Uniform & Equipment of the 17th Regiment: Arms
When a man enlisted in the British army, he was outfitted with his clothing and necessaries and then his “stand of arms.” This is the firelock (musket) and bayonet with scabbard and frog (holder), alongside a small 18-hole “cartouche” box — basically a wooden block with a leather flap nailed onto it — worn on a belt. He would also be augmented with a cartridge pouch slung over the left shoulder.
“Equipped with a firelock, a waist belt holding a small cartridge box and “frog” for a bayonet and scabbard, and a larger cartridge pouch slung over the left soldier, the infantry soldier learned a carefully prescribed sequence of movements and positions for handling the firelock.”
In the early 1770s the 17th were garrisoned in Ireland, therefore considered to belong to the Irish establishment in terms of chain of command and organisation. The stand of arms was issued from the Board of Ordnance to Ireland at Dublin Castle rather than the armouries of the Tower of London.
The “Land Service” firelock was the predominate infantry small arm of the British army of the 18th Century. Hundreds of thousands were produced over the decades, with various modifications to locks, the introduction of steel rammers, and a new shorter version introduced via royal assent in 1768. National Archive W0 55/366, 11 June 1768. “Land Service Musquets now made use of by Our several Regiments of Foot are too long and heavy. [...] We do hereby approve of the said Pattern Musquet, [...] ]Vizt: Three feet Six Inches long in the Barrel, and weighing Ten Pounds and a half at a Medium.”
1774 Inspection return of the 17th Regiment. See larger image.Just prior to the war, the 17th Regiment's inspection returns indicate that their firelocks were in a poor state:
“Clean but bad, except the light Infantry Company — Battalion arms received in 1768 and reported to be thin and defective when received.”
It's likely the new (though defective) arms issued in 1768 were the not the new “Pattern 1768,” rather the old Pattern 1728 “long” Land Service Firelock that the 17th Regiment would have been familiar with from previous conflicts. The light company, having only been formed in 1771, had all new equipment, equipped with a “Light Infantry Carbine” that for all intents and purposes was a Pattern 1768 “Short” Land Service Firelock. Despite the inspection note in 1774, the battalion company's arms were still in poor condition by 1775:
“351 Firelocks & 351 Bayonets bad as is printed Return which require to be Supplied with new Ones.”
Production of small arms was ramped up in 1774 as tensions rose in the colonies and “the Warrant Books make it clear that new production arms were being issued to the regiments almost as fast as they could be made.” Bailey, D.W. (1988). The Board of Ordnance and small arms supply: the ordnance system 1714-1783. p.194 The 17th Regiment's orderly books from 1775 have not survived to give us any details, but the regiment was likely issued with brand new firelocks from Dublin Castle before sailing to Boston in Autumn 1775, since troops on active duty were often issued new arms, especially if their old ones were “bad” as indicated by the return. An extant Pattern 1768 musket attributed to the 17th Regiment, with Dublin Castle markings Goldstein, E. (2005). The Regimental “Brown Bess” Bayonet, 1754-1783. Man at Arms, April, p.32. Example courtesy of Don Carroll. is known from a private collection in North America, further strengthening our argument that the Pattern 1768 was supplied.
Other markings found on the firelock are to do with army organisation. The lock is marked with the Royal Cypher “GR” with a crown above it and the “Dublin Castle” marking that indicates the armoury it was issued from. On the barrel, the breech was stamped with the King's proof mark, a pair of crossed sceptres beneath a crown, and with the view mark, a crowned GR with a Broad Arrow beneath. This broad arrow mark also doubled as a government ownership mark for barrels. The brass escutcheon, also called a thumbpiece or wrist-plate, which sits at the small of at the stock was intended to carry regimental information, with the regiment number, company letter and rack number engraved. Bailey (1988). p.290 “The final operation prior to packing up the arms in arms chests containing twenty-five muskets each, was to have the markings of the units to which the arms were being issued engraved on each arm. This engraving was carried out by one, or at times two, firms, their men working in the Tower [or Dublin] workshops. The name or number of the regiment was engraved along the top of the barrel; the company and rack number within the company (usually separated by a horizontal line) was engraved on the thumb piece; these two numbers were repeated on the shank of the rammer on steel rammered arms, just below the button-head of the rod.” These regimental and rack numbers were repeated on the barrel and rammer.
