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Arms and Accoutrements of the Upper Canada Militia at the Beginning of the War of 1812
By Gareth Newfield

 

Private, Upper Canada Militia 1812-1813 by Eric Manders
(Parks Canada, photo courtesy of
René
Chartrand).

 

Background:

             In the years prior to the outbreak of the War of 1812, the militia of Upper Canada had existed largely on paper. Although divided into a series of regiments based on local counties, its services during the pre-war period were confined chiefly to a few muster days annually, and thus organization, training and particularly the provision of weapons were essentially rudimentary.[1]  Under the terms of the province’s first Militia Act introduced by Lieutenant-Governor Simcoe in 1793, men eligible for militia service were to provide their own arms and accoutrements; most, however, were either too poor or otherwise unable to do so, in which case the Government furnished these articles.  Yet while small disbursements were made under Simcoe’s administration, Upper Canada’s militia remained largely without arms and equipment for the next two decades.  An allotment of 4,000 stands of arms was obtained by Lieutenant-Governor Francis Gore in 1807 amid fears of war following the Chesapeake-Leopard Affair, although many of these were soon “lost to service” either through illegal sale or damage after their issue throughout the province.[2] 

             As the prospect of war against the United States increased towards the end of 1811 Major-General Isaac Brock (the acting administrator and military commander of the province) ordered Colonel Aeneas Shaw, the Adjutant-General of Militia to request returns of all arms and accoutrements held by each regiment on 29 November.  However, the uncoordinated and badly documented system of distribution in previous years had produced chaos.  Many officers, such as Major Joseph Anderson of the 1st Stormont Militia quickly discovered that many of their regiment’s weapons had been effectively stolen by transient settlers: “Inclosed [sic] you have a statement of the armes [sic] that I have been able to collect in this County … a number of the men that got them have left this province and taken the armes [sic] with them some have gone to the Lower Province and others to the United States.”[3]  Others such as Colonel George Brackenridge of the 1st Leeds Militia, having issued the weapons years before, were hard-pressed to discover their whereabouts at all:

I am sorry to be obliged to inform you … that I have not as yet been able (after taking much pains) to get a proper account of the arms that were sent to this County … I thought the arms would be much better in use and keep in better order than to let them lie in the Boxes and rust … the remaining arms that have not been destroyed by fire and otherwise I shall find in the hands of some old soldiers and believe in good order in the First Regiment, and shall use every exertion to obtain the arms and pursue His Honor’s directions and commands.[4]

      Still, regiments such as these were relatively fortunate, as many of the units in the sparsely populated regions such as the Western District along the Detroit Frontier were almost entirely without arms to begin with.  As late as December 1812 Colonel the Honourable James Baby of the 1st Kent Militia reported that most of the arms intended for his troops had never been issued, having been placed in storage for safekeeping at Fort Amherstburg before the war:

“I have made the necessary inquiry to ascertain whether any arms had been issued to the militia of the County of Kent and find that none have ever been issued … one hundred stands were sent to Amherstburg with directions to me to call for them if occasion required; I thought it safe to leave them in His Majesty’s Stores, therefore none were issued.”[5]

Similarly, the commanding officer of the 1st Oxford Militia wrote to Shaw in February 1812, “I have not noticed their arms &c. and have only to report that they are badly provided for not much over one third of them are receipt of sufficient arms and other Empliments [sic] for actual service.…”[6]

            The response to Shaw’s call for returns of arms and accoutrements was ultimately erratic.  Not every regiment appears to have submitted a return, while those that did reach the Adjutant-General came in a myriad of configurations and levels of detail, as the format of militia paperwork was loosely regulated at the time.  Combined with receipts of arms issued during the summer and autumn of 1812 these do, however, provide a unique insight into the types and condition of arms and accoutrements available to the Upper Canada Militia during the early stages of the war.

Sample Returns & Condition Reports:

‘Return of Arms and Accoutrements of the 1st Regiment Glengarry Militia,’ 21 February 1812:[7]

 

Arms

Accoutrements

 

Muskets

Bayonets

Pouches

Pouch Belts

Bayonet Belts

Slings

Serviceable

44*

 

 

 

 

 

Repairable

64**

69

 

 

 

 

Unserviceable

23***

 

60

 

 

 

* Except a few swivels, & all the slings wanting.
**The bayonets returned repairable are partly without scabbards and all the bayonet belts.
*** The cartridge boxes are without belts & very much out of repair.

