View Full Version : Historical Firearm Question

May 6, 2008, 02:38 PM

I'm a grad student writing a story about settlers in 1697 Massachusettes. There is a scene where a man, under attack from Abenaki Indians, grabs his musket and does battle.

If anybody would be so kind, I am totally unaware exactly what model musket a man of that period might use. Any help would be GREATLY appreciated. Thanks!

May 6, 2008, 04:29 PM
check this out


May 6, 2008, 05:19 PM
It could be anything. At that time a rifle was the second most required item (following a home) and about as expensive as a car today (OUR most required second item). They were also passed down from generation to generation.

My family moved here in the early 1690's from Switzerland after passing through Germany, France and England. A family firearm could have come from the homeland, picked up along the way or purchased after arrival here.

As in recent history, much would depend on the owners financials. A well heeled person might have a firearm custom built while a farmer might have bought a second hand military piece.

The 30-06 didn't get to it's current status because it's such a great round. It got there because Veterans of 2 wars were used to it and military surplus rifles and ammo were inexpensive.

James K
May 6, 2008, 08:28 PM
Well, it almost certainly would not have been a rifle. The colonists were usually given, or bought, older military muskets. At that date it could have been one of several types. One would be a matchlock. Though those were pretty well obsolete by that date, many were still around, retained because they were simple and easily repaired. Another possibility would be an English dog lock musket, which would also have been in use. Wheel locks and snaphaunces were used in the colonies as well, and many of each type have been found in excavations in Jamestown and elsewhere, but the former would have been expensive and more likely to be used by a wealthy person. The true flintlock was just coming into use, so it is just possible that your character had one of them.

There was no self-contained ammunition, of course, but paper cartridges were used by the military and were known in civilian life. The usual practice was to load using a powder flask, usually of wood, some of which were highly decorated and works of art in themselves. Of course, all the colonies hired miltary advisers to help them form an armed force and train them in the use of weapons. These advisers didn't need to be members of whatever group was forming a colony. Probably the most famous of them was the man hired by the Pilgrims, a Roman Catholic ex-Army Captain named Myles Standish (who did not have a "thing" with Priscilla Mullins; his son, Alexander, later married the daughter of John and Priscilla Mullins Alden).

Now, a piece of unsolicited advice. When writing fiction, keep the technical stuff down to a minimum. If you are an expert in an area like cars or guns, you can bore and distract your reader with details. If you are not an expert, trying to write as if you are just leads to mistakes that make you look foolish.

In other words, in a 1697 story, "the hero raised his musket and fired" is perfectly fine. "The hero raised his .416 Rigby caliber M16 rifle and fired 80 rounds out of his Accles drum magazine at the attacker" might sound like you are an expert, but in reality would only demonstrate abysmal ignorance. Simple does it best.

You might be able to find in your local library a book by Harold L. Peterson, called "Arms and Armor in Colonial America." I think you would find it useful, but it is out of print long ago and probably too expensive to buy even if you can find a copy.

Good luck.


May 7, 2008, 08:07 AM
Today the People's Republic of Massachusetts would probably jail the guy for possessing a gun without going through the bureaucracy to try to get a permit.

May 7, 2008, 01:35 PM
If you read historical accounts of the settling and "taming" of the eastern seaboard, you will find there were an awful lot of old military weapons used, but not necessarily firearms. Many swords, cutlasses, pikes, even some bows. Early firearms like matchlocks and wheellocks were notoriously unreliable and usually very heavy, and very expensive. After the introduction of flintlocks in the mid-1600s, they replaced these earlier weapons, primarily because they were vastly more reliable. No need to carry a punk or a match cord, no winding a key for the ignition, much more weather-resistant.

Flintlocks were difficult for the colonists to come by, mainly because the military powers were busy stocking up and replacing their arsenals of older weapons.

44 AMP
May 7, 2008, 10:40 PM
As the Crown adopted the flintlock, the obsolete weapons could find their way into private hands. However, even as late as the Revolution it was a hanging offense for a colonist to posess a Tower musket (the official standard, which could only be obtained from a British soldier).

Your hero could very well have any one of about half a dozen guns, but just calling it a musket would do well enough. Very few rifles were common in those days, being both expensive and difficult to make. Some folks base their opinons of what the settlers used by what is recovered from archeological digs, or from wills and statements of properties, ignoring the fact that good guns were important valuable tools, well cared for, seldom
winding up in the junk (like broken pottery) until long after they are obsolete. And finding few references to guns in wills and property lists is inconclusive, as the custom of the times was for the guns to be passed on while the owner still lived, or just not being listed in the will, as they generally saw no need.

Also, bear in mind that the Indians, armed with spears, hatchets, and bows would actually "outgun" the settlers in term of firepower.

James K
May 8, 2008, 04:09 PM
Regarding Tower muskets, remember that the Crown armed the colonial militia with service weapons, so there were Tower muskets in civilian hands. In fact, it was that Crown property that the army was ordered to secure in April, 1775, at Lexington and Concord. Set off quite a fuss, that did.

It was after that that the Brits got a bit concerned about civilians possessing Crown property.


May 9, 2008, 02:05 AM
anybody got any info on a German gunmaker J.M. Mann?
i have a hammerlock side-by-side estate gun that came down from my grandfather, but no info about the maker.

T. O'Heir
May 11, 2008, 12:13 AM
Hi. A grad student of what? No offense, but you really should be able to spell your colony correctly. Massachusetts. In any case, the make of the musket doesn't matter for a fictional story. Arm your hero with a knife and a hand axe.
Place your hero in Northern Massachusetts too. Abenaki territory was mostly well north of Massachusetts. The Western Abenaki lived in parts of what is now Massachusetts though.
"...As the Crown adopted the flintlock..." Long before 1797.
"...a German gunmaker J.M. Mann?..." Could be one of hundreds of local smithies.

James K
May 11, 2008, 01:36 AM
The New England colonists came from (duh!) England, where the rifle was uncommon. It was not until the Germans came to Pennsylvania and brought rifles and rifle making with them that the rifle came to be well known in the colonies. The rifle then became the firearm of choice in the move west into Western Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, and so on. The German rifle, though accurate and sturdy, was large caliber, meaning that a man going into the wilderness for an extended period could not carry many balls. So the Pennsylvania gunsmiths reduced the bore size to reduce the weight of ammunition and then lengthened the barrel to give higher velocity to the smaller bullet so as to equal the killing power of the heavier but slower bullet. (Sound familiar?)

Incidentally, the idea that the German "Schutzen" rifle was big and heavy and used a bullet that had to be hammered in with an iron ramrod is nonsense. They are not at all heavy and they used a wood ramrod and a patched ball, just like the American rifles. I have handled several and fired a couple, and they remind me of the Remington 600 in .350 Magnum - a short, stubby rifle, firing a heavy bullet and kicking like heck!