Many canteens were painted. Paint helped to seal and protect the wood. Canteens carried by the militia were often painted with elaborate insignia, and the initials of their owners. Painted letters didn’t just look pretty, they helped identify who owned the object to prevent or identify unlawful theft or sale.


This type of canteen was made of lightweight cedar. A single strip of wood was steamed and bent around two circular heads and nailed in place. This was considerably less expensive that the standard army canteen which was made of oak staves, like a tiny barrel. This construction appears to have originated in the Northeast and the town of Hingham, Massachusetts was a well-known center of production by the end of the 18th century. The stamped initials on this canteen are likely the maker’s mark, although his identity is unclear.


It may seem obvious that each soldier would be issued his own canteen, but in fact, for most European armies a single large canteen, as well as a cooking kettle, an axe, and bedding were shared between the men that slept together in a tent. In America the long distances from towns and barracks meant soldiers carried more equipment in the field such as individual blankets as well as canteens.


During the War of 1812 the Federal Government ordered over 25,000 of these canteens. Barely visible under the paint are the letters “U.S.” They were overpainted with the letters M.S. for “Massachusetts State.” This may indicate that the canteen was issued to the state that during the war. Massachusetts, like many New England states, disagreed sharply with the government over the war and may have applied their own insignia. It may also have been sold as surplus at the end of the war and put into state stores.