Flintlock Musket vs. Rifle – in search of the truth

As part of joining the Sons of the American Revolution (SAR), you are naturally curious about the ancestor who becomes your sponsoring relative.

Where did they live, what did they do, what was their unique situation upon joining the fight for Liberty and Freedom?

Lots of questions, lots of partial answers, lots of mysteries.  That is part of the adventure about learning more of our past, where did we come from. 

In my research of my ancestors, I was curious, did my ancestor use as rifle, or a musket? 

My SAR sponsor ancestor was from the southeastern part of Pennsylvania in Chester County, Upper Oxford Township.  This was a rural area, sandwiched between Lancaster 20 miles to the northeast, and 40 miles from Philadelphia to the southeast. 

Oxford PA – Home of my Ancestors Joseph Murdaugh and Thomas Whiteside

From what I learned, my ancestor was a farmer with land being cleared from forest.  The area was pretty raw, and believe it or not on the edge of civilization “the frontier”.  The need for firearms were for defense, for food, and for country if they were called upon.

Talking with Chester County history buffs, I learned that the Lancaster PA area was a hotbed for building rifled firearms, and that a number of militia units from that area used rifled flintlock fire locks.

Presentation by the Oxford Area Historical Society by Ralph Denlinger in 2/2021

(you will need to log into Facebook to access)

Oxford PA – Militia in the Battle of Brandywine PA

The benefits of a rifled barrel was improved accuracy vs. a smooth bore musket.  The con’s were they took longer to reload. 

If you are interested in the differences between rifles and muskets, this article will be helpful

The vast majority of the firearms used in the Revolutionary War were muskets, with many supplied by British and French manufacturers.  Pre Revolutionary War, the British tightly controlled firearms and powder manufacturing in the colonies.  There were colonists who acted a bit rogue and became local gunsmiths to address the need for colony self-sufficiency.  The second amendment foundation seeds most likely started here with Britain restricting the Colonists ability to have firearms.

I am blessed with American Revolutionary War patriots on both my Mother and Father’s sides.

On my Mothers’ side, I have learned that I am a descendant of Benoni Hills, a renowned gunsmith who built firearms in the Goshen Connecticut area.  Benoni and his sons (Medad, Seth, Zimri and John) and apprentices made primarily smooth bore fowlers which could use shot or ball.  Benoni and sons used to autograph their custom firearms by signing them (like a manufacturer today which was unusual at that time), as well as identify who the firearm was custom built for.  Many fine examples of these Hills firearms exist today, many in museums and private collections.

Firearm built by Medad Hills in 1758 and made for Isaac Hills

On my Father’s side, having being from the Lancaster county area, where rifled flintlocks were commonly used.  I learned that my Oxford / Lancaster relatives signed up via the local militia at the outset of conflict.  As a result of that research, I decided to go the rifled musket route for my Color Guard firearm.

For my SAR Color Guard uniform and fire lock, I decided to go the everyday dress of the working class folks, indicative of what my ancestor most likely looked like. I selected a rifled flintlock for my weapon and identified accoutrements (accessories) with the help of my SAR and Historical Society experts. I was also blessed for a very short time with the counsel and support of Ralph Denlinger of Oxford PA who was very helpful and incredibly generous with sharing his clear passion. Unfortunately we lost Ralph unexpectedly in 2021.

Ralph Denlinger inspired Pennsylvania Battle of Brandywine Militia member

For my clothing I used many resources, books, articles, photographs.  Certainly not a solid definitive answer for what these patriots wore, especially early in the conflict.  Remember that most of these patriots came to fight wearing what they wore that day.  There were no formal uniforms early on.  As the conflict matured, the “common uniforms” evolved in type and style and became more common.

For my fire lock, I chose to select a representative Pennsylvania rifled muzzle loader.  Today, the Pennsylvania rifled musket is more commonly known as the “Kentucky Rifle” associated with the migration of settlers and frontiersman from the Pennsylvania to the Kentucky frontier.

“Typical” Pennsylvania Militia attire early in American Revolutionary War

As an assist, I recently read a book “The Frontier Rifleman” by Richard B. LaCrosse, Jr. (sourced from Crazy Crow http://www.crazycrow.com.  This book is a focused look at the participation of rifled firearms from 1760 – 1800 which included the American Revolutionary War.  In addition to laying out the actions in the war that rifled firearms participated in the war, this book is very helpful.  There is also diagrams and illustrations of how to construct accessories, clothing and examples of firearms.  If your ancestor was initially a militia member early in the conflict, this book may provide a better understanding of what they wore, how they fought, what they carried and what they fought with. 

Book by Richard B. Lacrosse, Jr. – available on Amazon or Crazy Crow

With what I learned, I elected to purchase a rifled muzzle loader kit from Jim Kibler, which I completed and currently use for Cincinnati SAR Color Guard events.  Boom!

Muzzleloading Rifle by Jim Kibler

If you have questions, please feel free to reach out,

happy to share my journey and what I have learned. 

Remember, you are always learning about your past.

Enjoy the Journey!

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