Regular Armed Forces and Militia Firearms
Militia Firearms, ammunition, and accoutrements equivalent to the standard of Regular Armed Forces

“Because her pre-constitutional Militia was no merely theoretical establishment—but instead a permanently standing and fully equipped force ready to deploy immediately as danger threatened the community—Rhode Island required every eligible male to possess, not just any firearms, but firearms and ammunition suitable specifically for Militia service at that time.”

The Sword and Sovereignty: The Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States”, Front Royal, Virginia CD ROM Edition 2012, by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., page 169.

Also see Militiamen Firearms Kept in the Home •  Militia: Not Part of the Regular Armed Forces of the Union or of the States • The Right to Keep and Bear Arms •  Oxymoronic “Unorganized” Militia • Militia: Not Private Associations • National Guard: Not a MilitiaMilitia: Immune From Contemporary “Gun Control” 


Regular Armed Forces and Militia Firearms

Rhode Island aimed at having her pre-constitutional Militia provided with the types of firearms, ammunition, and accoutrements that were equivalent to the standard equipment employed in the regular Armed Forces of that day.

During the Colonial era, firearms steadily progressed in type from “musket and match” through a variety of “firelocks”, which included the “matchlock”, “wheel lock”, “snaphaunce”, and “flintlock”. (footnote 1) Once perfected, the flintlock remained the standard action for almost all firearms in regular use from the late 1600s until the introduction of the percussion cap in the early 1800s. (footnote 2) Whatever the fluidity of the technological development of firearms during that period, though, Rhode Island’s inflexible goal was for her Militia to be, man for man, not only absolutely better armed than such irregular marauders as hostile Indians, but also reasonably as well equipped as any European regular armed forces Rhode Islanders might be required to support or to engage in conventional warfare. In practice, this meant firearms, ammunition, and accoutrements equivalent to the types then commonly in day-to-day use in the British Army, not simply arms that sufficed only for individual self-defense, let alone solely for hunting, target shooting, or other sport. Thus—

  • Fourteen Militia statutes spanning the course of 134 years—from 1647 to 1781.
    • • [1647] “[E]very Inhabitant of the Island [of Rhode Island] above sixteen or under sixty yeares of age, shall alwayes be provided of a Musket, one pound of powder, twenty bullets, and two fadom of Match, with sword, rest, bandaleers all completely furnished.” (footnote 3)

    • • [1658] “And whereas, it was formerly ordered, [that] armes [should] bee muskett and match. Now it is declared, that both it and fyrelockes and snaphaunces with powder hornes bee alowed; and if any bee complayned of for defective armes, the Town Counsill in each towne have power to judge off, and order the armes to bee such as they may finde will fully answer the meaninge of the lawe concerninge suffitiant armes[.]” (footnote 4)

    • • [1677] Every inhabitant eligible for the Militia “from the age of sixteen yeares unto the age of sixty yeares” “shall * * * have one good gun or muskitt fit for service, one pound of good powder, and thirty bullets at least”. (footnote 5)

    • • [1699, 1701, and 1705] Every member of the Militia shall “appear complete in arms * * * with a good or sufficient muskett or fuse, and sword or bagganett, cotouch box or bandelears, with twelve bullets, fit for his piece, half a pound of powder, six good flints”. (footnote 6)

    • • [1718, 1730, and 1744] “[A]ll Male Persons Residing for the space of Three Months within this Colony from the Age of Sixteen, to the Age of Fifty Years” “shall be always provided with one good Musket, or Fuzee, the Barrel whereof not to be less than three foot and an half in length, to the satisfaction of the Commission Officers of the Company; also one pound of good Gunpowder, thirty Bullets, fit for his Gun, six good Flints, fit for Service; one good Sword, or Baionet, a Cartouch Box, ready fitted with Cartriges of Gunpowder and Bullets”; and “every Trooper [in the Horse] shall be always provided with one good serviceable Horse, * * * one Carbine, one pair of good Pistols, one Sword, one pound of Gunpowder, thirty sizeable Bullets, twelve good Flints”. (footnote 7) 

    • • [1766] “[A]ll male Persons, who have resided for the Space of Three Months in this Colony, from the Age of Sixteen to Fifty” “shall always be provided with One good Musket or Fuzee, the Barrel whereof not to be less than Three Feet and an Half in Length, to the Satisfaction of the Commission Officers, also one Pound of good Gun-Powder, Thirty Bullets fit for his Gun, Six good Flints, One good Sword or Bayonet, a Cartouch Box, ready filled with Cartridges of Powder and Ball”. (footnote 8)

    • • [1774] Each member of the Militia “shall * * * be provided with a sufficient Gun or Fuzee * * * [a]nd also * * * a good Bayonet fixed on his Gun”. (footnote 9)

    • • [1776] All members of the Militia “are by law obliged to equip themselves with a good fire-arm, bayonet and cartouch box”. (footnote 10)

    •  [1776] “[E]very one of the militia appearing properly accoutred, with a good fire-lock, bayonet, cartridge-box, &c. * * * shall be entitled to receive pay.” (footnote 11)

    • • [1776] “Persons * * * by Law obliged to equip themselves with a good Fire-Arm, Bayonet and Cartouch-Box * * * do [that is, shall] provide themselves[.]” (footnote 12)

    •  [1778] “[A]ll Persons * * * by Law obliged to equip themselves with a good Fire-Arm, Bayonet and Cartouch-Box * * * do provide themselves therewith * * * , or with a Rifle-Gun and Sword[.]” (footnote 13)

    • • [1779] “[E]ach and every effective Man * * * shall provide, and at all times be furnished, at his own Expence (excepting such Persons * * * unable to purchase the same) with one good Musquet, and a Bayonet fitted thereto, * * * one Ram-rod, Worm, Priming-wire and Brush, and one Cartouch-Box.” (footnote 14)

    • • [1781] “[E]ach of the * * * non-commissioned Officers and Soldiers [shall] furnish himself with a good Musket, Bayonet, Cartouch- Box[.]” (footnote 15)

    •  [1781] “[E]ach Person, liable to do military Duty * * * (unless excused by the Town-Council * * * for Inability to procure the same)” must have “a good Gun, being his own Property, * * * a Bayonet * * * , a Cartouch-Box * * * , a Ram-Rod * * * , a Wormer * * * , a Priming- Wire * * * , [and] Three good Flints[.]” (footnote 16)

    Footnotes:

    1.) The Sword and Sovereignty: The Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States”, Front Royal, Virginia CD ROM Edition 2012, by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., page 169.

