Canadian Brown Bess, ID

Discussion in 'Firearm Identification' started by Kevin Moot, Jun 12, 2019.

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  1. Jun 12, 2019 #1

    Kevin Moot

    Kevin Moot

    Kevin Moot

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    Hello,

    I am new here and recently came into possession of a family heirloom that I am hoping some poster might know something about.

    Here's what I've been told:

    My ancestor first came to North America as a Hessian soldier. He surrendered with the British Army at the Battle of Saratoga, was paroled, and eventually settled in Canada. While in Canada, he was issued a "Brown Bess" musket for service in the militia, which his son carried in the War of 1812, and which has been handed down, generation to generation. At some point, the musket was converted from flintlock to percussion.

    Looking at the rifle, it has a few interesting marks.
    • The butt plate is marked "D 23". Does that refer to a company and regiment?
    • There is a very faint mark on the barrel, near the lock, which looks like an "X".
    • The word "Tower" appears behind the hammer.
    • Under the hammer, there is a crown with "GR".
    • On the butt stock, there is a faint drawing of a British red ensign, which I cannot identify. The Union Jack on the ensign appears to be post-1801, as it looks like the St. Patrick's Cross is interposed on the St. Andrew's Cross. However, I am unfamiliar with the seal that appears in the field of the ensign. Perhaps it is a regimental color?
    Anyway, here are some photos. Any help with identification would be much appreciated!
    Thank you for taking a look!

    BrownBess.jpg reverse.jpg BessLock.jpg CrownGR.jpg underside.jpg barrell.jpg ButtPlate.jpg redensign.jpg
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 12, 2019
  2. Jun 17, 2019 #2

    ArtyGunner

    ArtyGunner

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    Post this musket in the British Militaria Forum they may be able to assist you.
     
  3. Jun 17, 2019 #3

    dave_person

    dave_person

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    Hi,
    The musket definitely fits with your family history. It is a standard "India" pattern Brown Bess musket. The India pattern was first introduced for the East India Company but was later adopted by British Ordnance as a cost cutting measure. It served with the British Army from the late 1700s until it was replaced by the "new" land pattern musket in the 19th century. The "X" on the barrel is actually crossed scepters and is a Tower proof mark and there will be 2 of them stamped near the breech. The "GR" on the lock is of course for King George III. Those could be regimental, battalion or company marks on the butt plate. The marks on the stock may be related to service in Canada but I am not familiar with them.

    dave
     
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  4. Jun 17, 2019 #4

    Loyalist Dave

    Loyalist Dave

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    "After Cornwallis's surrender, the 23rd Regiment of Foote, the Royal Welsh Fusilliers, were "interned" in the Jerseys until the peace, when the regiment returned to England, and spent eleven years at home. The 1st Battalion served in Nova Scotia in 1808, and at the capture of the island of Martinique in 1809, where it was much distinguished. Having returned from the West Indies to Halifax, Nova Scotia, it proceeded thence to Portugal. A second battalion, raised in Cardiff in 1858, subsequently served for ten years at Gibraltar and in Canada." From British Regiments in Canada website

    I'm guessing that the Bess was from the service of the 23rd in 1808. The regiment probably brought over additional muskets for the militia. Probably had a government conversion between 1840-1860, as that looks like a very nicely done conversion. I'd bet they kept and maintained a "government" musket until the grandson got actual ownership after it had been converted, when the Canadians decided to go for rifled muskets.

    LD

     
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  5. Jun 19, 2019 #5

    Kevin Moot

    Kevin Moot

    Kevin Moot

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    CC65A0DA-256A-4D52-9F99-51BDCCF30030.jpeg 09F4E71F-3AE5-4340-B71A-480BA30B5455.jpeg Thank you so much for the interesting and informative replies. I very much appreciate you sharing your knowledge!

    As a bit of an update, I’ve discovered that the red ensign on the butt stock is the colonial flag of Barbados. Given that the 23rd Regiment was sent to the West Indies after the American War of Independence, that puzzle piece seems to fit nicely.

    Thanks again!
     
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  6. Jun 19, 2019 #6

    Loyalist Dave

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    Martinique to Barbados is only about 8 hours sailing time for a Royal Navy Man o' War...,

    LD
     
  7. Jun 23, 2019 #7

    Kevin Moot

    Kevin Moot

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    Yes, indeed. It appears the 23rd Royal Welsh departed Nova Scotia in December 1808 for Barbados. They departed Barbados in January, 1809 for Martinique.

