Minimum caliber for militia firelock?

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Pilgrim
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Long time lurker, finally posting a question...

I've seen several references in militia regulations of the 18th century that one must have a firearm of "appropriate" or "military" caliber, but never any references to the actual minimum caliber required. Thinking a Virginia or Masachusets colonist here, if that matters. Would a military caliber mean the same as the Kings arms, or just no smaller than xxx? At the same time, many modern places seem to imply that a 20ga fowling piece is common which would be smaller than either British or French military pieces of the time. Does anyone have any reference to what caliber would have been required for a militia member to carry?
 

George

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The Pennsylvania Gazette
October 18, 1739
BOSTON, Sept. 17. A Paragraph from the Province Law relating to Fire-Arms, &c.

"That every listed Soldier and other Housholder (except Troopers) shall be always provided with a well fixt Firelock Musquet, of Musquet or Bastard-Musquet Bore; the Barrel not less than three Foot and a half long,"

Musket caliber is 12 gauge, bastard-musket is 16 gauge.

Spence
 

Caliper

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George said:
Musket caliber is 12 gauge, bastard-musket is 16 gauge.

Spence

Ah, another of those cases where a common part of speech from back then is less known today!

So, I'm really looking at the interwar period between F&I and Revolutionary, would there still be guys showing up to Militia duty with a musket of the wrong bore? Seems after the F&I there would have been a fair supply of musket bore weapons?
 
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Keep in mind that the colonial population nearly doubled between 1750 (est 1,170,800) and 1770 (est 2,148,700). Even if we assume that the country was well armed by 1760, many more arms would be needed just to account for population growth. Records from the various Committees of Correspondence show a shortage.
 

Loyalist Dave

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Where? :idunno:

For example Pennsylvania didn't have a militia system, so who knows.


Maryland maintained probably about enough muskets to arm a full regiment from the 1600's on. In 1736 one report read thus:

"In the Councill Chamber
344 good Muskerts
138 good Carbines,
eight Short Musketts
39 pistols
72 Cutlasses
26 Bayonets
73 Halberds
50 Sword and Halberd blades

Totall Number
438 good Muskets
113 bad Muskets,
252 good Carbines one bad Carbine
50 Short Muskets
232 Pistols,
72 Cutlasses,
68 Bayonets
74 Halberds
one Pike 50 Sword and Halberd Blades together
"

(Really wish they told us what was the dif between a musket, carbine, and short musket :shocked2: )

By the F&I a large number of muskets needed work an were probably "modern" flintlocks as opposed to matchlocks or snaphaunces. More still wee reported needing some sort of repair or being rusty, by the AWI.

So by 1776 the government running the Colony of Maryland specified for locally made muskets:

"That the sum of eight hundred and and fifty-five pounds common money be advanced to the said Elisha Winters out of the pulic treasury, he giving bond in double that sum, with sufficient security, conditioned for the delivery of 600 stand of muskets, three quarters of an inch in the bore and 3 1/2 feet in the barrel, to be well stocked with walnut, and well finished, with strong substantial double bridled locks, strong brass mounting, substantial steel bayonets and ramrods, and swivels for slings, agreeable to a sample this day produced to the convention, at the rate of four pounds five shillings common money for each musket so finished; "

So in Maryland at one point the standard was .75 caliber with a 42" barrel...at one point ....

LD
 

Wes/Tex

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I'm assuming, and "assuming" is a dangerous game to play, :wink: that your question is if reference to what we'll call U.S. militia and military. The colonial military followed, more or less, British caliber designations which were expressed as "musket', "carbine" and "pistol" bore.... this translated to .76", .66" and .56" bore diameters. Now for the fun part....76" usually translated to .775" to .750", .66" to .675" to .650" and .56" from .560" to .550" No one has come up with an adequate explanation but ordnance guys and makers being what they were, not surprising. One of the main reasons British and French muskets took balls roughly .06" below bore diameter. Military always thought, then, in terms of paper wrapped cartridges and fouling buildup, so less was more in keeping military smooth bores operating. The French, and their friends or foes, depending, the Spanish opted for .690" bores and about .630" balls...figuring in balls per 'livre' rather than balls per 'pound' like the British. Makers had 'go/no-go' gauges from the government and if it fit in between those, it was a 'go'! If you're not confused by this point, you just haven't been paying attention! :wink: :rotf: Sorry but that's just the way it is. Officer's 'fusils usually went "carbine bore" but colonial made versions could go .600" to .660" and it gets more confusing. Sorry guy, not an easy question to answer! :haha: :thumbsup:
 
