to procure thirty-six cartridge boxes for the use of the town’s minute-men at the expense of the town.

The most common type of cartridge box constructed on the eve of the American Revolution consisted of a“D” design soft leather pouch with a wooden block inserted to hold nineteen rounds of ammunition.  The box lacked side flaps and would not have kept powder dry during inclement weather.  

Many towns, including Lexington, Concord, Lincoln, and Acton, developed a cottage industry and paid its saddlers to make cartridge boxes for its minute and militia companies. Scituate’s Israel Litchfield recorded in his journal the making of cartridge boxes.  “[January] 14 [1775] I made me a Cartridge-box, I Covered it with a Coltskin it will Carry 19 Rounds.”  In Lexington, Jonathan Harrington, father of the company fifer, and Phillip Russel were hired to make cartridge boxes made out of moose skin.  

As an aside, the only limited exception of individualistic styling appears to have been powder horns.  There is evidence that many militiamen personalized their horns by engraving them with maps, slogans or pictures. 

So, with that background in mind, if you are free next Wednesday, be sure to check out what will be a very informative and exciting lecture!

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