‘Return of Armes [sic] collected from the Militia in the County of Stormont by the Adjutant-General’s Orders dated the 29th November 1811,’ 1 February 1812:[8]

Muskets in good order – 45
Ditto with lock out of order and ramrods – 21
Ditto with locks out of order & no ditto – 22
Ditto without locks or ramrods – 17
Bayonets in good order – 9
Ditto not good – 6
Cartridge Boxes quite useless – 16
Note the bayonets have no scabbards.

‘Return of Arms heretofore issued from His Majesty’s Stores to the Militia of the County of Frontenac, received from the said militia conformably to His Honour the President’s order of _ November last,’ 8 February 1812:[9]

Muskets

Bayonets

Scabbards

Slings

Cartouch [sic] Boxes &c.

S

R

U

S

R

U

S

R

U

S

R

U

S

R

U

52

43

3

95

0

0

77

10

3

74

3

0

75

19

0

S = Serviceable
R = Repairable
U = Unserviceable

Issued to 1st Regiment Leeds Militia, Kingston, June 1812:[10]

Bayonets Musquet with Scabbards – 86
Boxes Cartouch [sic] with Belts & Frogs – 86
Chests Arms – 0
Flints Musquet – 86
Musquets with Slings – 86

Issued to the 1st Prince Edward Militia, Kingston, 22 June 1812:[11]

English Arms and Appointments
Bayonets Musquet with Scabbards – 100
Boxes Cartouche with Belts & Frogs – 100
Chests Arms – 3
Flints Musquet – 100
Musquets with Slings – 100

 ‘A Return of Arms Accoutrements and Ammunition Received and Issued to the First Regiment of the Prince Edward Militia,’ 13 January 1813:[12]

When Received

Muskets with Slings

Bayonets with Scabbards

Cartouche Boxes with Straps and Frogs

Oct 1812 rec’d & Issued to the Battalion

150

150

150

Old French Arms repaired and Issued

50

35

16

NB: 24 scabbards deficient in the 150 Stands of Arms received by order of Col. Vincent.  A number of the old arms want bayonets scabbards cartouche boxes straps and frogs all without slings – and five of them fit for service.

Issued to 1st Regiment Lennox Militia, Kingston, 18 June 1812:[13]

English Arms & Appointments
Bayonets Musquet with Scabbards – 70
Boxes Cartouch ]sic] with Belts & Frogs – 70
Chests Arms – 2
Flints Musquets – 70
Musquets with Slings – 70

‘Return of Arms and Accoutrements Collected within the limits of the First Regiment of Militia County of Lincoln Province of Upper Canada,’ 1 January 1812:[14]

Muskets

Bayonets

Scabbards

Frogs

Cartouch [sic] Boxes

Straps or belts for Cartouche Boxes & Bayonet Scabbards

S

R

U

108

94

79

109

57

111

18

8

S = Serviceable
R = Repairable
U = Unserviceable

‘Return and State of the Arms collected from the 3rd Regiment of Militia of the County of Lincoln,’ 21 December 1811:[15]

Muskets

Bayonets

Cartouch [sic] Boxes

Serviceable

Unserviceable

Serviceable

Unserviceable

Serviceable

Unserviceable

48

38

50

10

10

20

Return of 2nd Essex Militia, 23 January 1812:[16]
20 Firelocks, 3 of which without Iron ramrods.
17 Bayonets
16 cartridge boxes eleven of which without belts.  The firelocks are in pretty good order.

