Thursday, January 1, 2015


 It has been established by recent historical research that firelocks and equipment in the hands of Massachusetts militia and minute men on the eve of the American Revolution came from five primary sources.  These sources included imported muskets sold by local merchants[2]; muskets and equipment captured from enemy troops (most notably the French and Spanish)[3]; 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.  The purpose of this paper is to examine the fourth source of weapons and equipment available to Massachusetts troops: stands of arms issued by the British government to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in support of the military effort against France.

Historically, during the French wars 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.”[4]  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”.[5]  This effort was met with moderate success and unfortunately, a shortage still existed.  As a result, Massachusetts was forced to petition Britain for military supplies.

Unfortunately for Massachusetts Bay Colony, the muskets and related equipment supplied by the British government was not the top of the line.  Colonial governments traditionally received in times of crisis obsolete and older arms from Britain.  By comparison, military regiments stationed at home or in Europe generally received newer, high-quality arms. 

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.”[6]

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.[7]  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 located in Maine and 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 provincial soldiers were also issued Dutch rectangular bladed bayonets manufactured in the 1720s.[8]

Massachusetts soldiers also 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.”[9]

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.”[10]  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.”[11]  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.[12]

Unfortunately, these muskets were in less than ideal condition when they arrived in Boston.  In July 16, 1756, Colonel John Winslow and Lieutenant Colonel George Scott both complained that the arms they received “are in very bad condition.”[13]  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.”[14]  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.”[15] 

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.”[16]  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.”[17] 

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.  As to how many of these retained muskets and equipment were used at the outset of the American Revolution more research needs to be conducted.  However, 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.    


[1] With credit to Jim Mullins’ work Of Sorts for Provincials: American Weapons of the French and Indian War.  I relied heavily upon his work in preparing this paper. 
[2] “To be sold by John Pim of Boston, Gunsmith, at the Sign of the Cross Guns, in Anne-Street near the Draw Bridge, at very Reasonable rates, sundry choice of Arms lately arrived from London, viz. Handy Muskets, Buccaneer-Guns, Fowling Pieces, Hunting Guns, Carbines, several sorts of Pistols, Brass and Iron, fashionable swords, &c.”  (Boston Newsletter, July 11, 1720); “Newly imported, and sold by Samuel Miller, Gunsmith, at the Sign of the Cross Guns near the Draw-Bridge, Boston: Neat Fire Arms of all sorts, Pistols, Swords, Hangars, Cutlasses, Flasks for Horsemen, Firelocks, &c.”  (Boston Gazette, May 11, 1742)
[3] “We killed and took about the same number of the enemy.  The lieuttenant of the British company and myself, were foremost, and we advanced on and found their sleeping-place, and while running it up, the Lieutenant was shot through the vitals and he died soon thereafter.  Thus I was all alone, the remainder of our party not having gained the summit; the enemy retreated, and i followed them to the other end of the hill.  In my route on the hill, I picked up a good French gun and brought it home with me.”  (The Life of Captain David Perry, A Soldier of the French and Revolutionary Wars)As militiamen from the village of Lynn marched off to war on April 19, 1775, an observer noted “[one man with] a long fowling piece, without a bayonet, a horn of powder, and a seal-skin pouch, filled with bullets and buckshot. . . Here an old soldier carried a heavy Queen’s arm with which he had done service at the conquest of Canada twenty years previous, while by his side walked a stripling boy with a Spanish fusee not half its weight or calibre, which his grandfather may have taken at the Havana, while not a few had old French pieces, that dated back to the reduction of Louisbourg.”  (History of Lynn, p. 338)
[4] Boston Gazette, March 26, 1759.
[5] Journals of the House of Representatives of Massachusetts, Volume XXXIV, part 2, page 253.
[6]  “The Papers of Henry Bouquet”, Vol. II, p. 88.
[7]  The flap has a GR cipher and could have belonged to either a marine or one of the invasion force.  For a detailed color picture, see Brian Lavery, “The Royal Navy’s First Invincible”, pp. ix, 70 (1988).
[8] On June 5, 1759, Captain Benjamin Reed of the Lexington Training Band submitted the following information: “The following names are a full and Just account of those to whom I the Subscriber delivered Bayonets in the company under my command in Lexington, Benjamin Reed, Captain, June 5, 1759… [49 militia men listed]” Massachusetts Muster Rolls, Volume 97, Page 216.  Since stands of arms were delivered to provincial regiments instead of militia companies, it is likely that these bayonets were locally produced instead of being part of a stand of arms.   On the other hand, in 1758 there was a shortage in Massachusetts of stands of arms due to delivery errors by both England and Massachusetts.  As a result, local blacksmiths were recruited to produce bayonets.  As a result, it is possible, but unlikely, that the bayonets issued in 1759 to the Training Band were intended to make up for the shortfalls of the 1758 stands of arms. 
[9] List of articles provided and providing by the Committee of War in Massachusetts for the Crown Point Expedition. June 7, 1755.
[10] Shirley to Robinson, September 28, 1755; October 13, 1755.
[11] Shirley to Sharpe, April 24, 1756.
[12] It is possible Massachusetts received shipments of the 1730 King’s Pattern, although more research is necessary.
[13] Provincial Papers of New Hampshire, page 396.
[14]Dinwiddie to Lord Loudon.
[15] Public Records Office (PRO) CO, 5/46.
[16] Furnis Letterbook, March 7, 1757.
[17] Address of Governor Pownall to the Massachusetts House of Representatives, January 6, 1759.

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