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We have to remember there was no such thing as dial calipers or micrometers in the 18th century, so no one referred to bore size in Decimals of an inch.

During the period for civilian arms, they did not refer to the bore size of as Caliber or Calibre as we do today, but most commonly by "So many Balls per Pound" (of lead). Though the term "Gauge" was not unknown in the 18th century, it became much more common to refer to the bore size of smooth bore guns in the 19th century in terms of 12 gauge (for example) to mean the SAME THING as Balls per Pound. So 12 gauge meant one could cast 12 balls that fit into the bore of that gun from one pound of lead. Today we still use the term "Gauge" for most shotguns EXCEPT for the "Four Ten," which is the actual bore size in decimals of an inch at .410."

Generally speaking, here is a list of what size Balls per pound was acceptable for militia arms. Oh "Musquet" seems to have been the more common way they spelled the word "musket" back then.

1. Musquet Bore - 11 Balls to the Pound or BPP

2. Bastard Musquet or Carbine Bore - 17 or 18 BPP

3. Pistol - Originally British Military Bore was the same as the Carbine Bore so the same size balls could be used in both. However, that was a BIG PISTOL barrel, so by the time of the Mid 18th century it came down to 28 BPP or around .56 caliber as we know it today.


Here is a Balls to the Pound Conversion Chart: http://www.cherrytreefamily.com/gaugetocaliber.htm

Here is a Gauge to Caliber conversion chart: http://www.muzzleloadingforum.com/fusionbb/showtopic.php?tid/197045/

NOTE: Even with today's precision measurements, Balls to the Pound to caliber AND Gage to caliber conversion charts DON'T always mention the exact same decimal readings from chart to chart.

Besides "Balls to the Pound" as a way of describing bore size in the 18th century, they also sometimes wrote fractions of an inch to describe bore size. So a barrel of "about 3/4 inch" would have been considered to be appropriate for a Musquet/Musket Bore for a civilian made or owned musket. However, many civilians did not need or want a gun with THAT big of a bore size.

Further, MANY civilians back then did not know or CARE what size of bore was "acceptable" for Militia Duty because Militia laws normally did not specify bore size. Outside of the Wealthy or those who had served in or with the Regulars or Provincials, most civilians probably did not know what the Musquet, Bastard Musquet or Pistol size bores were OR if they heard the terms, would not have known exactly what each size was until someone else showed them such a gun.

As early as the end of the 17th century in Virginia, out of date military arms were sent and offered to Virginians at "much reduced" or "reasonable" rates to make it more affordable for civilians to purchase a gun for militia duty. These arms normally were the same price or CHEAPER than what many folks could buy a civilian gun AND they even sometimes offered credit terms, especially for the poor. (Yes Virginia, surplus arms were offered for sale to civilians LONG before the Post WWII years. :grin: ) Sounds like a great deal for everyone, eh? Well, it did not work out that way.

There is further documentation that many, if not most of those arms were not voluntarily purchased by civilians because even though they were "a good deal" as far as cost, they were too heavy and too large of a caliber for the average Virginian who preferred a lighter gun. It seems if a person actually had the money to buy any gun, they spent a little more on a civilian gun that better suited their needs and/or desires.

Now, of course Civilian Businesses and Gunsmiths advertised in Newspapers and sometimes mentioned in the "ads" (in various terminology) that some of the guns were appropriate for militia duty or martial use. I'm sure part of the "sales pitch" at a Shop, store or trading post may or would have included mention what guns were appropriate for militia use. However, most civilians seemed to have purchased a gun for what they figured best suited their needs and THEN showed up at Militia Musters with that gun. As long as the gun was serviceable and the person had the rest of the minimum required gear by law, that gun and gear was acceptable by Militia Standards and the person would not have been fined for not having the gun or gear.

