“UNITED STATES” Arms in 1776

The American Revolution was already well under way when the delegates to the Continental Congress officially declared independence on July 4, 1776. Months before in the spring of ’76, a shortage of arms was apparent. This was caused by a variety of factors including lack of maintenance, a shortage of field armorers to make repairs, and the propensity of short-term militia soldiers taking arms that they had been issued in one form or another home with them when their service was up.

General Washington tried to procure more arms by borrowing them from the states and by purchasing them from individuals. Spain and France also sent arms to support the cause, but there was still a shortage.

Because of the lack of arms, soldiers in the Continental Army used whatever muskets, rifles, pistols, pikes, bayonets, etc that they could get. This meant that there was no standardization in the ranks. Even more problematic, it made it difficult for the Congress and the Army to identify which arms belonged to the new government and which ones were brought into the field by the soldiers themselves.

To remedy this issue, the Board of War (which included future 2nd President of the United States, John Adams, and Benjamin Harrison V, father and great-grandfather of the 9th and 23rd Presidents of the United States, respectively) made a recommendation on February 14, 1777, to mark all arms owned by the government with “U STATES.” Ten days later, the Continental Congress resolved that all arms and accouterments be marked “UNITED STATES.”

By mid-April 1777, all parties involved in the issuing, storing, and maintaining of government-owned arms had been informed of the new regulation. And just like that, the new nation of the United States had laid claim to its first official military weapons and equipment, despite having no official armories and no standardized arms, accouterments, or accessories.

(Examples of such marked pieces can be seen on public display at the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia, PA, where I took the photos of the items that appear in this article.)

comments

  1. avatar mer says:

    What no AR15s?

    1. avatar Neil Hightower iii says:

      Nah we where on the ar 1s back then.

      1. avatar SurfGW says:

        Does that AR1 stand for American Revolution 1?

        1. avatar Dave in PTC says:

          BOOM! You nailed it. And I’m stealing that from you.

  2. avatar jwm says:

    I still think it’s a good idea to allow the troops to take their issue rifles and sidearms home with them when their term of service is up. It would strengthen the peoples militia.

    Tax breaks for non service members that wished to purchase their own militia arms.

  3. avatar Geoff "Mess with the Bull, get the Horns" PR says:

    What is that round object on the bottom?

    1. avatar jwm says:

      Looks like a canteen to me.

      1. avatar Chazbo says:

        I was thinking it might be the top to a shot or powder keg.

        1. avatar Rusty Chains says:

          Tight cooperage, so powder keg would be my bet.

        2. avatar KenW says:

          Maybe the bottom of a powder horn?

        3. avatar jwm says:

          We can always ask Ralph. He was there.

    2. avatar Logan Metesh says:

      I can guarantee it is a canteen.

    3. avatar Larryd says:

      This extremely rare wooden soldier’s canteen (circa 1777-1778) is marked USTATES, indicating Continental Army usage. Alarmed by chronic shortfalls in arms and equipment caused in part by thefts and negligence, the Continental Congress directed in February 1777 that all the arms and accoutrements belonging to the country should be marked to show ownership by the United States.

  4. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

    If only the forward thinkers would have thought of the 6.5CM
    The war of independence would have been forfeited.

    1. avatar jwm says:

      Not you, too.

      1. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

        Sorry buddy,
        I had to. It’s likely to be my only one.
        I still want to drive south and hunt pigs with you. Or quail, or pheasant, or whatever.

        1. avatar jwm says:

          First dove season opener is Sept. 1. Quail follows shortly after and runs to the end of Jan. First dove season can be hit or miss. Last year we had a heat wave that affected the shoot. Second season is later in the year and usually does better.

          I’ve given up on pigs. All I’ve seen here have been small. The state wants 22 bucks a pig tag and the ranchers want 4-6 hundred per pig to hunt them. I’m too cheap to pay that for a pig.

    2. avatar Jug says:

      The Norwegians did!
      Over a hundred years ago!

      What is this craze over something over a hundred years old?

      (And their velocity was higher with lower pressure as well, less barrel wear!)

  5. avatar CalGunsMD says:

    “The American Revolution was already well under way when the delegates to the *SECOND* Continental Congress officially declared independence on July 4, 1776”

  6. avatar Rocketman says:

    There’s an absolutely awesome book out called “The guns of the south” by Harry Turtledove where Robert E. Lee’s troops during the civil war are issued AK-47’s and the south wins it’s independence.

  7. avatar Joe R. says:

    When we go to war with China, we’ll be in the sane boat. And it’ll be nearly hand-to-hand, and drones and NBC warfare will be on the table. The U.S. ain’t marking my weapons with sh_t, and I’m going to waste the rest of my days, thereafter, literally nutting every MF who thought it prudent to keep the general, BONA FIDE, U.S. citizenry from full-auto weapons.

    Happy Independence Day. I’m hoping your day is full of strict intolerance of all the fuckers who wish you a new one.

    1. avatar tickTalk says:

      We will not be letting you into the ‘sane boat’. You just stay over there in the insane boat where you belong.

      1. avatar jwm says:

        You can be Mr. T and Joe can be Murdoch.

    2. avatar Joe R. says:

      If you have feminine fingers, typing on an iPhone ain’t sh_t. Me posting here, while using my phone, is like you typing with your knee. And correcting spelling on an iPhone is not available.

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