In my last post I talked about THAT GUY. You all know that type, the know-it-all who wants to show off by starting an argument with the presenter over something the presenter knows WAY more about. These guys come looking for a axe fight only to discover that … “wait, they all HAVE axes in their belts, oops!”
So, THAT GUY starts yelling that “only the British carried the Brown Bess.” Well, for the record, in 1774 we were all still British, so okay, only the British (and formerly loyal Englishmen) carried the Brown Bess. Yes, AFTER 1778 many companies of Continental soldiers carried the much more advanced French Charleville but prior to the French joining the war and for most of the army there was no standardization in armaments. Soldiers fought with what they had, fowlers, rifles, blunderbusses, fishing pikes, and yes, the venerable and long serving Brown Bess musket.
Before you ask, no, for the most part, these were not weapons captured from the British. They were actually issued to colonial militia by the governors of the colony. In other words, the Crown provided many of the weapons used against it in the American Revolution. Why did King George (the head of all British armed forces) provide arms to the colonies? Well, he did so (when these colonies were still loyal to King and Parliament) so they would fight under his command.
While most people know of the Seven Years War (AKA French and Indian War) and the American Revolution, these were only the two biggest of the many conflicts that occurred in North America during the 18th Century. There was Queen Anne’s war (1702-1713); Wars with the Tuscarora (1711-1715); Fox Wars (1712-1733); Yamasee Wars (1715-1717); Chickasaw Wars (1721-1763); Drummer’s War (1722-1725); King George’s War (1744-48); Father Le Loutre’s War(1749-1755); Lord Dunmore’s War (1774); and many smaller conflicts with pirates and other minor insurrections and revolts. Like modern Switzerland, the American colonies mandated militia service in order protect the interest of the Crown and its Royal Governors.
The militia was a long-standing transplant from Britain. Following the restoration of Charles II in 1660, Parliament passed several acts to raise men for militia service. Although these militia technically commanded by the King, they were largely local in their levy and supply and organization. The militia was responsible for keeping the peace, policing, and costal defense. In 1757, with the threat of war with France, Parliament passed the Militia Act demanding that all able-bodied free men between the ages of 16 and 72 report monthly to the sheriff (or send a substitute – often a servant) or face a £10 (approx. $28K today) fine. Most Royal Governors and many colonial legislatures enforced this act in America in order to protect the welfare of the communities they served.
Militia were expected to report WITH COMBAT ARMS. This meant not just the gun these men used for hunting and husbandry on the farm. They needed proper military weapons. This lead many governors (especially in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia) to import and order the manufacture of the Brown Bess and its accoutrement to be issued to the militia.
American soldiers carried the Brown Bess and its bayonet in the early years of the American Revolution. They also carried all sorts of other weapons. The British, however, were uniformly armed, again with the Brown Bess musket.