American Revolutionary War Relic Hunting


American Revolutionary War Relic Hunting


by Daniel Bernzweig

The American Revolutionary War, 1775-1783

The American Revolutionary War, which was also known as the American Revolution, began in 1775. Tensions between the British colonial government and residents of the thirteen colonies in North America under British rule led to the battle. Although the revolutionary war was considered an American civil war, it became an international war when France and Spain joined the colonies to fight Britain. The Americans won their independence after the British surrendered at Yorktown, Virginia, in 1781, but the war formally ended in 1783. After the war, the thirteen colonies formed states free from the rules of the British Crown to establish the United States of America and the constitution. The primary cause of the American Revolution was mainly attributed to the Seven Years' War or the French and Indian War, which was expensive, causing an increase in taxes through the Stamp Act, Townshend Act, and Tea Act, amongst others. This tax increase was met with protest amongst the colonists in New England. The violence began in 1770 when five colonists were killed in the Boston Massacre by British force soldiers. The Bostonians responded by throwing tea imports into Boston Harbor and seeing the colony of Massachusetts as the center of the protests against the Crown, King George III and the British government set about passing the Coercive Acts to reassert dominance in the colony. At the height of the Revolutionary War, Native American Indians and African American soldiers served on both sides of the conflict.

The Seven Years' War

The American Revolutionary War was not the first major war to be fought in North America. The French and the British had fought each other for decades across the region, most notably during the Seven Years War between 1756 and 1763, from which the British emerged in possession of New France, from which Canada would one day emerge. George Washington had even acted as a commander for the British Empire in that war. Moreover, it was a significant factor in the unrest that led to the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War in the 1770s. The colonial community of the Thirteen Colonies wasn't just annoyed about excessive taxes being levied on them by Britain but also the fact that they felt they had contributed a great deal to the earlier war with France and were continuing to be overlooked when it came to determining their affairs from London. All of these issues combined in the unrest, which led to the formation of the First Continental Congress at Philadelphia in September 1774. In 1755, Alexander Hamilton was born into slavery. At the age of 12, his mother sold him to pay off debts after his father died. As a house slave, he worked until he escaped in 1775. After escaping, he joined the Continental Army. Slave rights were advocated by him in letters to Congress during the war.

When negotiations between Congress and the British government subsequently failed, fighting erupted on the 19th of April 1775 at both Lexington and Concord. From that day, the American Revolutionary War is typically deemed to have been underway. It would be a long struggle, one in which the revolutionaries had to develop their own fighting forces, the Continental Army, and in which they soon acquired an ally in the shape of Britain's perennial enemy of the early modern period, France. The makeshift nature of the conflict ensured that the American Revolutionary War has its own unique material culture of weapons and uniforms, making very interesting and unusual discoveries when metal-detecting for war paraphernalia. Moreover, because the French became involved on the side of America soon after the war began, one can often find material relating to the French armed forces and the British and the Continental Army. Eventually, over 200,000 men were in arms across various parts of North America, and by the time the war came to an end in 1783, with Britain's acceptance of US independence under the terms of the Treaty of Paris, a wide range of material culture had been dispersed across battlefields from Maine south to Georgia and west to Louisiana.

Voicing Their Grievances

To voice their grievances against the British government, General George Washington and Patrick Henry of Virginia, John Jay of New York, and John Adams and Samuel Adams of Massachusetts, colonial delegates, met in 1774 in Philadelphia and formed the first Continental Congress. Then, they only demanded denunciation of taxes and the maintenance of human rights. They set another meeting in May 1775. However, violence began before then when British troops marched to Concord to confiscate an arms cache. Paul Revere sounded the alarm against the troops and mobilized local militiamen to fight against them. The Battles of Lexington and Concord, which commenced on April 19, 1775, marked the beginning of the Revolutionary war.  When the second Continental Congress gathered, new delegates were added (including Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson). They voted to form a Continental Army, commanded by George Washington. The Battle of Bunker Hill was the Revolution's first major battle, ending with a British victory. However, the colonist dealt heavy damage to the British forces headed by General William Howe, lending them encouragement.

Declaration of Independence

On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress moved to adopt the declaration of independence from the British Crown. Simultaneously, the Great Britain government sent about 34,000 troops and a large fleet to New York to crush the rebellion. This led to many battles, many ending in favor of the Redcoats. Notable colonist victories include the victory at Princeton in 1776 and the 1777 battles of Saratoga, which prompted France to offer direct assistance to the rebels. One of the most significant military sites during the American Revolution was Fort Ticonderoga. After defeating General John Burgoyne at Saratoga, the British built the fortress in 1758. It was captured by the Americans in 1777 but was recaptured by the British in 1779. The site became part of New York State after the war. The war was mostly a stalemate in the North and an important point in American History. However, the Americans suffered some setbacks between 1779 and 1781, including General Benedict Arnold's defection to the British troops, followed by mutinies within the Continental Army. The war ended in 1781 when General Cornwallis surrendered his entire army in Yorktown after being cornered by the troops of General Washington and the French army and warships. The independence of America was won at the Battle of Yorktown. Still, it was only formalized on September 3, 1783, in the Treaty of Paris, where British and American negotiators signed preliminary peace.

