Arming the American Revolution

Arming the American Revolution

Revolutionary War Era Prussian Flintlock Musket
Revolutionary War Era Prussian Flintlock Musket
Rock Island Auction Company
Rock Island Auction Company

Moline, IL –-(  They were farmers, clerks, lawyers and silversmiths, and the guns used by the American Patriots were as diverse as the men who stood up against the British during the struggle for independence.

While the professional British soldier was well-trained, smartly outfitted and armed with state of the art weaponry, the Patriots relied on a hodgepodge consisting of Kentucky rifles, smoothbore fowling pieces, parts guns, and a variety of European arms whose purpose was more subsistence hunting than warfare.

Author George C. Neumann has written extensively on the America Revolution. In a 2003 article in the NRA’s American Rifleman magazine entitled, “American-Made Muskets in the American Revolution,” Neumann states:

“The manufacturing facilities, such as those needed to produce arms and support a war, did not exist this side of the Atlantic. As a young society gripped with the pioneering spirit, however, the rebels possessed an explosive vitality and ability to innovate. How they defined the impossible and drew upon this new world energy to successfully equip their spawning armies is one of the untold stories of our path to freedom.”

Neumann states that no formal army existed, only individual militia units in each colony. The ages of the members could be from 16 to 60.

“Being loosely structured, they met locally to drill several times each year, but lacked the discipline to stand against professional troops in open battle. Each member was equipped with a firearm plus a back-up arm, such as a short sword, belt axe or bayonet.”

Every man needed to provide his own weapons, which were kept at his home.

“The gun specifications were vague,” says Neumann. “Massachusetts, for example, required only ‘one good fire arm.’ Because Britain had done little in past years to furnish her Colonists with military arms, the militia deployed a wide assortment of smoothbore muskets, carbines, fusils, trade guns, light or heavy fowling pieces, and rifles—of varied lineages and bore sizes.”

The Patriots became pirates when building their arms stockpile.

Neumann says they “proceeded to raid local arsenals, confiscate Loyalist guns, purchase civilian arms, seize British supplies, acquire cast-off surplus firearms in Europe through independent agents and repair or cannibalize damaged pieces. Efforts were also implemented to make use of the limited production capabilities within the Colonies. An estimated 2,000 to 3,000 gunsmiths were available, of which perhaps two-thirds favored the American cause.”

Committees of Safety were established in 1775. Neumann cautions that all U.S. Revolutionary War muskets should not be considered “committee of safety” guns. “This term should only refer to those arms produced under a ‘committee contract,’” he wrote. “Few survived and most were not identified by the makers who feared retaliation by Royal authorities.”

Flayderman says the “committee” guns had barrels from 42” to 46,” were usually .75 caliber, and often unmarked with the maker’s name. He said when a maker is known and identifiable, the gun’s value “will be at least double or triple” an unmarked example.

He also states that in early 1777 the Continental Congress passed a requirement that all arms and accouterments should be marked with a “U.S.” or “United States.” These marks can be on the stock or metal or iron parts. He cautions, however, “The mere presence of a U.S. marking does not always indicate Revolutionary War usage.” He said they were still being marked on guns after the war had ended.

The British were armed with the Brown Bess musket. They have a distinctive large butt stock and those made just prior to the Revolutionary had 42” barrels rather than the longer 46” in the early model. The Patriots grabbed them whenever possible. They were used as guides in making “committee” guns.

The French were an important ally to Americana during the Revolution. Britain was their enemy and they were more than happy to provide the Patriots with their .69 caliber Charleville muskets. Flayderman states the Model 1763 is most often encountered. The locks will be marked either “Charleville” or “Maubeug.” They should also have the “U S” or similar stamp, called a surcharge.

This musket was so well received that the U.S. modeled its first official military musket, the Model 1795, after it. They were made at the Springfield and Harper’s Ferry armories.

A further challenge in identifying a true Revolutionary War arm is that many were later converted from flintlock to percussion in the first half of the 19th century. Some continued to serve as hunting rifles and even Civil War weapons, especially in the South. This percussion conversion is recognizable but whether the musket in its original form was actually used in the Revolution is anyone’s guess.

What is certain, however, is that the Patriots needed all firearms available to win independence. With the citizen militia providing their own personal arms, it’s feasible that any gun in the 13 Colonies could have been called into service. Proving it remains the challenge for collectors.

Rock Island Auctions, For more details about this auction and future auctions please call 800-238-8022 or visit Rock Island Auction Company is currently seeking consignments. Consign one piece or an entire collection and know that you are consigning with the best. For more information on selling at auction contact Pat Hogan or Judy Voss at 800-238-8022.