History of Redding > My Brother Sam is Dead > Analysis > Brown Bess  
 
   
 

Brown Bess

The musket Sam Meeker takes from his father in my brother Sam is dead, was a Brown Bess "Long Land" musket with a 46" barrel length, .75 barrel caliber, and bayonet length of 16"-17". A skilled soldier could fire three shots per minute with a musket of this type.

Brown Bess is a nickname of unknown origin for the British Army's Land Pattern Musket and its derivatives. This musket was used in the era of the expansion of the British Empire and acquired a symbolic importance which was at least as significant as its physical importance. It was in use for over a hundred years with a good number of incremental changes in its design. The earliest version was the Long Land Pattern of 1722, 62 inches long (without bayonet) with a 46 inch barrel. It was later found that shortening the barrel did not lessen its accuracy and made handling the musket easier. This resulted in the Militia (or Marine) Pattern of 1756 and the Short Land Pattern of 1768, both of which had a 42 inch (1,067 mm) barrel. Other versions included the India Pattern, New Land Pattern Musket, and Sea Service Musket.

As most male citizens of the American Colonies were required by law to own a musket for militia duty, the Long Land Pattern was a common firearm in use by both sides at the commencement of the American Revolution.

Accuracy of the Brown Bess was, as with most other muskets, poor. The effective range is often quoted as 80-100 yards but it was more likely about 50 yards. The combination of the large diameter of the bullet, the heavy weight of its lead construction and its unstable aerodynamic shape (a round ball marred by hand casting) contributed to its low effective range. Though the large projectile could inflict a great deal of damage when it did hit its target, military tactics of the period stressed mass volleys and bayonet charges, instead of individual sniping due to the inaccuracy of these muskets. The great length of the weapon, 62 inches long, with a bayonet of 16 to 17 inches, was advantageous because it allowed longer reach in bayonet engagements, especially against horsemen. By forming a rectangle or square with men facing outward with their bayonets, horsemen could not ride through them.

Why call it a Brown Bess?

Early usage of the term "Brown Bess" appears in an April 1771 issue of the Connecticut Courant, which noted "...but if you are afraid of the sea, take Brown Bess on your shoulder and march." This familiar use must indicate widespread use of the term by that time. The 1785 Dictionary of Vulgar Tongue, a contemporary work which defined vernacular and slang terms, contained this entry: "Brown Bess: A soldier's firelock. To hug Brown Bess; to carry a firelock, or serve as a private soldier."

Popular explanations of the use of the word "Brown" include that it was a reference to either the color of the walnut stocks or to the characteristic brown color that was produced by russeting, an early form of metal treatment. Others argue that mass-produced weapons of the time were coated in brown varnish on metal parts as a rust preventative and on wood as a sealer (or in the case of unscrupulous contractors, to disguise inferior or non-regulation types of wood). However, the Oxford English Dictionary notes that "browning" was only introduced in the early 19th century, well after the term had come into general use.

Similarly, the word "Bess" is commonly held to either derive from the word arquebus or blunderbuss (predecessors of the musket) or to be a reference to Elizabeth I of England, considered unlikely as she died more than a century before the introduction of the weapon. More plausible is that the term Brown Bess could have been derived from the German words "brawn buss" or "braun buss", meaning "strong gun" or "brown gun"; King George I who commissioned its use was from Germany.

See how it worked...

This is a great photo exhibit of how these guns worked. Be sure to check out the videos at the bottom of the page: http://science.howstuffworks.com/flintlock2.htm

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The Setting of My Brother Sam is Dead, Redding Connecticut

Real-Life Characters portrayed in the My Brother Sam is Dead

Real-Life Events portrayed in My Brother Sam is Dead

Vocabulary used in My Brother Sam is Dead

Taverns of the Colonial Period

Camp Life and Orders Relating to Redding's Encampment

Loyalists (Tories) of Redding, CT

Cow-boys and Skinners

What is a Brown Bess?

Locations & Towns Mentioned in My Brother Sam is Dead

Colonial Money, Commissary Notes, Financing the War and Inflation Issues

Why is My Brother Sam is Dead Challenged?

 

 

 

 
     
 

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