Weapons of the American Revolutionary Wars

Several weapons dominated the main battlefields of the American War of Independence at Lexington, Saratoga, and Yorktown. For the British, the weapon of choice early on in the war was the so-called 'Brown Bess' musket, a muzzle-loading smoothbore musket, while a great number of these were also held by the Patriots when the war began or was acquired during the conflict. The 'Brown Bess' was gradually being replaced as the war went on by the Pattern 1776 Infantry Rifle, a gun which had been developed by William Grice in England based on a German model, the armies of Prussia being the foremost fighting power in Europe at the time. About 1,000 of these were produced and provided to British soldiers who fought in North America. Often the revolutionaries fought with rifles of a makeshift design put together in armories that sprung up across North America in the course of the conflict. However, once the French entered the war, they also had a supply of French-made muskets, principally Charleville muskets. These were named after the Charleville armory in eastern France, where they were produced and were a .69 caliber rifle with a smoothbore barrel. They were very effective up to a distance of 50 yards. The French shipped over 50,000 of these to the revolutionaries for use in the Continental Army during the war. Beyond these rifles, side arm muskets were also employed by the Patriots and the British and their respective allies. One final weapon which was employed was the foremost gun of its day. The Ferguson rifle was the first breech-loading rifle to be employed by the British and could be much more easily loaded and fired than the other muskets and rifles of the time, many of which could only be fired every thirty seconds. However, the Fergusons were somewhat under-appreciated at the time as they were expensive to manufacture. While some of them were used at Charlestown and other engagements of the war, it was really subsequent generations that came to appreciate the benefits of breech-loading rifles fully.

Brown Bess Musket

A 'Brown Bess' musket such as was used by both the British and revolutionaries in the American War of Independence, as seen used by an officer and a serjeant of the Highland regiment.

Buck and Ball Bullets

Whether one was carrying a 'Brown Bess' musket, a Charleville musket, a Ferguson rifle, or a Pattern 1776 infantry rifle during the American Revolutionary War, one was generally carrying the same bullets. These were the so-called Buck and Ball bullets. The name comes from the fact that the bullet was a lead ball inside which between three and six buckshot pellets were placed. In an age where bullets rattled around inside the gun bore as they were being fired, guns were very inaccurate. Consequently, it was determined during the early eighteenth century that if a bullet split into several pieces after being fired, then there was a better chance of the individual pieces, the buckshot, actually hitting the target. Thus, bullet makers began designing and manufacturing Buck and Ball bullets. They proved much more effective than the solid lead and metal bullets that had been used in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Effectively this new bullet type combined the effectiveness of .50 or .75 caliber bullets while also giving the musket from which it was fired a 'spray' similar to a shotgun. George Washington was a particular advocate of Buck and Ball ammunition during the war. As such, it was widely used within the Continental Army, as well as the British forces. Because of the prevalence of these bullets in field armies of the time, these are something that can regularly be picked up on by metal detecting at the sites of engagements during the Revolutionary wars from Massachusetts south to Georgia and west to California. Moreover, because Buck and Ball bullets continued in use for many decades to come, they can also be found at the sites of engagements during conflicts such as the War of 1812 and the Seminole Wars of the early nineteenth century.

Battle of Blue Licks

George Rogers Clark was born in Virginia in 1752. At age 18, he enlisted in the Continental Army and fought during the American Revolution. In the years following the war, he served as governor of Kentucky and became a prominent politician. During the Battle of Blue Licks in 1782, Clark led his troops into battle against British forces under General John Forbes. The battle was one of the war's first major engagements. Many enemy soldiers were killed and captured by Clark's men during the battle. A part of the village where the British had taken refuge was also burned down.

Buttons from Uniforms During the American Revolutionary War

Of the three main forces which fought in the American Revolutionary War, the uniforms of the British 'Redcoats' are surely the most familiar. The distinctive redcoats were first used during the conquest of Ireland in the late sixteenth century and gradually entered use in the British army as a whole during the seventeenth century.[4] Typically speaking, the redcoat was closed with up to twenty buttons. The material used varied, but typically by the 1770s, a majority of British army buttons were being made out of pewter, with perhaps less than a quarter being fashioned out of brass. A third type was bone buttons made from bones of various animals, a type which has the disadvantage of being undetectable underground with a metal detector today. By the time of the American Revolutionary War, the buttons on British redcoats were being stamped with a number to indicate the number of the regiment to which the wearer belonged, a new pattern that had been introduced across the British military in 1768. The Continental Army did not have a standardized uniform when it was first established in 1775; it gradually evolved into a regulation blue and red uniform coat. These coats, which were principally in navy blue to clash with the redcoats used by the British, typically had between fourteen and twenty buttons. These were not as elaborate as the buttons used in later generations of US Army soldiers' uniforms but rather relied on a simple color coding system to convey messages. White metal buttons indicated that the wearer of the coat was an infantryman, while yellow buttons indicated that he was part of a cavalry battalion. The French blue and white military uniform of the mid-eighteenth century typically utilized cloth buttons and sashes, so the modern-day metal detectorist will almost certainly search in vain for French buttons from the American Revolutionary War.

Buckles from the War of Independence

A wide range of buckles was used on the uniforms of all sides during the American Revolutionary War. Some of these were standard belt buckles which varied in the types of material used and also how they closed, with some using a two-piece clasp and others being a roller buckle like today's belts. In addition, sword buckles were common, particularly amongst units of British dragoons, while further buckles were often worn on powder belts and epaulets. A curiosity of this particular war and others of the eighteenth century was the use of shoe buckles. Shoe buckles had become commonplace in civilian life in Britain in the second half of the seventeenth century and, by the eighteenth century, were a part of the British military uniform. Thus, one can often see shoe buckles when metal detecting at old Revolutionary War sites.

In 1838, the Revolutionary War Pension File Bureau was established to provide pensions to Revolutionary War veterans. Under the authority of Congress, the Bureau was created and administered by the Treasury Secretary. 1902 marked the end of the Bureau's existence.

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