Gus
 
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OH, two VERY common sizes for Rifle Bores before the AWI was 32 or 34 balls to the pound OR what was described as "about a half inch." (Yes, rifle bore sizes sometime were larger in the period and sometimes smaller.) The actual caliber was about .52 caliber. Bore sizes got smaller in the Post AWI period as larger game became scarce UNTIL people went further out west when rifle bore sizes got bigger again. Hawken rifle aficionados inform us that original Hawken rifles quite often to usually were the same .52 caliber used by their ancestors.

Since there are so few barrel makers who offer a .52 caliber barrel, .54 caliber and larger bore sizes are used for Pre AWI rifles by many folks today.

Gus
 
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Oh, I am not nearly so knowledgeable as other folks on the forum about civilian fowlers and guns made for the trade. However, it seems that smooth bore guns of 20 to 16 balls per pound or gauge were very common and that would easily be acceptable for Militia Guns.

Gus
 

thecapgunkid

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Thanks, Gus.

Is it true that the word Caliber came about only when people started re-loading brass cartridges?
 

Loyalist Dave

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Militia were often specified by law, for age, and equipment, but the bore of what constituted a "good firelock" or "Musquet" is not mentioned in all cases, or over time...perhaps it was up to the local militia officers to have the authority to reject a firelock or musket or later a rifle, that they deemed insufficient...

Maryland, 1756

(requirement for those exempt from Militia duty based on profession or old age to buy and donate to the colony a firelock or musket)

...Be it therefore Enacted by the Authority aforesaid, that all and every the Persons, whose Real and Personal Estate is of the Value of forty Pounds Sterling, to be determined as aforesaid before exempted from Services of the Militia, and all Men above the Age of Sixty Years of the Ability aforesaid, shall each of them find one good and Sufficient Firelock, with a Bayonet, and deliver the Same to the Colonel or Commanding Officer of the County wherein he shall reside...


1776:

"...that every man should be obliged to provide a good firelock and keep it in repair at his own expence and also the Accoutrements named by the Convention..."


1793:

...That every citizen so enrolled and notified, shall, within fix months thereafter,
provide himself with a good musket or firelock, a sufficient bayonet and belt, two spare flints, and a knapsack; a pouch with a box therein, to contain not less than twenty-four cartridges suited to the bore of his musket or firelock, each cartridge to contain a proper quantity of powder and ball; or with a good rifle, knapsack, shot-pouch and powder-horn, twenty balls suited to the bore of his rifle, and a quarter of a pound of powders and shall appear so armed, accoutered and provided, when called out to exercise or into service,...


1799:

...if any non-commissioned officer or private, who has provided himself with a musket or firelock, or who has received one the property of the state, shall appear in the ranks at any of said meetings without such musket or firelock, he shall be fined ...

LD
 
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Greg Geiger said:
Thanks, Gus.

Is it true that the word Caliber came about only when people started re-loading brass cartridges?

Greg, I am certain that the words Calibre and Caliber were used prior to people reloading brass cartridges, but I honestly don't know exactly how far back the words were used.

Gus
 
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Wes/Tex said:
The colonial military followed, more or less, British caliber designations which were expressed as "musket', "carbine" and "pistol" bore.... this translated to .76", .66" and .56" bore diameters. Now for the fun part....76" usually translated to .775" to .750", .66" to .675" to .650" and .56" from .560" to .550" No one has come up with an adequate explanation but ordnance guys and makers being what they were, not surprising. ... Officer's 'fusils usually went "carbine bore" but colonial made versions could go .600" to .660" and it gets more confusing.

Just to add to the confusion, the Richard Wilson NJ contract fusil in the Ahearn collection - almost certainly from the 1757 contract - comes in at .71 cal. :doh: That might be a nominal 13 bore or a sloppy 14 bore. :idunno: And this was what the Province specified for the NJ Blues and matches what has been recovered from their unfortunate massacre at Sabbath Day Point. Imagine the chaos of trying to standardize militia weapons, when even Provincial contracts for regular Provincial troops don't match the standard bores...
 

thecapgunkid

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It sounds like the pivot point on this thread is based on the continuous 18th century references to balls-to-the-pound.

