THE REVOLUTIONARY PERIOD - Part 1
In the interval between Pontiac's War and the Revolution the Colonies grew rapidly. Large families of children, and a constant influx of immigrants, were increasing the population from about two millions in 1763 to about two and a half millions in 1775, counting freemen, indentured servants, and slaves. Game was abundant everywhere, and hunting, except for residents of large towns, was an almost universal diversion. As a whole, the people were skilled in the use of firearms, and the firearms industry flourished when other industries languished.
Several regiments of British troops arrived in 1766 at New York, and in 1768 several more at Boston, bringing an abundance of work for the resident armorers. Some of the British officers brought their horses, dogs, and fowling-pieces, others purchased in America, and the pursuit of both large and small game became a favorite means of passing away the time. In 1769 the merchants of Boston created a fund for carrying on a manufactory of guns and small arms, as the demand warranted an extensive output.
In 1769 Daniel Boone made his first trip into Kentucky, and by 1775 the migration to Kentucky and the Ohio country was like a constant succession of small armies. The Indians being hostile, every male white who was able to point a gun carried one, and left behind him the price of a gun, rifle, or a pair of pistols.
In 1774 a Philadelphian wrote to a member of parliament that there were sufficient gun makers in the Colonies to make 100,000 stand of muskets per year at 28 shillings each, and powder was already made. Yet, although the Revolution was imminent, and the need of a store of firearms apparent, the home consumption was such that the outbreak of hostilities found the Colonists poorly provided. This negligence on the part of the Colonists seems inexcusable.
For more than a year the outbreak of hostilities was expected daily. Committees of correspondence had been active, and a union of the thirteen Colonies against the mother country was assured; there was no national government, no executive, yet each Colony for self-protection should have established armories, — and did not. In New England small stores of ammunition and old guns were collected from the people and from old town supplies stored since the French wars or before, but the main reliance seems to have been upon the personal property arms which existed in almost every household throughout the land.
The militia throughout the thirteen Colonies became active; and training, such as could be done by inefficient officers and by efficient officers whose neighbors in the ranks considered themselves on equal terms with their commanders and privileged to use their own judgment whether to obey or not, — such training was, particularly in Massachusetts, a matter of almost weekly occurrence. Some good came out of it; not as much in the way of military efficiency as in enthusiasm for the cause, worked up to high pitch by frequent discussion of the injustice which the Colonial soldiers felt was being practised upon them.
A year before war began Great Britain prohibited the exportation of arms to the Colonies; still, with war imminent, no preparations worth while were being made. Some of the public men of the time voiced the belief that bloodshed would be averted. Whether or no, the Colonists were waiting for Great Britain to fire the first shot.
The outbreak of war came with Major Pitcairn's pistol shot at the "minute men" upon Lexington Common, and there was no lack of the activities of warfare thereafter.
The battle which followed the discharge of Pitcairn's pistol — the battle of Concord and Lexington, picturesque in incidents, invigorating to the American cause, shocking to British assurance and pride, deadly to about two hundred and seventy-five trained British soldiers and only about one third as many Colonial rebels, was not one which set a standard of American shooting ability. Neither was Bunker Hill, which followed less than two months after, where the trained British regulars lost more than ten hundred and fifty as good men and officers as ever charged a redoubt, while the Colonial militia lost less than four hundred and fifty, and with sufficient powder would have had a still smaller loss and victory too.
These were cases where the British contempt for their uncouthly dressed and armed "peasant rebels" caused them in their pride to waive precautions, and the American farmers accepted the British fives offered them almost upon the muzzles of their guns. Protracted wars do not consist of such opportunities and such slaughters. The British became careful afterwards, and thenceforth the Americans had to rely upon skill.
During the whole of the war, which was carried on with a great multitude of engagements from 1775 to the capture of Yorktown by the Americans in 1781, there was in the United States a more woful condition of dissension, incompetency, dishonesty, jealousy, lack of government, and distressing poverty than can be appreciated after a lapse of far more than a hundred years. It is doubtful if even the newspapers, diaries, and records of the times can now represent with sufficient vividness the miserable condition of affairs. Yet the war went on. And it lasted, actively, for about six long years. And it ended in victory for the American army; victory for a very weak new nation; defeat for a powerful old nation. Naturally such an outcome caused then and afterward very close study of all the military, economic, and political aspects of the conditions then operating for and against both nations.
Sawyer, Charles. Firearms in American History. Boston: The Author,
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