Brown Bess/Musket Cut Downs

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Posted by George A. Bray III on February 04, 2000 at 15:24:20:

Regarding the cutting down of the barrel of a Brown Bess musket, it seems that there is evidence to support this practice. Anne MacVickers, who was acquainted with Lord Howe in 1758, when recording information about him and Abercrombie's army in 1758, stated "Lord Howe . . . ordered the muskets to be shortened . . . the barrels of their guns were all blackened." So at least as early as 1758, their were muskets be shortened as a result of an order by a general officer. And, to further back up the blackening of the barrels, Moneypenny's Orderly Book on February 26, 1759, ordered "The barrells of the Firelocks of the Light Infantry must all be made blue or brown, to take off the glittering."

Further, in the orderly book of the 42nd Royal Highland Regiment, under the date of July 28, 1761, at Staten Island, New York, is found the following statement:
"The companys to give in separate returns this evening, of the firelocks only, distinguishing between the sufficient and unsufficient, those cut or not cut".

Archaeological investigations at Rogers' Island, Fort Edward, New York, did indeed reveal barrels cut off to the varying lengths of between 4 and 8 inches. Whether or not these were from muskets used solely by the rangers may be questioned, but it seems that they did cut them down as well. An accepted indicator to this is an order from Major Jeffery Amherst to Major Robert Rogers (published in his journal) dated May 25, 1760, which in part states "You will take your men as light with you as possible, . . . let every man whose firelock will carry it have a bayonet."

As to the weapons carried by the rangers, I guess they varied depending on the time period you are focusing on. I find the following information:

Hobbs' and Speakman's companies were originally raised as Massachusetts units, and later placed under Rogers command. They were originally issued King's arms, as per an order from Governor William Shirley to Colonel Joshua Winslow. It is possible this same order, dated April, 1756, may have effected other ranger units as well.

However, Lord Loudoun, when authorizing 5 new ranger companies to be raised, told Rogers that his men were "to find their own arms, which must be fit, and be upon examination, shall be found fit, and be approved of." This order is again in Rogers' journals, the order dated January 11, 1785. This is not surprising either, as the British were experiencing a shortage of muskets during that year, and James Abercromby on March 15, 1758, wrote the colonial governors that troops being raised for the service should bring their own arms.

In an attempt to provide arms for his men the following year, Rogers contracted with Greg and Cunningham writing Colonel Roger Townshend on January 28, 1759, that "the arms of the Rangers are in the hands of Mr. Cunningham at New York." Townshend answered Rogers on February 15, 1759, stating "the arms for the Rangers, which you mention are in the hands of Mr. Cunningham, shall be sent up to you immediately." Townshend then writes Rogers on February 26th that his "arms have been tried and proved by the artillery; they answer very well, and are ordered to be sent to you as fast as possible." (These correspondences are likewise published in Rogers' journals.

Rogers talks of a fusee (or fusil) which of course would be proper for an officer to carry. Beyond that, have no idea as to what form it took.

I also have a couple of references to journals indicating some rangers carried blunderbusses. And wallpieces were used on the whaleboats.

One other comment, regarding the loss of the use of a bayonet if a bayonet lug was not replaced. On May 6, 1759, the light infantry were initially given carbines without bayonets. Later, on July 5, 1759, they were were issued bayonets for them "as the want of ammunition may sometimes be supplied by that weapon, and because no man should leave his post under the pretense that all his cartridges are fired. In most attacks of the night, it must be remembered that bayonets are preferrable to fire." This reference is in the orderly book of Major John Hawks & General Orders of Wolfe's Army.

Hope this helps clarify the question of whether or not Brown Besses, or any other muskets, were cut down. It seems they were indeed.

Your Most Humble and Obedient Servant,

George A. Bray III
Major, Rogers' Rangers
Site Historian

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