    After taking Martinique, they returned to Nova Scotia that same year.

    In 1810, the regiment departed Nova Scotia for Portugal, but clearly this musket remained behind.

    https://archive.org/stream/cihm_48352?ref=ol#page/n189/mode/2up
     
  8. Jun 23, 2019 #8

    Artificer

    Artificer

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    Hi Kevin, WELCOME to the forum!!

    I certainly don't mean to dispute Dave Person in his answer on this marking, as his answer most definitely is one possible explanation, however I'm going to suggest another explanation.

    Prior to the Indian Pattern Muskets, which yours is as Dave mentioned, there was a brass sort of shield looking inlay behind the barrel tang. British Ordnance called that part the "Thumb Piece." The rear tang screw came up through the trigger guard, through the stock and screwed into a threaded boss on the bottom of the Thumb Piece. Thumb Pieces are found with all sorts of what some folks call "fraction engravings" and don't always follow a standard pattern. These markings often did identify the company and regiment, BUT the most important number to the Company Commanders was the number that identified the Musket belonged to which Soldier and by his number. Since the India Pattern Muskets did not have Thumb Pieces, they engraved the markings on the Brass Butt Plate Tangs.

    For a long time before your ancestor was issued this musket; one of the first things that happened to a new British Recruit or Soldier transferring in from another Regiment was he was assigned a number and that number was logged into Company Day Books and other records. Though I can't completely document why this was done, it has been explained there were a large number of men especially in the Welsh and Irish Regiments who had the exact same first, last and sometimes even middle names. So assigning numbers to them, was a better way to organize and account for things.

    Almost everything that a Recruit or new Soldier to the Regiment was issued, HAD to have his number marked on it in some way. This was the way they could hold Soldiers accountable for their own equipment and aided in preventing Soldiers from stealing from each other OR selling/pawning their issued equipment. BTW, there is documentation that some British Soldiers were Court Martialed for selling only 2 or 3 cartridges to civilians in the 18th century.

    Regimental Commanders signed for the Arms provided to their Regiments by British Ordnance. Company Commanders then signed for and were responsible for the muskets assigned to their Soldiers. If a Musket became damaged or lost, the Company Commander was responsible for paying to fix it or replace it. If the damage or loss was not found to be from negligence on the part of a Soldier, then the Company CO paid for it. If the damage was found to have been done due to negligence on the part of the Soldier, he was Court Martialed and the cost of the repair or replacement came from withholding his pay until the cost was paid for.

    With this in mind, the D/23 engravings on your musket could well mean Soldier Number 23 of D Company in his Militia Regiment.

    Gus
     
    Last edited: Jun 23, 2019
  9. Jun 23, 2019 #9

    Loyalist Dave

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    Yes as a matter of fact if you watch the movie ZULU there is a scene in the hospital where the man from the Natal Mounted Police (a "Peeler" the soldiers call him) who is Swiss (they also call him "Frenchy") asks if the soldiers don't have real names, as the privates refer to each other as "593 Jones", "612 Williams", and "716 Jones". They explain to "Frenchy" as Gus mentioned above, they are a "Welsh regiment, though there are some foreigners in it [Englishmen]" and their Welsh names are too similar. "Confusing isn't it?", one private asks.

    LD
     
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  10. Jun 23, 2019 #10

    TFoley

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    Nobody likes to learn that the movie they love so well bears little resemblance to actuality, as noted by historian Ian Knight, renowned for his knowledge of the British Victorian Army states -

    'Did the men at Rorke's Drift break into a stirring rendition of 'Men of Harlech' to counter the Zulu chants? Well, not quite. Ian Knight, renowned historian of the period has this to say:

    "We've all seen the marvellous movie, where the heroic Welsh garrison at Rorke's Drift match the awesome Zulu war-chants with a stirring rendition of Men of Harlech. Come on Ivor, sing something they know …

    Well, it wasn't quite like that. In fact, the county designation of the 24th Regiment in 1879 was the 2nd Warwickshires; they didn't change their title to the South Wales Borderers until 1st July 1881 - almost exactly two years after the war had ended. True, the Regimental Depot had been established at Brecon, in South Wales, in 1873, and from that point there was a small but significant increase in Welsh recruits in the ranks. In fact, however, recruits for the regiment - like every other battalion in the British army - were signed on at recruiting depots across the country, and the 24th consisted of men from England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. The most that can be said is that the Welsh connection had, by 1879, led to a rather higher proportion of Welshman in the ranks than was common elsewhere. Nevertheless, even the most optimistic search of the regimental roll can find only 19 men of B Company, 2/24th, with any sort of Welsh connection - out of a total strength of more than 80. Of course, there were detachments of numerous other units - including Colonial Volunteers - present at the battle, making a total garrison of about 145. So the Welsh contingent comprised no more than 15% of the total.

