If you are like most reenactors, you consume all the popular media on the 18th Century no matter how well done it is. We look at the costumes, the misrepresentations of history, and criticize the portrayal of people whose lives and customers we are much more immersed in that the TV or movie producers. Occasionally, however, they get something really right and its cool. In the latest installment of Outlander one of the Cherokee carries a trade musket and its blue!
Most reenactors treat their guns like fine furniture and really seek to enhance the beauty of the walnut stocks their muskets are often made from. We’re on display and we want to look good. But remember, for most of the history of the Americas, guns were just tools and like any tool they came in varying quality of manufacture. The nice ones were given fine stains and polish (even furniture wax). The cheap ones and the ones used in harsh environments often got a quick coat of paint.
Toward the end of the Seven Years War (AKA French and Indian War), some of the cheap, lightweight muskets manufactured for the Colonies and her native allies were actually painted blue. What color “blue” is up to serious interpretation as these were likely painted with a lacquer made of linseed oil and Prussian Blue which can manifest in any color from bright green to light aqua (as seen in photo).
“…the youth of Williamsburg formed themselves into a military corps and chose Henry Nicholson as their Capt.; that on (British Governor Lord) Dunmore’s flight from Williamsburg, they repaired to the magazine and armed themselves with blue painted stock guns kept for the purpose of distributing among the Indians, and equip’t as the minute men volunteers in military garb, that is to say in hunting shirts, trousers, bucktails, cockades and ‘Liberty or Death’ suspended to their breasts as their motto; that they could and did perform all the evolutions of the manual exercise far better than the soldiers who were daily arriving from the adjacent counties; that their captain, Henry Nicholson, was about 14 years old.”
Even in the proper military, we see painted guns. Soldiers can polish their guns as most of a soldier’s life is waiting for things to happen. At sea, however, this extravagance is often dismissed for a quick coat of paint. Sea Service weapons were frequently painted with Japan Black (lacquer) and even the barrels were stained to cut down on corrosion. Navy guns would have black stocks and browned barrels (baked on enamel) while Marine guns (Marines love their weapons) would have lacquered stocks, sometimes ornate, with highly polished furniture (brass and barrels).