    2.) For an overview of the types, operations, and capabilities of the firearms generally employed during the latter part of the Eighteenth Century, see, e.g., Bill Ahearn, Flintlock Muskets in the American Revolution and Other Colonial Wars (Lincoln, Rhode Island: Andrew Mowbray Incorporated, Publishers, 2005); Michael Stephenson, Patriot Battles: How the War of Independence Was Fought (New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2007), at 119-145.

    3.) EN-261 — [Number] 29, Acts and Orders Made and agreed upon at the Generall Court of Election, held at Portsmouth, in Rhode Island, the 19, 20, 21 of May, 1647, for the Colonie and Province of Providence, in Rhode Island Records, Volume 1, at 154. Also see The Sword and Sovereignty: The Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States”, Front Royal, Virginia CD ROM Edition 2012, by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., page 169.

    4.) EN-262 — [Number] 15, The General Court of Commissioners held for the Collony, Warwicke, November the 2d, 1658, in Rhode Island Records, Volume 1, at 403. Also see The Sword and Sovereignty: The Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States”, Front Royal, Virginia CD ROM Edition 2012, by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., page 170.

    5.) EN-263 — Proceedings of the Generall Assembly held for the Collony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations at Newport, the 1st of May, 1677, in Rhode island Records, Volume 2, at 570. Also see The Sword and Sovereignty: The Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States”, Front Royal, Virginia CD ROM Edition 2012, by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., page 170.

    6.) EN-264 — An Act for the better regulating the militia, and for punishing offenders as shall not conform to the law thereunto relating, At the Generall Assembly and Election held for the Collony at Newport, the 7th of May, 1701, in Rhode Island Records, Volume 3, at 430-431. This statute is dated “1699” in LAWS AND ACTS OF RHODE ISLAND, AND PROVIDENCE PLANTATIONS Made from the First Settlement in 1636 to 1705, at 92, reprinted in J.D. Cushing, Editor, The Earliest Acts and Laws of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations (Wilmington, Delaware: M. Glazier, 1977), at 107. Reprinted from a compilation dated “1705”, it appears in Military Obligation, Rhode Island, at 37. Also see The Sword and Sovereignty: The Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States”, Front Royal, Virginia CD ROM Edition 2012, by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., page 170.

    7.) EN-265 — An Act for the Repealing several Laws relating to the Militia within this Colony, and for further Regulation of the same, LAWS Made and Past by the General Assembly of His Majesties Colony of Rhode- Island, and Providence-Plantations, in New-England, begun and Held at Newport, the Seventh Day of May, 1718, and Continued by Adjournments to the Ninth Day of September following, in Public Laws of Rhode Island, 1719, at 86, 87, 90; in Public Laws of Rhode Island, 1730, at 91, 93, 96; and in Public Laws of Rhode Island, 1744, at 65, 67, 71. Also see The Sword and Sovereignty: The Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States”, Front Royal, Virginia CD ROM Edition 2012, by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., page 170.

    8.) EN-266 — An ACT, regulating the Militia in this Colony, part of An ACT, establishing the Revisement of the Laws of this Colony, and for the putting the same in Force, in A LAW, Made and passed at the General Assembly of the Colony of Rhode-Island and Providence Plantations, held at Providence on the First Monday in December, 1766, in Public Laws of Rhode Island, 1767, at 179, 182. Also see The Sword and Sovereignty: The Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States”, Front Royal, Virginia CD ROM Edition 2012, by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., page 170.

    9.) EN-267 — An ACT in addition to, and amendment of, an Act entitled “An Act regulating the Militia of this Colony[”], At the GENERAL ASSEMBLY of the GOVERNOR and COMPANY of the English Colony of Rhode- Island, and Providence Plantations, in New-England, in America; begun and holden, in Consequence of Warrants issued by his Honor the Governor, at Providence, within and for the said Colony, on the First Monday in December, One Thousand, Seven Hundred and Seventy-four, in Rhode Island Acts and Resolves, Volume 7, at {150}. Also see The Sword and Sovereignty: The Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States”, Front Royal, Virginia CD ROM Edition 2012, by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., page 170.

    10.) EN-268 — Proceedings of the General Assembly, held for the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, at Providence, on the second Monday in January, 1776, in Rhode Island Records, Volume 7, at 423. Also see The Sword and Sovereignty: The Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States”, Front Royal, Virginia CD ROM Edition 2012, by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., page 170.

    11.) EN-269 — Proceedings of the General Assembly, held for the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, at East Greenwich, on the last Monday in February, 1776, in Rhode Island Records, Volume 7, at 463. Also see The Sword and Sovereignty: The Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States”, Front Royal, Virginia CD ROM Edition 2012, by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., page 170.

    12.) EN-270 — An Act for purchasing Two Thousand Arms for the Colony, &c., At the GENERAL ASSEMBLY of the GOVERNOR and COMPANY of the English Colony of Rhode-Island and Providence Plantations, in New- England, in America; begun and holden (in Consequence of Warrants issued by his Honor the Governor), at East-Greenwich, within and for the said Colony, on Monday the Eighteenth Day of March, One Thousand Seven Hundred and Seventy-six, in Rhode Island Acts and Resolves, Volume 8 [9], at {305}. Also see The Sword and Sovereignty: The Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States”, Front Royal, Virginia CD ROM Edition 2012, by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., page 171.

