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The Muskets of the Battles of Lexington and Concord

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“I Picked Up a Good French Gun” - The Muskets of the Battles of Lexington and Concord

BY ALEX CAIN

In 1774, a war between England and Massachusetts Bay Colony appeared inevitable. In preparation, Massachusetts militiamen relied upon muskets obtained from various sources: inheritance, the French and Indian War, the Siege of Louisbourg, and commercial markets. The result was a variety of weapons of different caliber, origins, and values.

Thus, as Massachusetts soldiers marched off to war on April 19, 1775, it would not have been uncommon within the same militia company to see hunting guns, English muskets, Dutch muskets, Americanmade muskets (with parts from several sources), and French muskets.

BRITISH-MADE GUNS

Historically, pre-revolutionary Massachusetts Bay Colony encouraged its provincial soldiers to provide their own guns rather than rely upon the government to supply them. This effort was met with moderate success, and, as a result, a wartime shortage often existed. Massachusetts was forced to petition Britain for military supplies. Unfortunately, the muskets and related equipment provided by the British government were not at the top of the line. Colonial governments traditionally received obsolete and older arms from Britain in times of crisis.

For example, in the fall of 1755, then- Governor Shirley described the 2,000 weapons he received from England as “Land muskets of the King’s pattern with double bridle locks, old pattern nosebands and wood rammers.” In 1756, an additional 10,000 similar muskets were shipped to the colonies, including Massachusetts.

The descriptions of these muskets, particularly with the emphasis on “double bridle locks,” suggest the muskets issued to Massachusetts provincial troops were the outdated 1730 King’s Pattern (often and erroneously referred to as the 1st Model Brown Bess). The 1730 King’s Pattern represented most muskets shipped from England to Massachusetts during the French and Indian War. The 1730 musket’s overall length was sixtyone inches, its barrel length was forty-five inches, and its caliber was .77. This firelock featured a double bridled lock, a wood ramrod, a brass noseband to slow wear on the stock’s fore end, and a redesigned oval trigger lock.

Original 1730 King’s Pattern musket manufactured by gunmaker Edward Cookes.

Original 1730 King’s Pattern musket manufactured by gunmaker Edward Cookes.

International Military Antiques

DUTCH-MADE GUNS

While British and French muskets are probably the best known of the long arms used during the American Revolution, muskets of Dutch origin also saw action. Dutch gun makers centered in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and Maastricht quickly established themselves as the premier arms makers in Europe.

Because the British government could not always keep up with demand and wartime shortages during the French and Indian War, Massachusetts Bay Colony also received

18th Century Dutch musket, close up of lock

18th Century Dutch musket, close up of lock

©Alexander Cain

Dutch muskets made between 1706 and 1730. A Dutch musket was generally sixtyone inches in length, its barrel length was forty-five inches, and its caliber was .78. Its furniture was composed of iron or brass, the ramrods wood, and the lock plate was rounded (as opposed to flat).

After the French and Indian War, at least 4,585 British and Dutch muskets remained in the hands of the Massachusetts provincials. When the American Revolution commenced, Massachusetts secured the help of Benjamin Franklin and purchased several thousand Dutch muskets.

FRENCH-MADE GUNS

The communities of St. Etienne and Tulle specialized in manufacturing French infantry weapons. A third central area of weapons manufacturing was Charleville. Throughout the early 18th century, French weapons were shipped to Canada to supply Canadian malice (militia) and French marines. As a result of continuous warfare with New England, it appears that two of the more common French guns ended up in the hands of many Massachusetts militiamen and were used at the battles of Lexington and Concord. These guns were the 1728 Infantry Musket and the 1716/1734 Contract Fusil de Chasse.

1728 French Infantry Musket

1728 French Infantry Musket

veteranarms.com

The 1728 French Infantry Musket was the contemporary of the 1730 King’s Pattern used by the British. Until the end of the French and Indian Wars, it was manufactured in large numbers by French arsenals at St. Etienne, Maubeuge, and Charleville. The 1728 model introduced the concept of a gun with three-barrel bands, allowing quick disassembly for repair and cleaning. Ramrods varied – some were wooden while others were metal. The furniture of the musket was typically iron, although there are a few surviving brassmounted examples of the 1728 musket from the French Navy.

The 1728 French Infantry Musket was highly sought after by Massachusetts soldiers, and the weapon did see service on April 19, 1775. Of course, 1728 French Infantry Muskets were not the only muskets from France available to the minute and militiamen. The 1716 and 1734 Contract Fusil de Chasse hunting guns were also

likely in the hands of Massachusetts troops at Lexington and Concord. These guns, manufactured at St. Etienne and Tulle, were slightly more slender than French military muskets, and varied in caliber between .60 and .62. In both the 1716 and 1734 versions, the Contract Fusil de Chasse had between forty-three and forty-six-inch length barrels, and its furniture was typically steel. Approximately 6,000 Fusil de Chasse guns were sent to Canada between 1716 and 1763 for Canadian malice but eventually ended up in New England hands.

AMERICAN-MADE FOWLING GUNS

By the mid-18th century, New England had established its own firearms manufacturing industry. According to the author and historian Merrill Lindsay, there were several centers of colonial gunsmithing in New England. The largest was in the suburban Boston area ranging roughly to the semicircle of today’s Route 128. There were many gun-making shops and even small firearm factories in the Worcester-Sutton area. Still farther west, there were a series of complex gun-making communities running up the Connecticut Valley.

Reproduction 18th century Club Butt Fowler by Todd Bitler

Reproduction 18th century Club Butt Fowler by Todd Bitler

frontierpartisans.com

Generally speaking, the New Englandmade fowlers carried on April 19, 1775, fell into one of three categories: New England fowlers, Club Butt fowlers, or English Style fowlers. New England fowlers made up the largest group of guns and exhibited considerable French influence in their stock design and hardware. Club Butt fowlers were manufactured in Massachusetts and possibly Rhode Island. They have a decidedly convex curve to the underside of the buttstock that reflects a Dutch influence. English style fowling-pieces have characteristics of British fowlers and military muskets, and a stock profile similar to the sporting guns of the eighteenth century.

CONCLUSION

The variety of weaponry in the ranks of Massachusetts soldiers would continue throughout the early years of the American Revolution, and it would not be until 1777 that Massachusetts was able to successfully standardize the weapons used by its soldiers in the fight against England.

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Quotation in the title is from Recollections of an Old Soldier: The Life of Captain David Perry, A Soldier of the French and Revolutionary Wars, self-published in 1822 by Captain Perry.

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Alexander Cain frequently lectures on the military and social influences of April 19, 1775. He also owns the critically acclaimed blog and podcast “Historical Nerdery” (historicalnerdery.com). He is the Director of Education for a Boston area vocational college and resides in Massachusetts with his wife, Paula, and his two children, John and Abigail.