I had a hard time finding the word Caliber in any of the 18th Century Glossaries floating around and even in any of the sources I have read. Maybe we oughta ask Spence if he can find a reference to it.

The conversion chart cited in one of the posts here( and in a couple of muzzleloading catalogues) is quite useful.

Do you know of any tools in an Armorers possession that acted like that wedge designed to plot a rifle's caliber? You know...that metal thingy with the hash marks that you place at the muzzle that looks kind of like a template for finger ring size?
 

Loyalist Dave

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Just to add to the confusion, the Richard Wilson NJ contract fusil in the Ahearn collection - almost certainly from the 1757 contract - comes in at .71 cal.

That's interesting... I wonder too, if say the standard musket ball that the folks in NJ had seen in the past was .690...but the local manufacturer knew it wasn't very accurate, but did know that if the bore was smaller, it would become accurate...might it not have been an accident, but a way to give his local soldier's an "edge", while not knowing why the Brits used so large a bore and so small a ball? So he thinks, "I'll give my neighbors muskets that will shoot better at a farther distance," while not realizing that he may be dooming them to a real blood bath of they have to shoot more than a dozen or so shots during a battle??

Yes, pure fantastical speculation...it was probably just that they could only find a form that was .71.

LD
 
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Greg Geiger said:
Do you know of any tools in an Armorers possession that acted like that wedge designed to plot a rifle's caliber? You know...that metal thingy with the hash marks that you place at the muzzle that looks kind of like a template for finger ring size?

Yes, I have three or four of them in different my different tool boxes, as they are a quick check for caliber and gage. I usually take one with me when going to antique gun shows along with precision dial calipers and some other tools and gauges.

I actually saw a couple of 18th century examples while at the World Championships at Wedgnock, UK. They were more elaborately made than the common ones we find today, of course. I am not sure if Peter Dyson or the Blackleys had them.

Anyway to specifically answer your question, I have never seen one listed in the lists of Military Artificer/Armorer tool lists. Most of the lists I have seen were British, though I saw translations of one German and one French lists.

Further, this was not a tool regarded as needed for a Military Artificer as he only had to deal with the bore sizes of the guns used by his Regiment. I doubt anyone outside of barrel makers, gunsmiths and government inspectors would have needed one enough to have one.

Gus
 
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Fully agree with Dave, that is fascinating info on those Commercial Muskets.

Smaller caliber muskets don't require as much Iron for barrels and therefore cheaper than .76 cal. barrels. Cheaper cost alone may have been the reason they were made in that caliber. Also they may have thought they would have gotten more balls from similar quantity of lead, though not many more.

Unfortunately, it is rarely mentioned whether bullet molds were supplied with the muskets, but I bet they were.

Gus
 
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Well, the New Jersey Blues certainly got their posteriors kicked around during the F&I War - at Ft. Oswego, Sabbath Day Point, and Ft. William Henry, but I don't recall any blame placed on their firelocks becoming unusable.

My guess is that it was supposed to be 14 bore, as the fusil is lighter and shorter than a Bess, only about 6 1/2 - 7 lbs. perhaps the bore was originally carbine bore, but got "freshed" at some point. This fusil saw possible use in both the F&I War and the AWI, so that is not impossible. :idunno:
 

Loyalist Dave

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Naw, you don't "fresh" a musket barrel, too thin, especially back then, and I doubt it was to save on steel, as the difference in materials of .04" even accounting for the length of the barrel might give you four extra barrels for every hundred that were made...

It's more likely that the mandrel that they used was roughly thought to be 12 gauge (.72) OR they had a good supply of barrels already on hand and simply used those..."musket bore" barrels might have been in short supply, but slightly smaller barrels might not have been in demand..the contractor had a rush job, said "These will work", and there you have it...

Again FS...fantastical speculation....

LD
 

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