    13.) EN-271 — AT the GENERAL ASSEMBLY of the GOVERNOR and COMPANY of the STATE of Rhode-Island and Providence Plantations, begun and holden (in Consequence of Warrants issued by his Excellency the Governor) at Providence, within and for the State aforesaid, on Thursday the Twenty-eighth Day of May, One Thousand Seven Hundred and Seventy-eight, in Rhode Island Acts and Resolves, Volume 9 [11], at {8}. Also see The Sword and Sovereignty: The Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States”, Front Royal, Virginia CD ROM Edition 2012, by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., page 171.

    14.) EN-272 — An ACT for the better forming, regulating and conducting the military Force of this State, AT the GENERAL ASSEMBLY of the Governor and Company of the State of Rhode-Island, and Providence-Plantations, begun and holden at South-Kingstown, within and for the State aforesaid, on the last Monday in October, One Thousand Seven Hundred and Seventy-nine, in Rhode Island Acts and Resolves, Volume 10 [12], at {31-32}. Also see The Sword and Sovereignty: The Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States”, Front Royal, Virginia CD ROM Edition 2012, by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., page 171.

    15.) EN-273 — An ACT for embodying and bringing into the Field Twelve Hundred able-bodied effective Men, of the Militia, to serve within this State for One Month, from the Time of their Rendezvous, and no longer Term, and not to be marched out of the same, At the General Assembly of the Governor and Company of the State of Rhode-Island, and Providence-Plantations, begun and holden (by Adjournment) at South-Kingstown, within and for the State aforesaid, on the Fourth Monday in February, One Thousand Seven Hundred and Eighty-one, in Rhode Island Acts and Resolves, Volume 11 [14], at {8}. Accord, An ACT for incorporating and bringing into the Field Five Hundred able-bodied effective Men, of the Militia, to serve within this State for One Month, from the Time of their Rendezvous, and no longer, and not to be marched out of the same, AT the GENERAL ASSEMBLY of the Governor and Company of the State of Rhode-Island, and Providence-Plantations, begun and holden, by Adjournment, at Providence, within and for the State aforesaid, on the Fourth Monday in May, One Thousand Seven Hundred and Eighty-one, in Rhode Island Acts and Resolves, Volume 11 [14], at {15}; An ACT for incorporating and bringing into the Field Five Hundred able-bodied effective Men, of the Militia, to serve within this State for One Month, from the Time of their Rendezvous, and for no longer Term, and not to be marched out of the same, At the General Assembly of the Governor and Company of the State of Rhode-Island and Providence Plantations, begun and holden by Adjournment at Newport, within and for the said State, on the Third Monday in August, One Thousand Seven Hundred and Eighty-one, in Rhode Island Acts and Resolves, Volume 11 [14], at {41}. Also see The Sword and Sovereignty: The Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States”, Front Royal, Virginia CD ROM Edition 2012, by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., page 171.

    16.) EN-274 — An ACT in Addition to, and Amendment of, an Act, passed in October, A.D. 1779, entituled, “An Act for the better forming, regulating and conducting, the Military Force of this State”, At the General Assembly of the Governor and Company of the State of Rhode-Island and Providence-Plantations, begun and holden, by Adjournment, at South-Kingstown, within and for the said State, on the Third Monday in March, One Thousand Seven Hundred and Eighty-one, in Rhode Island Acts and Resolves, Volume 11 [14], at {51-52}. Also see The Sword and Sovereignty: The Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States”, Front Royal, Virginia CD ROM Edition 2012, by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., page 171.

  • Militiamen’s firearms by law had to be up to date, sound design, and good mechanical quality.

    The initial considerations for firearms were sound design and good mechanical operation. First, Militiamen’s firearms had to be up to date: Which is why, as technology and supply improved over the years, the statutes initially ordered the use of “muskett and match”, then mandated “fyrelocks and snaphaunces”, then required “muskett[s] or Fuze[s]”, and finally allowed the “Rifle-Gun”. Second, Militiamen’s firearms had to be up to snuff: Which is why, over and over again, the statutes reiterated each Militiaman’s obligation to provide “one good gun”, “a good or sufficient musket”, “one good Musket * * * to the satisfaction of the Commission Officers of the Company”, “a sufficient Gun”, or “a good Fire-Arm”. Inasmuch as the design of firearms changed very little once the flintlock had come into general usage, “good” firearms throughout most of the pre-constitutional period must usually have meant a flintlock smoothbored musket or fusil for infantry, a carbine and pair of pistols for cavalry. (footnote 1)

    Footnotes:

    1.) The Sword and Sovereignty: The Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States”, Front Royal, Virginia CD ROM Edition 2012, by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., page 171.

  • Militiamen’s firearms to be designed specifically for military usage.

