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3 Details for a Perfect New England Militia Portrayal at Ticonderoga

New England militia
Reinforced by Continental and Vermont regulars, militia from New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Vermont provided the bulk of the soldiers in raids like Colonel John Brown’s raid on Ticonderoga in 1777.

When General Horatio Gates tasked General Lincoln to, “divide and distract,” General Burgoyne’s British and German army with a series of raids along his supply route to Canada, he called upon the Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont militia to provide the majority of his 2000 man force amassed in Pawlet, Vermont. Most of these militiamen were drafted or volunteered, pending being drafted. In Massachusetts one-sixth of the county militia of Berkshire, Hampshire, Worchester, Middlesex, Suffolk, Essex & York counties were called up for three months service by the General Court as of August 9th 1777. With York county being in the Maine district of Massachusetts, many of these militiamen travelled an incredible distance to be part of General Lincoln’s raids. As Fort Ticonderoga looks to reenact John Brown’s attack among these many raids, here are some easy details to recreate the militia men who took part in these daring attacks.

1) Keep it Simple: Pouch, Bayonet Belt, Horn & Knapsack

Miltia men and their equipment
Militia laws and inventories repeatedly list cartridge pouches, powder horns, bayonets, belts, and knapsacks indicating the typical equipment of militia men.

Militia laws and regulations were nothing new by 1777. These rules for each citizen’s contribution to the defense of their community go well back into the 17th century. They provide a remarkable window into what each man eligible for service was supposed to carry. Colonel Timothy Pickering in his 1775 An Easy Plan of Discipline for the Militia stated that every militia man provides their own, “firelock, bayonet, waistbelt, a cartridge box, cartridges, and a knapsack.” An advertisement in the Boston Gazette, in 1777 informed militia men to be prepared with, “a powder horn, a bullet pouch to contain 40 leaden balls, a knapsack, a canteen, a firearm of good worth, a haversack, a belt, a good pair of overalls.” By 1778 the Third Bristol County Militia Regiment required men to muster with following.

…a good firearm with steel or iron ramrod, and spring to retain the same, a worm, priming wire and brush, and a bayonet fitted to his gun, a tomahawk or hatchet, a pouch containing a cartridge box that will hold fifteen rounds of cartridges at least, a hundred of buckshot, a jack knife, and tow for wadding, six flints, one pound of powder, forty leaden balls fitted to his gun, a knapsack and blanket, a canteen or wooden bottle sufficient to hold one quart.

Cartridge pouche
Cartridge pouches with good provenance to use by New England militia and regulars during the Revolutionary war show some variety in the exact details of their construction, but a surprising level of overall uniformity between examples.

Shoemakers and saddlers, like Reuben Brown of Concord Massachusetts built cartridge boxes, holsters, and belts for the town’s militia. Numerous examples of cartridge pouches with excellent provenance to New England Militia service survive. Collectively they demonstrate quality craftsmanship with a surprising level of uniformity, despite no regulation pattern. Cartridge blocks, buckles and even whole pouches matching extent examples have been recovered from Valcour Island, indicating that these were indeed carried north to the Lake Champlain corridor.

Accounts of New England militia and soldiers in the 1777 campaign confirm this general scheme of armaments. July 17th,& 18th arms and Equipment returns for the 2nd and 3rd New Hampshire regiments at Ticonderoga, both of which included militia drafts and volunteers, list “Arms, Bayonets, Cartridge-Boxes, Priming Wires and Brushes, Horns and Pouches.” These regulars received a complete issue of French muskets with bayonets is clear in these returns, however their returns show that they were working to complete each man with a cartridge box, horn and pouch. Surgeon J. F Wasmus, of Brunswick described the arms of the New England militia and regulars succinctly, “a powder horn, bullet bag, a flask of rum and a gun – that was all they had on them.”

2) Trousers Welcome

Militia man wearing trousers with gun on back
With a strong nautical connection, it’s not terribly surprising that many New Englanders appear in accounts wearing trousers in militia service.

Among the litany of food and clothing articles carried north to Ticonderoga by Massachusetts Private Ezra Tylden in 1776 was, “ a pair of long trowsers,” Given that he willingly sold off his leather breeches and buckles, clearly trousers were acceptable wear. Indeed, trousers commonly show up among deserters from New England regular and militia units. As advertized in the Providence Gazette, Feburary 8, 1777, Private Samuel Smith of Capt. Tew’s Company, in Col. Angell’s Regiment, deserted wearing, ”a black Broadcloth Jacket, with Sleeves, and a Pair of long Trowsers.” Likewise, William Horton, of Capt. Thomas Cole’s company in Col. Crary’s Massachusetts Regiment deserted wearing, “a blue outside Jacket, Striped Trowsers, and a round Hat.” At the Battle of Bennington, Surgeon J. F Wasmus recalled that the New Englanders facing him, “had nothing [to cover] their bodies but shirts, vests and long linen trousers, which reached down to their shoes; no stockings;”

3) Coats, Waistcoats, and Jackets

Militia man
Counter to respectable fashion, at least two accounts of New England soldiers describe them with merely waistcoats and shirtsleeves.

The ubiquitous farmer’s smock of pastoral New England life, doesn’t seem to have been as frequently worn by militia and soldiers in the 1777 campaign as commonly supposed. This is not to say they did not exist. Private Ezra Tylden, among his heap of belongings carried, “a frock”. However, the list of his other garments is really typical.

A woolen Shirt…a new cotton and linen a pair of white stockings, a pair of blue stockings.. a pair of knee buckles… and under-jacket, a short coat, a great coat, a pair of grey yarn stockings, two pair shoes, a striped shirt, a pair of long trowsers, a hat, two handkerchiefs, a pair of shoes buckles.. a pair of leather breeches, a pair of cloth breeches… a frock…

Private Anthony Mash who was drafted into Colonel Phiney’s Massachusetts regiment in 1776 had when he died, “1 pair of leather breeches, 3 shirts, 3 pair of stockings, 1 pair of shoe buckles, 2 coats, 1 pair of shoes, jacket, hat spaterdashers, 1 black handkerchief, 1 pair of knee buckles.” Perhaps the greatest New England soldier in the Northern Theater, Captain of rangers, Benjamin Whitcomb, epitomizes the practical attire worn in summer. British descriptions of this ranger during his daring 1776 raids stated:

He wears a kind of under-jacket without sleeves, slash pockets, leather breeches, grey woolen or yarn stockings, and shoes. Hat flapped, a gold cord tied around it. He had a firelock, blanket, pouch and powder horn.

His quintessential attire is corroborated by Surgeon J F Wasmus, who described New Englanders, stating, “they were all in their shirt-sleeves”. Rather than any frontier dress, practical and pragmatic New England militia generally wore their civilian suits of clothing; coats, waistcoats, and jackets. If it got too hot, they simply omitted their coats. With the arms they carried for militia duty, and a pair of trousers for a hot day, these militia men from New England were able to execute a daring series of raids in September of 1777 which helped seal the fate of General Burgoyne’s army.