Frenchmen and Indians

The idea of America was realized by the sound of the musket volley and the smell of gunpowder. The American republic was born of War.

Once the French and Indian War was over in 1763, the citizens of the American colonies began to think of building a new store of weapons. Those who served in the militias then furnished their own weapons, usually muskets. They bought and carried their own provisions. By 1775 the matchlock musket was obsolete but was still retained by several families as a useful, albeit awkward to fire, firearm.

After the French and Indian War, most of the redcoats were redeployed to England. The colonists were on their own except for small garrisons of British troops mostly clustered around urban areas. A few were stationed on outposts on the frontier.

The Lexington Minuteman and his trusty musket are widely regarded to be Captain John Parker. The Battle of Lexington, recognized as the first Revolutionary War skirmish, resulted in the deal of eight militia. Parker died a few months later. Image credit: Richard F. Ebert

Weapons of War: BYOM (Bring Your Own Musket)

As you might imagine, the colonists used just about whatever they could get their hands on as weapons: muskets, pistols, rifles, long rifles, bayonets, knives, tomahawks, axes, swords, sabers, and polearms. And don’t forget about the cannons. In addition, they carried with them pieces of kit such as shot molds, tinder lighters, and cartridge boxes.

At the onset of our War for independence, we had no standing army. Seeing how we were rebels fighting against the established British government makes perfect sense. Each colony relied on local militia (known as trainbands), part-time citizen-soldiers, for their defense. Uniforms were nonexistent, and there were limited supplies of firearms and gunpowder. Speaking of gunpowder, their local supply of the stuff promoted British soldiers to march on Lexington and Concord in a mission to steal it from the rebels.

On the other side, patriots had been trying to build caches of weapons by liberating British arms from royal storehouses, provincial magazines, and supply ships. At the time, few American factories were capable of producing firearms, swords, and other weapons of War.

Brown Bess

These British muzzle loading smooth bore muskets were commonly used by both sides during the American Revolutionary War.

A Brown Bess flintlock musket with a fixed bayonet. Image courtesy of Irongate Armory.

The Brown Bess was the mainstay of the British Army and was widely used by the Americans until 1777. It fired a single ball or grapeshot cluster. The weapon was available in short and long versions. The short one was less bulky, weighed less, and was generally easier to lug around. Many colonists fought with the longer version.

‘Murican Muskets

If they weren’t using a Brown Bess, many of the colonialists’ muskets were locally made by various gunsmiths. These were essentially “one of” pieces, often using parts from several weapons. They became known as “Committee of Safety” muskets and were funded by local governments or paid for by individuals. Because they were made as quickly as possible and out of fear of prosecution by the British government, they almost always lacked a maker’s mark. However, some were marked “US,” “U:States,” or “USA.”

Inside the Pennsylvania Longrifle Museum. Image Credit:

Pennsylvania rifles, or “long rifles,” were based on the German Jager rifle and built by individual German gunsmiths in Pennsylvania. They featured a grooved barrel giving the firearm an accurate range of 300 yards compared to only 100 yards for smooth bored muskets. Because of this long-range accuracy, they quickly became snipers’ favorite and were often carried by light infantry during the Revolutionary War.

However, they were not without their shortcomings, and General Washington argued against their widespread use. For one thing, they could not be fitted with bayonets. Because they were all individually made, they were expensive, and each was unique. This ensured a steep learning curve with these weapons, and it took soldiers more time to become proficient with one.


Due to the close-in style of fighting of the day, bayonets became a necessary tool of War for both sides. Unfortunately, bayonets at that time were triangular and caused a deep, quickly infected puncture wound from which many soldiers in the pre-antibiotic era did not recover.

Three Americans made Revolutionary War-era bayonets. Image courtesy of

Infected wounds likely killed as many American Revolutionary War soldiers as musket balls. As a matter of fact, an estimated 17,000 US troops died from disease or infection versus roughly 6,800 who died in direct combat.

Read Next:

Why Have Bayonets Become Shorter Over the Years?

Samuel Whittemore, the American Revolution’s Oldest Lion

Read Next: Samuel Whittemore, the American Revolution’s Oldest Lion

Bayonext: The New Spirit of the Bayonet

Hybrid Weapons Of History That Didn’t Work So Well