    Another consideration for Militiamen’s firearms was suitability for the intended service. The obviously preferable situation was for Militiamen’s firearms to be designed specifically for military usage. Which is why the later statutes required “a good Bayonet fixed on his Gun” or “one good Musquet, and a Bayonet fitted thereto”; or simply conjoined “a good fire-lock, bayonet”, “a good Fire-Arm, Bayonet”, or “a good Musket, Bayonet” as an inseparable pair. For, in those days, infantrymen’s ability to launch a bayonet charge or to repel an enemy’s, or to turn aside a cavalry charge with the points of their own bayonets, often meant the difference between victory or defeat. But Rhode Island’s statutes also recognized that many of her men simply could not furnish themselves with a “good Musquet, and a Bayonet fitted thereto”—and therefore allowed them to substitute a sword, as in the phrases “sword or bagganett”, “Sword or Bayenet”, and “good Sword, or Baionet”. The firearms in these Militiamen’s hands might not have been designed specifically with Militia service in mind, as the products of many Colonial gunsmiths were not. (footnote 1) 465 Nonetheless, in combination with a good edged weapon, they were usable for such service to a reasonably satisfactory degree. Others may have been all-purpose “fowlers” suitable not only for hunting birds and common game, but also for Militia service—even to the extent of sometimes being specially fitted for bayonets. (footnote 2) New England gunsmiths produced a distinctive type of fowler, some of which Colonial marksmen employed in the Battle of Lexington and Concord. (footnote 3)

    Rhode Island did not require, but merely allowed, her Militiamen to be armed with “Rifle-Gun[s]”, for two reasons: First, although New England did not lack for gunsmiths, (footnote 4) rifles were not then particularly common in that area. (footnote 5) Second, although rifles were technologically superior to smoothbored muskets, having longer ranges and far greater accuracy, smoothbored muskets were often tactically superior in the set-piece, stand-up battles of the day. In forays based on linear formations firing face-to-face at short ranges on open ground, smoothbored muskets could maintain higher rates of fire than rifles, and when fitted with bayonets as original equipment (as rifles only infrequently were) could be effectively employed as “cold steel” in fighting at close quarters. Under other tactical situations, however, such as fighting in loose order in wooded country or at long range, rifles almost invariably outperformed smoothbored muskets. (footnote 6)

    Footnotes:

    1.) See, e.g., Harold L. Peterson, Arms and Armor in Colonial America, 1526-1783 (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Stackpole Company, 1956), at 178-17

    2.) See B. Ahearn, Flintlock Muskets in the American Revolution, ante note 464, Part 2, Colonial Fowlers.

    3.) Id. at 113-119, 105.

    4.) See, e.g., F. Allen Thompson, “Worcester County Gunsmiths 1760-1830”, in The American Society of Arms Collectors, Longarms in America, George E. Weatherly, Compiler (Easton, Pennsylvania: The Mack Printing Group, 1997), Volume 1, at 141 (Massachusetts).

    5.) See, e.g., Allen French, The Day of Concord and Lexington: The Nineteenth of April, 1775 (Boston, Massachusetts: Little, Brown, and Company, 1925), at 28 & note 1.

    6.) The Sword and Sovereignty: The Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States”, Front Royal, Virginia CD ROM Edition 2012, by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., page 171-172.

  • The most important consideration overall was that Militiamen’s firearms, of whatever types, should be usable for military service, either as designed or as complemented by or supplemented with other readily available personal weapons.

    The most important consideration overall was that Militiamen’s firearms, of whatever types, should be usable for military service, either as designed or as complemented by or supplemented with other readily available personal weapons. When the statutes referred to a “good Musquet, and a Bayonet fitted thereto” they intended a specifically military-grade firearm all around. When they referred to a firearm to be used in conjunction with a “good Sword or Bayonet”, they intended what might have been a marginally military-grade firearm, or what today might be labeled a “sporting”-grade firearm—but, in the latter case, obviously one that possessed a basic military capability simply as a firearm, and close to full military capability when supplemented with a “good Sword”. Thus, Rhode Island’s statutes recognized, not a fundamental difference in kind, but only a difference in degree, among the many firearms her Militiamen might have brought to their service. Doubtlessly, some “sporting” arms, such as small-bored fusils and fowling pieces, could not have been used satisfactorily as Militia arms in some situations. But many others could have served that purpose. And most military-grade firearms (with their bayonets set aside) could have been used for such “sporting” purposes as hunting or target shooting, or (perhaps even with the bayonets attached) for personal self-defense. (footnote 1)

    Footnotes:

    1.) The Sword and Sovereignty: The Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States”, Front Royal, Virginia CD ROM Edition 2012, by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., page 171-172.

  • Militiamen’s acoutrements and ammunition were required by statute to be of military grade.

    Another indication that Rhode Island concerned herself with the specifically military service to which her Militiamen’s firearms were dedicated, not necessarily the purposes for which those firearms might originally have been designed, is what the statutes demanded by way of accoutrements and ammunition. For, whether his firearm was originally of military grade or not, each Militiaman was required to provide himself with bandoliers or a cartridge box, and up to “one Pound of good Gunpowder, [and] Thirty Bullets fit for his Gun”. Bandoliers and “a Cartouch Box, ready filled with Cartriges of Gunpowder and Bullets”, were typically military, not “sporting”, accoutrements. “Thirty bullets” was a large number for a hunter to carry, but certainly not for a soldier. And “one Pound of good Gunpowder”—which contained seven thousand grains—could produce more than twice that many cartridges. For instance, in 1759 the British standard charge for a musket cartridge for field service was one hundred sixty-five grains of black powder (including the priming charge), or about one hundred nine grains for a less robust “exercise” cartridge. (footnote 1) Later on, the British Pattern 1776 Rifle used a regulation charge of one hundred ten grains, which was likely reduced in the interest of accuracy to about eighty-three grains. (footnote 2 ) If Rhode Island’s Militiamen had settled on an average charge of one hundred ten grains in their various firelocks, “one Pound of good Gunpowder” would have provided each of them with about sixty-three rounds—a not inconsiderable supply of ammunition that probably vanishingly few merely “sporting” shooters of that era would ever have taken with them afield. (footnote 3)

    Footnotes:

    1.) The Sword and Sovereignty: The Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States”, Front Royal, Virginia CD ROM Edition 2012, by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., page 173.

    2.) De Witt Bailey, British Military Flintlock Rifles, 1740-1840 (Lincoln, Rhode Island: Andrew Mowbray Publishers, 2002), at 34.

    3.) Id., at 1.