Firelocks and their wrist-plates survive, and several are attributed to the 17th Regiment in America from their time stationed there in both the French and Indian War and America Revolutionary War. Figure 1 (below) shows a wrist-plate from the Revolutionary War Period that is on a Dublin castle stamped Pattern 1768 firelock. Note the difference to the earlier pattern in Figure 2, with the company letter, rack number and regiment number reading from top to bottom.
Bayonet and Scabbard
Early in the 18th century, the “plug bayonet” was replaced by the much more practical “socket bayonet” and was standard accompaniment to the firelock from 1722 by Royal warrant. Made of steel, the blades for land service firelocks were 17” long, triangular in cross-section and were attached to the firelock by way of a zig-zag slot cut into the socket that fit over the foresight near the muzzle of the barrel.
From 1754 to 1778, William and Edward Loxham had a near monopoly on Bayonet production in England, whereas bayonet scabbards were made by several different accoutrement manufacturers. Bailey (1988). p.69
Much like the firelocks, the bayonets were marked up. Once bayonets were tested for faults, temper and welding, a crowned numeral was stamped into the base of the blade. Ibid. p.69 A single surviving Pattern 1768 bayonet attributed to the 17th Regiment in America has the markings “F over 34 over 17RT” on the socket, indicating it belonged to “F” company, man 34 of the 17th Regiment. Goldstein (2005). p.32. Example courtesy of George C. Neumann. While it has a different number, the markings are the same style as the aforementioned 17th Firelock marked “A over 29 over 17TR.”
Cuthbertson recommended that bayonet scabbards are made “of good stout leather, not lined with wood; and that their hooks and chapes are firm and well secured,” and that “companies must have some spare ones [fittings] constantly in store.” Cuthbertson, B (1768). Cuthbertson's system, for the complete interior management and economy of a battalion of infantry. A new edition, with corrections. pp.90-95
The surviving scabbards from the 18th century conform to this description with leather wrapped and butt-stitched, with a brass “locket” or frog-hook and chape. The 18th Century Material Culture Resource Center, Bayonets & Carriages. Online. The locket allows the scabbard to be suspended from a “frog” by sliding it through a hole or cut, and the chape stops the point of the bayonet splitting through the end of the scabbard. Post-1750 lockets have a bulbous lobe on the upper park of the hook.
Cartouche Box, Belt and Frog
The cartouche or cartridge box is a slightly convex block of wood with 18 holes drilled into it to store ammunition cartridges. A leather flap and two leather keepers are nailed onto the back. The flap has a stamp embossed “GR3” on it, overlayed with gold foil. The keepers allow a thin leather belt to slide through so it can be worn around the waist with the bayonet frog, a simple sleeve of leather held together with tin rivets and several simple stiches, with a hole punched in to slide the locket of a bayonet scabbard to slide through
The pattern for this item was set by the Royal Board of Ordnance, a body created in the early 18th Century to manage and regulate the manufacture of arms. Regiments could order new “stand of arms” for the regiment, which as well as the firelock, bayonet, and cartridge box, often included halberds for the serjeants and drums. Bailey (1988). p.65, pp.287-288 etc.
The use of the 18-hole cartouche box was mainly to increase the amount of ammunition that could be carried — often men were completed to 60 rounds for an engagement. Regiments would augment the government issue boxes with an additional cartridge pouch suspended on a strap from the left shoulder to fall at the right hip. As the decades progressed, these pouches carried more and more ammunition, making the carrying of an additional 18 rounds at the waist obsolete.
