Friday, December 22, 2017

North Carolina Militia Arms 1755

By 1756, North Carolina Militiamen were required and be "provided with a well fixed Gun, and a Cartridge Box, and a Sword, Cutlass or Hanger, and have at least nine Charges of Powder and Ball, or Swan Shot, and three spare Flints, and a Worm and Picker...". Having previously mentioned the great Hyde County NC Militia list, (with a tip of the hat to Jas. Rogers who posted it a long time ago)  I thought exploring the stats and likely forms from that list might be worthwhile.  In the list, 57 individual arms are named by type, giving us a fantastic glimpse of the variety in use in this coastal county during the French and Indian War.  They are shown below in order of commonality in this militia company.

Muskets = 21 total (36%)

Of the muskets in circulation in NC at this point, the majority were likely the muskets of the "Dutch" variety recently imported by the Tower and distributed to North Carolina's militia and Provincial troops.  In a letter from Governor Dobbs to the Board of Trade dated December 15, 1755 “the 1000 arms I got when I came over will be distributed to the five companies raised and to be raised and to the Militia of the exposed Counties and near the sea coast for our Defense ammunition or lead we have none but from hand to mouth and very little in the Merchants hands…” (Colonial Records of NC pages 461-462).

Fowling pieces = 12 total (21%)

Fowler by Turvey ca. 1765

Likely the most common civilian firearm in British North America at this time, English fowling pieces or as we now term them, shotguns- were multi purpose guns that could fire a ball or smaller shot.  Fowling pieces came in a wide range of lengths, quality and embellishment and prices varied accordingly, but were typically 1/2, 5/8 or 3/4 inch bored with four foot or longer barrels.

Fuzees = 10 total (17.5%)

An ambiguous term, in this instance "Fuzees" most likely means cheap Indian trading or "Carolina" guns instead of the lightweight military style muskets which were also sometimes called the same thing. NC had previously utilized  Indian Trading Guns for militia use in the 1740s.  These typically featured smaller bored four foot barrels, sheet brass furniture and lower grade locks. The Annely Bristol made trade musket pictured above is shown in more detail on page 138,-139 in Hanson's Firearms of the fur trade.

Buckaneeers = 8 total (14%)

English Buccaneer muskets were at this point, outdated club butt muskets, generally made with long barrels, 3 screw (frequently "dog") locks, and were popular in the Caribbean and African trade.  North Carolina probate inventories turn up a good number of these prior to the Revolution.  The doglock pictured above is shown in more detail on page 136,-137 in Hanson's Firearms of the fur trade and has a 50 inch barrel.

Carbines = 6 total (10.5%)

North Carolina's 1756 Militia act authorized:
 "Troops of light Horse, in any County of this Province; which Troop or Troops, so appointed, shall be exempt from mustering in any of the Foot Companies within their several Counties, and shall be mounted on Horses not less than fourteen Hands high, and accoutred with a good Case of Pistols, a Carabine, with a Swivel, Belt and Bucket, a broad Sword, and Cartridge Box, with twelve Charges of Powder and Ball, all of his own Property..."

"Carabines" or Carbines with Swivels in this period were generally 37-42 inch barreled musket style arms with a .65 inch (aka Carbine) bore or .75 inch (musket) bore, and a metal bracket opposite the lock side that held a ring or swivel for carrying the gun hands free while on horseback.  Given the dearth of information about Tower carbines being imported for colonial militia use at this time, these were most likely commercially purchased. Despite the later legal exemption from infantry service for militia troopers, these carbines may represent men who were only partially equipped serving on foot vs. horseback.  Cavalry equipment was in short supply in North Carolina.  In a letter from William Mackenzie to Arthur Dobbs dated November 24, 1755 Mackenzie explained:

Should have sent you long ere now the number of Troopers und’r my Command, but my indisposition for Two Months past prevented me. I muster’d them twice & the greatest number that appear’d were Sixteen, not One of which was accouter’d according to law. I can’t fine them, as they are all willing to purchase the acoutriments fit for a Gent’n Trooper, but such is not to be had here.

The remainder (1%) of the arms in this list are unspecified. Although certainly not complete, this list gives us a great jumping off point for documented arms in North Carolina militia use for the French and Indian War, and for the opening phases of the American Revolution.  In 1778 North Carolina regulars in South Carolina received French muskets and bayonets while in Charleston. North Carolina's Continentals began seeing imported obsolete (in some cases 50 or more years old) French Arms in increasingly larger numbers by 1780.