  • Most of those likely to have proven ‘defective in armes’ were numbered among the independent adult poor. Rhode Island employed several approaches to deal with this group. Five statutes spanning the course of 115 years—from 1665 to 1780.

    Most of those likely to have proven “defective in armes” were numbered among the independent adult poor. Rhode Island employed several approaches to deal with this group.

    Sometimes, the government granted pay, bounties, or insurance against loss to individuals who acquired or supplied their own firearms for Militia or other military service:

    • • [1665] “The Assembly taking into consideration the great defect in training, and * * * complaining of the great inequality, in that the poorest being vnable to spare wherewith to maintaine armes and amunition, * * * yett are forced by the law to beare armes as well as the most able”, “for the incorradgement of the meaner [that is, poorer] sort, there shall be alowed yearly nine shillings in currant pay to or for each soldiare listed in the traine band * * * for the repaireing of armes * * * and * * * nine shillings * * * to such parents and masters as find armes and amunition (as they must doe) for their sones and sarvants that are listable, which are to be listed, and to traine; as alsoe to such householders or other men that find themselves armes and traine in their owne persones”; “and for the raysing the aforesaid allowance * * * each towne shall * * * make a rate [that is, a tax] vpon each one rateable * * * with as much equality as may be, according to each ones estate[.]” (footnote 1)

    • • [1755] “[I]f the Arms brought by [the] Officers into Service in the Army, shall be damnified afterwards, or lost, the same shall be made good by the Colony, according to the Value thereof. * * * Every common Soldier [shall receive] Sixteen Pounds per Month, and Twenty Pounds Bounty, if furnished with a good Fire-lock; but no more than Fifteen Pounds without: That if the Arms brought by any Soldier into the Army, shall be damnified afterwards, or lost, the same shall be made good by the Colony, according to the Value thereof.” (footnote 2)

    • • [1776] “[O]n any future alarm, notice or warning being given to the militia, they forthwith repair * * * to the place threatened to be invaded, in order to repel the enemy”; and “every one of the militia appearing properly accoutred, with a good fire-lock, bayonet, cartridge- box, &c. * * * shall be entitled to receive pay”. (footnote 3)

    • • [1776] For “one regiment * * * raised from the militia of this state * * * the committee of safety * * * are hereby appointed to equip * * * each and every soldier * * * with * * * one good fire-arm, with a bayonet and cartridge-box; to be returned * * * at the expiration of the time of enlistment”; and “for as many * * * fire-arms, with a bayonet and cartridge-box, as cannot readily be furnished by the aforesaid committee, * * * sums [of money] shall be paid to each and every soldier who shall furnish himself with them”. (footnote 4)

    • • [1780] “[I]n order to encourage each Soldier who shall inlist into the Service * * * to provide * * * Articles of Accoutrements for themselves, there shall be allowed unto each of the said Soldiers who shall furnish himself with a good Musket, Ram-Rod, Bayonet * * * Eighty Continental Dollars, * * * and for each Cartouch-Box so furnished, Twenty Dollars, in the like Money; which shall be paid * * * out of the General- Treasury[.]” (footnote 5)

    Some of these benefits were available, of course, not simply to individuals of limited financial means. But without them, in many cases the poor could not have served.

    Footnotes:

    1.) EN-217 — Acts and Orders of the Generall Assembly, sitting at Newport, May the 3, 1665, in Rhode Island Records, Volume 2, at 114-116. Also see The Sword and Sovereignty: The Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States”, Front Royal, Virginia CD ROM Edition 2012, by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., page 157.

    2.) EN-218 — An ACT for raising Four Companies in this Colony, of One Hundred Men each, Officers included, to be imployed on a secret Expedition, in case other Governments shall join and carry on the proposed Enterprize, At the GENERAL ASSEMBLY of the Governor and Company of the English Colony of Rhode- Island, and Providence Plantations, in New-England, in AMERICA; begun, in Consequence of Warrants issued by his Honor the Governor, and held at Providence on Thursday the sixth of March, One Thousand Seven Hundred and Fifty-five, in Rhode Island Acts and Resolves, Volume 2, at {85-86}. Also see The Sword and Sovereignty: The Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States”, Front Royal, Virginia CD ROM Edition 2012, by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., page 158.

    3.) EN-219 — Proceedings of the General Assembly, held for the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, at East Greenwich, on the last Monday in February, 1776, in Rhode Island Records, Volume 7, at 463. Also see The Sword and Sovereignty: The Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States”, Front Royal, Virginia CD ROM Edition 2012, by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., page 158.

    4.) EN-220 — Proceedings of the General Assembly, held for the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, at East Greenwich, on Thursday, the 21st day of November, 1776, in Rhode Island Records, Volume 8, at 42-44. Accord, Proceedings of the General Assembly, held for the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, at Providence, on the second Monday in January, 1776, in Rhode Island Records, Volume 7, at 431, 432, and also Proceedings of the General Assembly, held for the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, at East Greenwich, on Tuesday, the 10th day of December, 1776, in Rhode Island Records, Volume 8, at 62. Also see The Sword and Sovereignty: The Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States”, Front Royal, Virginia CD ROM Edition 2012, by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., page 158.

    5.) EN-221 — An ACT for furnishing the Soldiers who shall inlist into this State’s Service for Three Months with Guns, and necessary Accoutrements, At the General Assembly of the Governor and Company of the State of Rhode-Island, and Providence-Plantations, begun and holden (by Adjournment) at Newport, within and for the State aforesaid, on the Third Monday in July, One Thousand Seven Hundred and Eighty, Rhode Island Acts and Resolves, Volume 10 [13], at {56}. Also see The Sword and Sovereignty: The Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States”, Front Royal, Virginia CD ROM Edition 2012, by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., page 158.