            As can be seen, many of these weapons and their associated accoutrements were damaged, unserviceable or otherwise incomplete due to age, neglect, or both.  In several cases the majority of a regiment’s equipment might be in this state, as testified by the commanding officer of the 1st Dundas Militia:

I transmit to you [Shaw] a return of the arms and accoutrements collected from the several companies under my command and am sorry to say a number are out of repair viz. 69 muskets out of which there are but 40 fit for service; 53 bayonets rusty, 54 cartridge boxes chief part rustey [sic], and useless.  NB:  Very few belts to the muskets and no straps to the cartridge boxes and bayonets.[17]

Other commanders were more vocal in condemning the shoddy condition of their regiments’ equipment, such as Colonel William Johnston of the 1st Addington Militia, who reported to Shaw that his “muskets differ in their conditions and will require more or less repair they are by no means fit to be employed on actual service,” while their “bayonets [were] rusty and articles of the stands made of leather much impaired.” [18]  Such grim reports no doubt proved worrisome to colonial officials as Upper Canada prepared for war throughout the spring of 1812.

Analysis:

 

British 18-round cartridge box, 1727-1820, available from Access Heritage Inc (formerly The Discriminating General).

According to the varied reports submitted to the Adjutant-General of Militia during late 1811 and early 1812, most regiments were in possession of shoddy, outmoded weapons and accoutrements.  In some cases, the antiquity of these items was noted in the returns.  Writing to Shaw in early February 1812, Major Joseph Ryerson of the 1st Norfolk Militia indicated that the arms held by his regiment were “sent up in General Simcoe’s time” two decades previously.[19]  Likewise, Colonel James Baby’s report that those of the 1st Kent Militia had been distributed subsequently “during the administration of the late Mr. President Russell” (president and acting administrator of Upper Canada 1796-1799) suggests a similar vintage.[20]

 

British Land Pattern bayonet and scabbard of the style commonly issued as part of a ‘Stand of Arms’ during the eighteenth century, available from Access Heritage Inc (formerly The Discriminating General).

             With regards to accoutrements, it is clear that Upper Canadian militia regiments were issued with one or two forms: either cartridge pouches or boxes.  Under the British military nomenclature of the period a “pouch” was a stiff, flapped leather container worn on the right hip and slung from a shoulder belt, whereas “boxes” were smaller, simpler articles usually worn on the abdomen – popularly referred to today as a “belly box.”[21]  The latter, consisting of a simple wooden block drilled with holes for 18 rounds were issued along with their associated black leather waistbelt and bayonet frog as part of the “Stand of Arms” issued by the British Government to recruits throughout the eighteenth century.[22]  Cheap and easy to manufacture, thousands of these sets were sent to North America to equip the Loyalist forces during the American War of Independence (including those raised in Canada) and subsequently, and thus would have been readily available from military depots in British North America at the time of the War of 1812.[23]  Indeed, new sets of these accoutrements continued to be sent to Canada to meet the demands of the militia as late as the 1790s, and certainly remained in storage at Quebec into the early 1800s.[24]  Nonetheless, as the wooden boxes and their accoutrements proved unsatisfactory for prolonged use during the American War of Independence, they were replaced in 1784 by removable leather-covered tin magazines (containing 24 rounds) that were affixed to the new shoulder-slung bayonet belt and worn on the left side.[25]  Mention of the 1st Dundas’ “rustey” boxes (presumably due to being made of tin) without any means of suspension may suggest some of these latter were somehow issued to the Upper Canada militia. [26]  However, documentary evidence from surviving returns either suggests or specifically states that most units had the archaic wooden boxes at the beginning of the war.

British Short Land (2nd Model) Musket, available from Access Heritage Inc (formerly The Discriminating General).

            There is less direct evidence concerning the types of muskets in use.  Most returns (if providing any detail beyond their general condition) refer to the weapons simply as “English” muskets rather than denoting the particular model.  In several instances the indicated antiquity of the arms allows for conjecture; those apparently distributed throughout Upper Canada during the 1790s were almost certainly Short Land Pattern muskets, the standard British infantry firearm in North America during the latter stages of the American War of Independence and early 1790s.[27]  Conversely, the report of several muskets “without Iron ramrods” in the possession of the Essex Militia may be evidence of earlier Long Land Patterns of Seven Years War vintage.[28] Clearly refurbished French-style weapons (manufactured in Britain during the 1790s and sent to Canada as surplus) were utilised by the Prince Edward Militia embodied at Kingston, although attempts were made in early 1812 to concentrate these at York, and therefore may have been widely used by the militia of the surrounding districts.[29]  While the possibility exists that the 4,000 weapons distributed in Upper Canada during 1807 were predominantly of the newer India Pattern form adopted for mass-production in 1797, the British Government’s policy of issuing older weapons first (especially amid plentiful stocks left over from the previous American war) renders this unlikely.[30]

 

French Model 1777 Musket (Year IX Variant), available from Access Heritage Inc (formerly The Discriminating General).  Versions of this musket (with only minor differences) manufactured in Britain during the 1790s were issued to several Upper Canadian Militia units at the beginning of the War of 1812.