Extant cartouche box with a keeper added to the side. Don Troiani collection. The 18th Century Material Culture Resource Center, British Cartridge Boxes and Pouches. Online. They weren't without their issues too. Cuthbertson notes that when worn at the waist they are a “well known inconvenience at exercise, has often, in quick firing, been productive of mischief and confusion, by blowing up.” If being blown up was an extreme case, the boxes turning upside down and depositing ammunition on the floor was a common problem. A regimental order of May 1777 instructs companies to add additional keepers on the side of the boxes to prevent this.
Several other adaptations were made to make the 18-hole cartouche box more practical. In August 1777, the King's American Regiment were told that “Cartouche boxes to be fastened on the straps of the pouches, thrown over the left shoulder, letting the box and pouch hang under the right arm.”
In August 1775, the whole army was ordered to “wear their cartridge boxes over their shoulders, and not round their waists.” National Archive WO 31/1. P.131. August 3rd 1775. Extracts of orders given to the British Army in America. Similarly, in May 1777 the 4th Brigade (of which the 17th Regiment were part of) were ordered to adapt them so that “the cartridge box [is] to be slung over the left shoulder.” Captured British Army Orderly Book [40th Regiment of Foot] April 20, 1777 to August 28, 1777, George Washington Papers, series 6B, vol. 1, reel 117. Transcribed by John U Rees. “4th May 1777. The 4th Brigade [...] The Cartridge Box to be slung Over the left shoulder”
Extant cartouche boxes examined by Don Troiani and James Kochan show buckles and buff leather straps added to the boxes to wear them in this way.
When the 17th Regiment were captured at Stony Point, those men who were on leave at New York were organized into an additional company, bolstered by the arrival of recruits from England, and were placed under the command of Captain-Lieutenant George Cuppaidge of the 17th, who had been at New York on business when Stoney Point was lost. With regimental stores captured, his men had to make do with the government issued boxes.
“Sir, Agreeable to Major General Matthew's Order I send a Return of the Deﬁciencies in the Seventeenth Company. We have at present one Cartridge Box for each man, but as they hold eighteen Rounds only I shall be extremely thankful for an Order to complete us to two per man. I am Sir with great Respect Your most Obedt. Humble Servant George Cuppaidge Capt. 17th Infy”
- The 18th Century Material Culture Resource Center. (n.d.). Bayonets & Carriages. [online] Available at: https://www.scribd.com/document/263586390/Military-Arms-Accoutements-Bayonets [Accessed 2 Mar. 2023].
- The 18th Century Material Culture Resource Center. (n.d.). Cartridge Boxes & Pouches. [online] Available at: https://www.scribd.com/document/267550145/Military-Arms-Accoutrements-British-Cartridge-Boxes-Pouches [Accessed 2 Mar. 2023].
- Bailey, D.W. (1988). The Board of Ordnance and small arms supply: the ordnance system 1714-1783. Thesis (Ph.D.). King's College London (University of London).
- Cuthbertson, B. (1776). Cuthbertson's system, for the complete interior management and economy of a battalion of infantry. A new edition, with corrections. Bristol: Rouths and Nelson.
- Goldstein, E. (2005). The Regimental “Brown Bess” Bayonet, 1754-1783. Man at Arms, April, pp.22-39.
- Hagist, D. (2020). Noble Volunteers: the British soldiers who fought the American revolution. Yardley, Pennsylvania: Westholme Publishing, Llc.
- Houlding, J.A. (1981). Fit for Service. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
- Kochan, J.L. and Troiani, D. (2017). Don Troiani's Soldiers of the American Revolution. Guilford Conneticut: Stackpole Books.
- Rees, J.U. Captured British Army Orderly Book [40th Regiment of Foot] April 20, 1777 to August 28, 1777, George Washington Papers, series 6B, vol. 1, reel 117. Transcribed.
- Spring, Matthew H. (2008) With Zeal and With Bayonets Only: The British Army on Campaign in North America, 1775-1783. University of Oklahoma Press. Kindle Edition.