FIREARMS OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION - BLUNDERBUSSES
The derivation of the word blunderbuss is not clear. As probable an explanation as any is that it is a compound of the old German words donner and bilsche; donner meant thunder and bilsche meant gun barrel; the meaning of the compound word was distinctly appropriate. The funneling of the barrel was an evolution from the slight enlargement of the muzzle in matchlock days to facilitate the entrance of the bullet or a number of small bullets. There is a wheellock blunderbuss in the museum of Sigmaringen.
Although English and German troops of the seventeenth century were armed with blunderbusses for use in close quarters and in narrow passageways, no mention has been found of any troops so armed during the Revolution. On the sea, however, it was different. Probably every warship, whether English or French regular or American privateer, had on board a few or many blunderbusses for repelling boarders. That they were abundant in Europe in Revolutionary times is well known; they were not only used at sea but also were kept in almost everyhousehold as protection against burglars, and were carried by every mailcoach and nobleman's carriage as protection against highwaymen. That they were fairly abundant in America is proved by the fact that when General Gage issued an order in April, 1775, that no citizens who left Boston should go armed, but must deposit all their weapons in Faneuil Hall, they left there by April 22, 1775, one thousand seven hundred and twenty-eight guns, six hundred and thirty-four pistols, two hundred and seventy-three bayonets, and thirty-eight blunderbusses.
The blunderbuss, absolutely useless as an arm of precision with either ball or shot, was unexcelled as a dealer of death in a neighboring multitude. Its bore is its peculiar characteristic. Each of the blunderbusses shown has its chamber the same diameter as that end of the ramrod which is in view. From the chamber the bore increases constantly and regularly until near the muzzle, when it widens suddenly like a funnel to many times the size of the chamber. This double funneling caused a great scattering of the charge, which was frequently made up of shot, slugs, bullets, nails, glass, pebbles, scrap iron and other junk, backed by a huge charge of powder.
Since a round muzzle causes shot to scatter in a circle, the round-muzzled blunderbuss wasted a part of its charge over the heads and beneath the feet of its victims. To obviate that some genius hit upon the scheme of making the bore and muzzle elliptical, with the long axis horizontal so that the charge would act like a scythe.
Sawyer, Charles. Firearms in American History. Boston: The Author,
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