 

Conclusion:

By mid-August 1812 10,000 stands of (presumably newer) arms were en route from Britain, although the Upper Canadian regiments had to make do with their older equipment for the immediate future as hostilities commenced.[31]  For example, towards late May Lieutenant-Colonel McMillan of the 1st Glengarry Militia informed Adjutant-General Shaw that he had been unable to exchange his regiment’s worn out arms at Kingston owing to the poor condition of the roads.[32]  Indeed, several units continued to use their antiquated arms and accoutrements well into the following year for lack of replacements; in the 1st Prince Edward Militia the old belly boxes and muskets issued from Kingston during the summer and autumn of 1812 continued in use well into the spring of 1813.[33]  So too did those distributed in the Niagara District, several hundred sets of which were issued or otherwise stored ready for use at various posts along the frontier by the Lincoln and Norfolk Militia.[34]  Thus armed and equipped, many Upper Canadians helped to thwart the initial invasions of the province carrying arms and accoutrements that frequently had last seen service during the previous American War.

             The author would like to acknowledge the kind assistance of Robert Henderson and René Chartrand in the preparation of this article.



[1] W. Gray, Soldiers of the King: the Upper Canadian Militia 1812-1815 (Erin, ON, 1995), p. 27.

[2] G. Sheppard, Plunder, Profit and Paroles (Montreal, 1994), p. 46; J.M. Hitsman (D. Graves ed.), The Incredible War of 1812 (Toronto, 1999), p. 19.

[3] Anderson to Shaw, Cornwall, 1 February 1812, LAC, RG 9 IB1, vol. 2, Stormont (1812) folio.

[4] Brackenridge to Shaw, Elizabethtown, 19 May 1812, LAC, RG 9 IB1, vol. 2, Leeds (1812) folio.

[5] J. Baby to Shaw, Sandwich, 20 December 1812, LAC, RG 9 IB1, vol. 2, Kent (1812) folio.

[6] Mallory to Shaw, York, 18 February 1812, LAC, RG 9 IB1, vol. 2, Oxford (1812) folio.

[7] ‘Return of Arms and Accoutrements of the 1st Regiment Glengarry Militia,’ Lancaster, 21 February 1812, LAC, RG 9 IB1, vol. 2, Glengarry (1812) folio.

[8] ‘Return of Armes [sic] Collected from the Militia in the County of Stormont by the Adjutant-General’s orders dated the 29th November 1811,’ Cornwall, 1 February 1812, LAC, RG 9 IB1, vol. 2, Stormont (1812) folio.

[9] “Return of Arms heretofore issued from His Majesty’s Stores to the Militia of the County of Frontenac, received from the said militia conformably to His Honour the President’s order of _ November last” Kingston, 8 February 1812, LAC, RG 9 IB1, vol. 2, Frontenac (1812) folio.

[10] Macpherson to O’Brien, Kingston, June 1812, LAC, RG 9 IB1, vol. 2, Leeds (1812) folio.

[11] Macpherson to O’Brien, Kingston, 22 June 1812, LAC, RG 9 IB1, vol. 2, Prince Edward (1812) folio.

[12] ‘A Return of Arms Accoutrements and Ammunition Received and Issued to the First Regiment of the Prince Edward Militia [illegible] 24 Dec[ember] 1813,’ LAC, RG 9 IB1, vol. 2, Prince Edward (1813) folio.

[13] Macpherson to O’Brien, Kingston, 18 June 1812, LAC, RG 9 IB1, vol. 2, Lennox (1812) folio.

[14] ‘Return of Arms and Accoutrements Collected within the limits of the First Regiment of Militia County of Lincoln Province of Upper Canada,’ Niagara, 1 January 1812, LAC, RG 9 IB1, vol. 2, Lincoln (1812) folio.