  • Another method to supply poor members of the Militia the purchase of firearms and accoutrements which was subsidized by funds the Militia itself amassed from fines statutorily imposed on defaulters. Ten Militia statutes spanning the course of 132 years—from 1647 to 1779.

    One method was to supply poor members of the Militia with equipment the purchase of which was subsidized by funds the Militia itself amassed from fines statutorily imposed on defaulters:

    • • [1647] “[I]f any shall come defective in his Armes or furniture [to Militia service], he shall forfeit and pay ye sum of twelve pence”; and “all the fines and forfeitures shall be employed to the use and service of the [Train] Band”. (footnote 1)

    • • [1650] “[Certain named individuals], all excuses sett aparte, shall mende and make all lockes, stockes and pieces that by order from the warden of each Towne shall be from any of the inhabitants thearof presented to them, for just and suitable satisfaction in hand payed, without delay, under the penaltie of ten pounds, to be levied * * * to the use of the sayd Towne’s militia”; and “all men that have gunns and pieces to mend, and have need to have them mended for their present defence, shall * * * carrie those pieces to mende, upon paine of forfeiting ten shillings a piece, which shall be levied * * * to the use of the * * * Towne’s militia.” (footnote 2)

    • • [1658 ]“[T]he Town councill have power * * * to lay out * * * what fines are taken for men’s defect in traininge for such as they judge not able to buy armes[.]” (footnote 3)

    • • [1676] “[A]ll fines or forfeitures of the Traine Bands in each towne are * * * to be returned to the Treasurer of said towne by him to ke kept apart, that it may be for disbursements to furnish the said Traine Band with colors, drums, and other publicke instruments; and what may be more, is to be kept for a magazine.” (footnote 4)

    • • [1680] “[F]ines * * * relating to the millitary exercise, shall be returned to the Clerke of every * * * Traine Band, and to be disposed of * * * for the use of the * * * Company[.]” (footnote 5)

    • • [1699, 1701, and 1705] “[A]ll fines and forfeitures that shall arise upon persons neglecting in training and watching, shall be disposed of by the commissioned officers of each respective company, to provide drums, colors, ammunition, &c.” (footnote 6)

    • • [1718, 1730, and 1744] “[A]ll such Fines taken * * * shall be laid out to and for the Use of such Company * * * for the defraying their Incident Charge[.]” (footnote 7)

    • • [1755] “[A]ll the * * * Fines [shall] be lodged in the Town Treasury * * * to purchase Arms and Ammunition * * * to be used by such Soldiers as are not able to provide for themselves, after all Military Accoutrements * * * for the Company are purchased[.]” (footnote 8)

    • • [1766] “[T]he * * * Fines * * * shall be paid * * * into the Town-Treasury * * * to purchase Arms and Ammunition * * * for the use of such Town to be used by such Soldiers as are not able to provide for themselves, after all military Accoutrements * * * for the Company are purchased[.]” (footnote 9)

    • • [1779] “[A]ll Fines * * * [shall] be deposited in the Town- Treasurer’s Office * * * to be appropriated for purchasing Arms and Ammunition for those who shall be unable to provide for themselves, [after deducting certain other costs.]” (footnote 10)

    Footnotes:

    1.) EN-222 — Acts and Orders Made and agreed upon at the Generall Court of Election, held at Portsmouth, in Rhode Island, the 19, 20, 21 of May, 1647, for the Colonie and Province of Providence, in Rhode Island Records, Volume 1, at 153, 154. Also see The Sword and Sovereignty: The Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States”, Front Royal, Virginia CD ROM Edition 2012, by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., page 158.

    2.) EN-223 — Acts and Orders made at the Generall Courte of Election held at Newport, May the 23d, (1650), for the Colonie of Providence Plantations, in Rhode Island Records, Volume 1, at 221-222. Also see The Sword and Sovereignty: The Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States”, Front Royal, Virginia CD ROM Edition 2012, by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., page 159.

    3.) EN-224 — [Number] 7, The General Court of Commissioners held for the Collony, at Portsmouth, March the 10th, 1657-8, in Rhode Island Records, Volume 1, at 373. Also see The Sword and Sovereignty: The Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States”, Front Royal, Virginia CD ROM Edition 2012, by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., page 159.

    4.) EN-225 — Proceedings of the Generall Assembly of the Collony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, held at Newport, the 25th of October, 1676, [Session of] October 27th, in Rhode Island Records, Volume 2, at 555. Also see The Sword and Sovereignty: The Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States”, Front Royal, Virginia CD ROM Edition 2012, by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., page 159.

    5.) EN-226 — Proceedings of the Generall Assembly held for the Collony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations at Newport, the 27th day of October, 1680, in Rhode Island Records, Volume 3, at 93-94. Also see The Sword and Sovereignty: The Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States”, Front Royal, Virginia CD ROM Edition 2012, by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., page 159.

    6.) EN-227 — An Act for the better regulating the militia, and for punishing offenders as shall not conform to the law thereunto relating, At the Generall Assembly and Election held for the Collony at Newport, the 7th of May, 1701, in Rhode Island Records, Volume 3, at 434-435. This statute is dated “1699” in LAWS AND ACTS OF RHODE ISLAND, AND PROVIDENCE PLANTATIONS Made from the First Settlement in 1636 to 1705, at 92, reprinted from J.D. Cushing, Editor, The Earliest Acts and Laws of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations (Wilmington, Delaware: M. Glazier, 1977), at 107. Reprinted from a compilation dated “1705”, it appears in Military Obligation, Rhode Island, at 37. Also see The Sword and Sovereignty: The Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States”, Front Royal, Virginia CD ROM Edition 2012, by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., page 159.