    Of the 24th Regt. at the defence, the numbers (Source: 'The Noble 24th. by Norman Holme), 49 were English, 18 Monmouthshire,16 Irish, 1 Scottish, 14 Welsh and 21 of unknown nationality. 'This is a Welsh regiment, although there are some foreigners in it mind'.

    And no-one, I'm sorry to say, sang 'Men of Harlech'; the regimental march in 1879 was The Warwickshire Lads."

    As they say, don't let the facts get in the way of a good story.
     
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  11. Jun 24, 2019 #11

    Artificer

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    I don't know if Marine Officers were inspected and held to the same level of demands for clear ink markings on many uniform items and I suppose not, because you Officers had to purchase your own uniforms. However, I'm sure you remember this for Enlisted Marines. CRIPES, they even inspected the white inked name markings on our black dress socks! (Most Marines in the ranks through Sergeant learned to keep extra skivie shirts, drawers, and both black and green socks that would ONLY be used for display during "Junk on the Bunk Inspections" and never worn. We bought additional pieces of these items that we actually used day to day, because the ink markings wore too much when used.)

    From that experience of how even the modern ink wore, I speculate it was far easier to mark just numbers (and remark when necessary) on their gear. I have to admit I don't know if the British Army required marking their Uniform Clothing Items in the period, but it would not surprise me if they did. Also, since most Enlisted Soldiers could not read and write in the 18th/Early 19th centuries, it was also easier to remark a number than their own names many, if not most, could not spell anyway.

    Heck, the British Army kept DEAD Soldiers on the pay rolls until long enough their pay beyond the day they died, would pay for their funeral expenses.

    Gus
     
  12. Jun 25, 2019 #12

    TNBandit

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    Very cool to have a part of your family history. One of my cousins has 2 Brown Bess muskets from the Revolutionary War. The one that belonged to my 7th generation grandfather, Sgt Seth Brooks, was converted to percussion at some point in it's life like yours was but sadly it was very neglected afterwards and allowed to rust badly. The other belonged to Captain Samuel Fararr and was preserved much better. Both of these men were at the Battle of Lexington & Concord but were issued these muskets later in the war. Interestingly both muskets are East India Company muskets dated 1779 and the story I have heard was that they came from a Privateer that was captured by the French who then gave the weapons including several cannon and thousands of muskets to our guys. The bayonet is also an East India Company bayonet and also marked 1779. 1779 Brown Bess' Seth Brooks and Samuel Farrar.JPG
     
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  13. Jun 25, 2019 #13

    TFoley

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    Yes, but we've stopped that now. We've also stopped flogging for minor offences - known as Field Punishment Number 1 - and horse-riding - putting the miscreant on a crossbar with a 56 pound weight on each ankle. Quite a while back, in fact...

    As for the Welsh habit of calling each other by number, it's easy to understand, particularly in a Welsh regiment that really IS mostly Welsh, like the Royal Welsh Fusiliers or the Welsh Guards. As noted before, Jones, Thomas and Williams are VERY common surnames, particularly when regiments enlisted recruits for the Valleys of South Wales, where soldiering was a way to avoid going down a coal mine. When you have eight or ten of each name - maybe more, and with Jones, a LOT more, in each battalion, it makes sense to use the last three of your regimental number as call-up to which one is required , Jones 545 or Thomas 981, and they'd use it to talk to each other, too. I went to a mainly Welsh-speaking school in Wrexham as a young boy - and there were six Jones boys in my class alone, unrelated, apparently.
     
  14. Jun 25, 2019 #14

    Artificer

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    I knew that about Welsh names as my Maternal Grandmother was of a long line of Welsh, even in this country.

    Which Punishment Number is it when they invite a Corporal of an Allied Nation to a Sergeant's Mess and expect him to keep up with their imbibing? Good Lord, I had the worst hangover of my life and was unwell for days afterward, even though I didn't drink half as much as they. GREAT congeniality and fellowship, though, and I remember most of it very fondly!

    Gus
     

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