[15] ‘Return and State of the Arms collected from the 3rd Regiment of Militia of the County of Lincoln,’ Fort Erie, 21 December 1811, LAC, RG 9 IB1, vol. 1, Lincoln (1811) folio.

[16] J.B. Baby to Shaw, Sandwich, 23 January 1812, LAC, RG 9 IB1, vol. 2, Essex (1812) folio.

[17] McDonell to Shaw, Matilda, 28 January 1812, LAC, RG 9 IB1, vol. 2, Dundas (1812) folio.

[18] Johnston to Shaw, Ernestown, 16 March 1812, LAC, RG 9 IB1, vol. 2, Addington (1812) folio.

[19] Ryerson to Shaw, Charlotteville, 1 February 1812, LAC, RG 9 IB1, vol. 2, Norfolk (1812) folio.

[20] J. Baby to Shaw, Sandwich, 20 December 1812, ibid.

[21] H. Strachan, British Military Uniforms 1768-96 (London, 1975). p. 155.  In his 1768 treatise A System for the Compleat Interior Management and Oeconomy of a Battalion of Infantry, Captain Bennett Cuthberson suggests the box “be made as light as possible … to buckle around the waist.”

[22] R.R. Gale, A Soldier-Like Way: the Material Culture of the British Infantry 1751-1768 (Elk River, MN, 2007), p. 2. 

[23] D. Troiani, Don Troiani’s Soldiers of the American Revolution (Mechanicsburg, PA, 2007), p. 4; see also R. Chartrand, American Loyalist Troops 1775-84 (London, 2008).

[24] ‘Return of Accoutrements for the Royal Canadian Volunteers and Canadian Militia remaining in Store at Quebec,’ Quebec, 2 October 1801, LAC, RG 8 I, vol. 703, p. 11.  This return lists over 800 sets of basic accoutrements (distinct from the crossbelts and pouches issued to the colonial regulars) in storage at Quebec that were sent out in 1796 as part of a shipment intended at the time for a force of embodied Lower Canadian Militia.

vol. C703, 11, RG 8 I, LAC.

[25] Strachan, British Military Uniforms, p. 193, citing Adjutant-General to Secretary at War, 5 July 1784, National Archives of the United Kingdom, War Office 26/32, Miscellany Book, pp. 295-8.

[26] McDonell to Shaw, Matilda, 28 January 1812, ibid.

[27] A. Darling, Red Coat and Brown Bess (Bloomfield, ON, 1971), pp. 39-40; B. Ahearn, Muskets of the American Revolution and the French and Indian Wars (Lincoln, RI, 2007), pp. 54-69.

[28] McDonell to Shaw, Matilda, 28 January 1812, ibid.

[29] Gray, Soldiers of the King, p. 32.  These weapons were manufactured for the numerous French émigré units raised in Britain during the French Revolutionary Wars (1793-1802), but were subsequently shipped to Canada to arm the militia.  They differed from the standard French Model 1777 muskets solely by having steel (rather than brass) flash pans, and British markings on the components.  I am obliged to Robert Henderson for details concerning their provenance and design.

[30] Ahearn, Muskets of the American Revolution, p. 36.  This policy frequently resulted in the issue of obsolete weapons to local forces serving in the colonies throughout the eighteenth century in attempt to use up old stocks deemed otherwise unfit for the regular troops.

[31] Hitsman, The Incredible War of 1812, p. 63.

[32] McMillan to Shaw, Lancaster, 27 May 1812, LAC, RG 9 IB1, vol. 2, Glengarry (1812) folio.

[33] ‘A Return of Arms Accoutrements and Ammunition received and Issued to the First Regiment of the Prince Edward Militia,’ Kingston, 24 March 1813, LAC, RG 9 IB1, vol. 2, Prince Edward (1813) folio.

[34] ‘Return of Arms and Accoutrements now in the Possession of the Militia doing duty on this Frontier and in Store for their Use,’ Fort George, 1 February 1813, LAC, RG 9 IB1, vol. 2, Miscellaneous (1813) folio.

Copyright: Access Heritage Inc (formerly The Discriminating General) 2008


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