    7.) EN-228 — An Act for the Repealing several Laws relating to the Militia within this Colony, and for further Regulation of the same, LAWS Made and Past by the General Assembly of His Majesties Colony of Rhode- Island, and Providence-Plantations, in New-England, begun and Held at Newport, the Seventh Day of May, 1718, and Continued by Adjournments to the Ninth Day of September following, in Public Laws of Rhode Island, 1719, at 88; in Public Laws of Rhode Island, 1730, at 94; and in Public Laws of Rhode Island, 1744, at 68. Also see The Sword and Sovereignty: The Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States”, Front Royal, Virginia CD ROM Edition 2012, by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., page 159.

    8.) EN-229 — An ACT in Addition to the several Acts regulating the Militia in this Colony, At the GENERAL ASSEMBLY of the Governor and Company of the English Colony of Rhode-Island, and Providence-Plantations, in New-England, in AMERICA; begun and held by Adjournment at Providence, on the first Monday of February, One Thousand Seven Hundred and Fifty-five, in Rhode Island Acts and Resolves, Volume 2, at {72}. Also see The Sword and Sovereignty: The Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States”, Front Royal, Virginia CD ROM Edition 2012, by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., page 159.

    9.) EN-230 — An ACT, regulating the Militia in this Colony, part of An ACT, establishing the Revisement of the Laws of this Colony, and for the putting the same in Force, in A LAW, Made and passed at the General Assembly of the Colony of Rhode-Island and Providence Plantations, held at Providence on the First Monday in December, 1766, in Public Laws of Rhode Island, 1767, at 183. Also see The Sword and Sovereignty: The Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States”, Front Royal, Virginia CD ROM Edition 2012, by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., page 159.

    10.) EN-231 — An ACT for the better forming, regulating and conducting the military Force of this State, AT the GENERAL ASSEMBLY of the Governor and Company of the State of Rhode-Island, and Providence-Plantations, begun and holden at South-Kingstown, within and for the State aforesaid, on the last Monday in October, One Thousand Seven Hundred and Seventy-nine, in Rhode Island Acts and Resolves, Volume 10 [12], at {37-38}. Also see The Sword and Sovereignty: The Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States”, Front Royal, Virginia CD ROM Edition 2012, by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., page 159.

  • Firearms supplied to Militiamen serving as regular ‘Troops’.

    When raising detachments of soldiers from amongst the men in her Militia for other duty in various military campaigns, Rhode Island supplied firearms, ammunition, and accoutrements to everyone involved. These were the types of “Troops” that the Constitution now prohibits the States from “keep[ing] * * * in time of Peace” “without the Consent of Congress”. (footnote 1) For, distinguishably, a State must maintain her Militia at all times, with or without “the Consent of Congress”.

    Thus, when men were drafted from the Militia during the French and Indian War in 1757, Rhode Island’s Towns were “empowered to procure, at the expense of the colony, half a pound of gun powder, twenty bullets, six flints * * * for each soldier * * * ; and * * * to hire horses * * * and to procure arms, and all other necessaries, in the like manner”—and “each and every commissioned officer, and soldier, who has a gun fit for service, shall make use of the same; and those who have none, shall be provided for”. (footnote 2)

    Similarly, when regiments were raised from the Militia for service in the War of Independence:

    • “[T]he committee of safety * * * equip[ped] and furnish[ed] each and every soldier * * * with * * * one good fire-arm, with a bayonet and cartridge-box; to be returned * * * at the expiration of the time of enlistment[.]” (footnote 3)
    • • [1780] “WHEREAS there are not within the public Stores of this State, a sufficient Number of Guns * * * to accoutre the Soldiers ordered * * * to be raised for Three Months * * * , for their immediate Service:

      BE it therefore Enacted * * * , That each and every Town within this State shall provide and furnish for each and every Soldier which they are ordered to raise * * * One good Musket, with a good Ram-Rod, One suitable Bayonet, * * * One Cartouch-Box * * * .” (footnote 4)

    • • [1780] “WHEREAS the Inhabitants of Rhode-Island and Jamestown have been deprived of their Arms by the Enemy, and are now totally destitute of the same: It is therefore Voted * * * That Major General Heath be * * * requested, to furnish the Men apportioned and to be raised by the several Towns on the Islands of Rhode-Island and Jamestown, to do Duty for the Term of Three Months, with Fire-Arms from the Continental Store; and that this State will cause the same to be replaced.

      It is further Voted * * * That the said Arms be repaired at the Expence of this State[.]” (footnote 5)

    Footnotes:

    1.) U.S. Const. art. I, § 10, cl. 3.

    2.) EN-243 — An Act for raising one-sixth part of the militia in this colony, to proceed immediately to Albany, to join the Forces which have marched, to oppose the French, near Lake George, Proceedings of the General Assembly, held for the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, at Newport, on the 10th day of August, 1757, in Rhode Island Records, Volume 6, at 77, 78. Also see The Sword and Sovereignty: The Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States”, Front Royal, Virginia CD ROM Edition 2012, by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., page 162-163.

    3.) EN-244 — Proceedings of the General Assembly, held for the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, at East Greenwich, on Thursday, the 21st day of November, 1776, in Rhode Island Records, Volume 8, at 43. Also see The Sword and Sovereignty: The Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States”, Front Royal, Virginia CD ROM Edition 2012, by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., page 163.

    4.) EN-245 — An ACT for furnishing the Soldiers who shall inlist into this State’s Service for Three Months with Guns, and necessary Accoutrements, At the General Assembly of the Governor and Company of the State of Rhode-Island, and Providence-Plantations, begun and holden (by Adjournment) at Newport, within and for the State aforesaid, on the Third Monday in July, One Thousand Seven Hundred and Eighty, in Rhode Island Acts and Resolves, Volume 10 [13], at {54-55}. Also see The Sword and Sovereignty: The Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States”, Front Royal, Virginia CD ROM Edition 2012, by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., page 163.

