Using Experimental Archaeology to Learn More About Flintlock Firearms, Part II


As I wrote about in my last blog, we had been preparing for a number of years to hold a live-fire study. We had purchased or had made all of the materials we needed, and it was time to pick a date. Since all of this material is going to be published soon, we had planned on doing it in the spring. Then the publication date changed, and it was decided we needed to do it in December. Not the perfect time to be doing this outside in Massachusetts, but we knew we had to make it happen. We set the dates, prayed for good weather, and crossed our fingers.

On December 12-13, 2023, we set up at the Whitinsville Fish and Game club and began our work. It was cold, but no snow or rain, which was a miracle. The first day after getting the high-speed cameras up working and calibrated, we fired a custom-built reproduction British Pattern 1756 Long Land musket firing a nominal .69 caliber ball at the three house panels and a shutter. These shots were basic. We fired two shots at each, recording slow-motion video. This camera setup also allowed the velocity to be determined as it hit the house panels. Each reacted as we thought they would. A fairly round entry hole with wood blow out in the back.

The next shots were going to be tougher to recreate with historical accuracy. We calculated the distance based upon a primary account of James Hayward to a British soldier when they both fired at each other on April 19, 1775, with the British soldier killed outright, and Hayward shot through his powder horn and mortally wounded. We set the horn up with cloth replicating layers of clothing with ballistics gelatin behind it. Could we even hit the horn? Luckily, the shooter we picked was very good and was able to hit both horns! The video is horrific seeing what the ball and horn shards would have done to Hayward’s body. When we finished for the day, we went back to my house and pulled the ball, horn shards, and cloth fragments out of the wound track created by the ball.

The second day we had a series of videos we wanted to record of the lock on the muskets firing in slow motion, and for this we had a ballistics gelatin head and torso with bone simulant skull. While this wasn’t a part of our bullet struck object study, we wanted to replicate the wound John Robbins received on April 19th on Lexington Green. He was badly wounded by a British ball that struck his neck and came out of his lower jaw shattering it to pieces. We were able to hit it and record the data. Another horrific wound!

All of the information we gathered will be published in a book on the subject coming out in early 2025, as well as a report with all of the ballistics information. Doing these studies really has helped me understand these weapons in a much more dimensional way!


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