Thursday, June 23, 2011

Tools of the trade

Men in the 17th and 18th centuries armed with muzzle loaders such as the doglock, miquelet and flintlock required a number of essential pieces of equipment in the field. These would enable them to carry gunpowder securely and maintain their weapons sufficiently when on campaign in all weather conditions.

Powder, flasks and horns
Gunpowder or black powder (also known as poudre N, or poudre noir) becomes useless with even the slightest amount of moisture, so it had to be kept absolutely dry. It was therefore normally carried in a powder horn or flask often made from a cow's horn. Horn has been described as the equivalent of today's plastic: it was light, strong and completely waterproof.
A 17th-century musketeer uses his powder horn to load an exact amount of gunpowder into the barrel of his weapon. The powder horn was strong, light and waterproof and could be slung over the soldier's shoulder when not in use.

The flask or horn was designed so that at the wider end black powder could be poured in and then closed off with a cap. At the narrow end there was a spout with a cap. To load his weapon, the muzzle loader tipped the horn forwards to allow sufficient powder into the barrel before ramming wadding and the ball home and then pouring powder into the pan. From around the late 16th century, musketeers carried individual loads in wooden containers attached to a belt slung across their shoulders. Later soldiers carried powder loads in waxed paper cartridges. (Even in the 21st century, good-quality writing paper is still known as cartridge paper.)

Just as many sporting and early military weapons were elaborately engraved, powder flasks and horns were also carved and had elegant metal fittings.

The doglock
Named after the dog safety catch behind the cock, the doglock musket replaced the Jacobean English lock of the early 17th century and was a transitional design between the snaphance and flintlock. A "dog" or safety catch was engaged to hold the heel of the hance in a half-cock position.
The dog safety catch can be seen holding the cock back on this doglock musket. The hammer that held the flint was called a cock because it looked like a bird's beak and snapped forwards in a pecking action. Even today soldiers "cock" their rifles when they operate the bolt.

The doglock entered widespread use around 1640 and was popular with the British Army until about 1715. It remained in use as a regular issued weapon in the Royal Navy for many years after this and eventually evolved into the Sea Service musket of the 1730s. This musket was very popular in the colonies from the Caribbean to Canada. The common early British trade gun with the serpentine side plate was modelled after this musket as well. Many of these rugged muskets were used right up to the Revolutionary War in America by colonial troops as well as Native Americans.

By 1700 the doglock had evolved into a beautiful and sleek weapon complete with brass hardware that was unique to Britain and its colonies. While flintlocks without dog catches started to surface at this time, the doglock would have been one of the principal weapons in Marlborough's army when he defeated the French at the Battles of Blenheim in 1704, Ramillies in 1706, Oudenaarde in 1708 and Malplaquet in 1709, during the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-14).

Excavations of 17th-century Native American burial sites have unearthed doglock muskets. The doglock long fowler - a long-barrelled hunting weapon - was the most popular trade gun from 1625 to 1675. Native Americans valued it not only for hunting but also as a prestige item and for use in self-defence. These later doglocks had vertically attaching sear springs, and often the tumbler had notches for half- and full-cock positions. The cock (or hammer) was long and slender in style.

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