    5.) EN-246 — At the General Assembly of the Governor and Company of the State of Rhode-Island, and Providence-Plantations, begun and holden (by Adjournment) at Newport, within and for the State aforesaid, on the Third Monday in July, One Thousand Seven Hundred and Eighty, in Rhode Island Acts and Resolves, Volume 10 [13], at {56}. Also see The Sword and Sovereignty: The Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States”, Front Royal, Virginia CD ROM Edition 2012, by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., page 163.

  • Militiamen had a statutory duty themselves to obtain and thereafter to retain personal possession (and usually ownership, too) of firearms and related accoutrements, whereas regular ‘Troops’ did not.

    Especially instructive here is the contrast between Rhode Island’s pre- constitutional Militia and her regular “Troops” with respect to the permanent personal possession of arms that came into the men’s hands for service. Militiamen had a statutory duty themselves to obtain and thereafter to retain personal possession (and usually ownership, too) of firearms and related accoutrements, whereas regular “Troops” did not.

    For a stark example of the difference, in 1757 the General Assembly observed that “this colony hath been greatly injured by the troops in former campaigns, embezzling and destroying the[ ] arms” that had been supplied to them by the government; and “for preventing” this misbehavior in the future it decreed that

    the committee of war be * * * strictly enjoined to require an account of every soldier returning from the camp, without his arms, what became of them; and if the soldier or soldiers so returning, either by furlough or discharged, do not bring a certificate from the captain of the company unto which he or they belonged, that he or they have delivered up his or their arms in good order unto * * * the person or persons that may be appointed for that purpose, before his or their leaving the camp, that the said committee of war deduct out of the wages of such soldier or soldiers, the full value of such arms as he or they were furnished with; * * * and that the * * * commanding officer inform the troops of the contents of this act. (footnote 1)

    Self-evidently, most Militiamen could not possibly have “embezzl[ed] * * * their arms” at any time, because they owned them in the first place; and next to no Militiamen, serving as such, were ever required to “deliver[ ] up * * * their arms in good order” (or at all) to public officials when returning from some service in the field, because public officials had no possible claim to possession of those arms. (footnote 2)

    Footnotes:

    1.) EN-247 — An Act to prevent the soldiers in the pay of this colony from embezzling and destroying the arms which they have been furnished with, at the expense of the government, Proceedings of the General Assembly, held for the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, at Newport, on Monday, the 13th day of June, 1757, in Rhode Island Records, Volume 6, at 67-68. Also see The Sword and Sovereignty: The Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States”, Front Royal, Virginia CD ROM Edition 2012, by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., page 163-164.

    2.) The Sword and Sovereignty: The Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States”, Front Royal, Virginia CD ROM Edition 2012, by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., page 163-164.

  • The dichotomy between Militia and regular ‘Troops’ with respect to permanent personal possession of firearms appears perhaps most clearly in a statute enacted in 1776

    The dichotomy between Militia and regular “Troops” with respect to permanent personal possession of firearms appears perhaps most clearly in a statute enacted in 1776, in which the General Assembly “enacted, that one regiment be * * * raised from the militia of this state”, to “be composed of six men as soldiers, of every hundred of the male inhabitants of sixteen years of age, and upwards, as last estimated within this state”, who would voluntarily enlist and “continue in the service of this state three months from the time of their enlistment, unless dismissed before that time by th[e] Assembly”. The statute specifically provided that

    the committee of safety * * * are * * * appointed to equip and furnish each and every soldier, who shall enlist, * * * with * * * one good fire- arm, with a bayonet and cartridge-box; to be returned to such of the said committee of safety who furnished the same, at the expiration of the time of enlistment of said soldiers.

    And * * * for as many * * * fire-arms, with a bayonet and cartridge-box, as cannot readily be furnished by the aforesaid committee, the following sums shall be paid to each and every soldier who shall furnish himself with them * * * for the use, thereof, to wit:

    * * * twelve shillings for a fire-arm and bayonet; and two shillings and sixpence, for a cartridge-box.

    * * * [T]he committee of safety * * * are hereby directed to receive the fire-arms in the town of Newport, belonging to this state, in order to equip the soldiers[.] (footnote 1)

    Thus, although Militiamen were recruited for this service, upon enlistment they became regular “Troops” for up to three months. As such, they all were entitled to the loan of necessary equipment, including firearms and accoutrements, drawn from public stocks (in this case, the Town of Newport)—but upon the expiry of their enlistments they were, quite reasonably, required to turn in that equipment. (footnote 2)

    Footnotes:

    1.) EN-248 — An Act for raising a regiment, to serve for three months, Proceedings of the General Assembly, held for the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, at East Greenwich, on Thursday, the 21st day of November, 1776, in Rhode Island Records, Volume 8, at 42-44 (emphasis supplied). Also see The Sword and Sovereignty: The Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States”, Front Royal, Virginia CD ROM Edition 2012, by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., page 164

    2.) The Sword and Sovereignty: The Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States”, Front Royal, Virginia CD ROM Edition 2012, by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., page 164.

One immediate benefit that would take effect upon any State revitalizing her Militia along strict constitutional lines would be immunity from all contemporary forms of “gun control”.

  • Footnotes

    1.) The Sword and Sovereignty: The Constitutional Principles of “the Militia of the several States”, Front Royal, Virginia CD ROM Edition 2012, by Dr. Edwin Vieira, Jr., page 169.

    2.) For an overview of the types, operations, and capabilities of the firearms generally employed during the latter part of the Eighteenth Century, see, e.g., Bill Ahearn, Flintlock Muskets in the American Revolution and Other Colonial Wars (Lincoln, Rhode Island: Andrew Mowbray Incorporated, Publishers, 2005); Michael Stephenson, Patriot Battles: How the War of Independence Was Fought (New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2007), at 119-145.