Goodbye, “Brown Bess”?

“If I can’t find a buyer, I’ll hang on to it until death do us part.”

“Bunker Hill” by Howard Pyle showing British “Redcoats” lined up with Brown Bess muskets.

* The following story if you can call it that, was composed strictly so that the history of the musket mentioned within is never lost. A copy of this manuscript will be attached to the weapon.

As a small boy I dreamed of one day owning aBrown Bessmusket. I’d read of the legendary gun in stories regarding George Washington, The Revolutionary War, and Daniel Boone. Wikipedia offers a simplistic explanation of what a Brown Bess is:

“Brown Bess” is a nickname of uncertain origin for the British Army’s muzzle-loading smooth bore flintlock Land Pattern Musket and its derivatives. This musket was used in the era of the expansion of the British Empire, in battles during the American Revolution, and acquired symbolic importance at least as significant as its physical importance.

It’s believed that Brown Bess is slang for, Queen Elizabeth I, although there’s no definite proof of such. Once again, Wikipedia provides a plausible explanation:

Brown” came from an anti-rusting agent put on the metal that turned it a brown color. “Bess” came from either the word “Blunderbuss” or “arquebus,” both early types of rifles. “Bess” came from the nickname for Elizabeth I. The “Brown Bess” is just a counterpart to an earlier rifle that was called “Brown Bill.”

I’ve never heard of a “Brown Bill.” There’s something about this name that doesn’t turn me on historically speaking. It sounds more like a nickname for some fellow that easily tans. I know a Bill just like that. Every time he goes to Hawaii, he returns a deep golden brown much like the sugar.

To me, a Brown Bess musket is a symbol of this country’s heritage and freedom. A good many of these guns were captured from the British by Continental Army forces, and used against them during the American Revolution.

1777 Brown Bess musket

A Brown Bess that I’m in possession of is a Type 3 India Pattern version. It was purchased from the late gun expert, Norm Flayderman. The limited story behind this musket isn’t glamorous or especially noteworthy, yet does contain a touch of humor.

According to Norm, an Army officer brought it back to the U.S. sometime after WWII ended from London. The firearm was in sad shape with surface rust after years of neglect.. This military man took it upon himself to fully clean and restore the weapon back to firing condition. In doing so he might’ve destroyed some collector value, but on the other hand maybe not.

The former owner lightly inscribed his social security number on a portion of the brass trigger guard evidently for security reasons. When I show this to people they shake their heads. I personally find it adds uniqueness to the Brown Bess’s over 200-year-old history. I have to chuckle as the man’s intentions were good. Military types are taught that a gun should always be spotless and in proper working condition.

Some original markings were brought back to life in the restoration. Most noteworthy is a somewhat hard to see number 65 on the barrel. This designates it was used by the 65th British Regiment. The renown 65th regiment saw duty at Bunker Hill during the beginning of the American Revolution. This makes the musket exceedingly rare.

Sometime in its life the gun became property of the fledgling United States army, as two distinctive US surcharge markings are visible. When weapons were confiscated from the British this US mark was stamped on either wood stock or metal components. I assume the musket was ultimately recaptured by the British and that’s how it found it’s way back to England.

The following information on Type 3 Brown Bess muskets came to light during my research:

“Noted historian and collector Dale Anderson states that the Smithsonian Institute is now certain that Third models like this one appeared about 1777, and that the National Park Service has a complete Third model confiscated from the British at Yorktown.There is also some evidence to show that captured Third models might have been stored in Federal armories after the war. It’s known that simplified India pattern type furniture was used on privately made British firearms before and during the Revolution.”

The Third Model Brown Bess may therefore have served, to a degree in the 1777-1784 conflict but most certainly they did in the War of 1812 when the British burned the White House. However, its most famous success was as the British Line Musket that defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

I’ve had my Brown Bess for over 30 years. It was a significant purchase and only through an understanding wife was I able to procure it. Early on she knew that I had a list of certain old things that I wished to acquire, and this was one of them. That list is pretty much complete. It included a walking beam spinning wheel, Victorian era bed warming pan, 1799 silver dollar, U.S. Calvary token, and a Civil War rifle or pistol.

Time has arrived that I deem it wise to say goodbye to “Brown Bess”. The problem being, there do not seem to be that many folks interested in old muskets. Young people these days are more interested in electronics, including my own children and grandchildren. The value of a Brown Bess musket has drastically declined these past 20 years. What will it be like in another 20? Thankfully, I never purchased guns as an investment.

If I don’t find a buyer, I’ll hang on to it until death do us part. At that point one of the kids will have to deal with getting rid of the relic. More than likely they’ll be able to trade it straight across, along with several thousand dollars, for an original plastic Apple iPhone 1.

Come to think of it, in another twenty years, iPhone 1’s will be considered antiques if they aren’t already!

Apple founder Steve Jobs holding an iPhone 1

Author: michaeldexterhankins

ordinary average guy

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