Brown Bess

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Short Land Pattern

The Brown Bess in History

Brown Bess is a nickname of unknown provenance for the British Long Land Pattern Musket and its derivatives.

The Long Land musket and its derivatives, all 0.75 calibre flintlock muskets, were the standard long guns of the land forces of the British Empire from 1722 until 1802 when they were officially replaced by the New Land Pattern Musket. At the time, the British Ordnance System did not have a policy of actively replacing functioning firearms in armories, and the Brown Bess saw service until the middle of the nineteenth century.

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

Origins of the Name

The exact origins of the name "Brown Bess" is unknown. It is not believed that this name was used contemporaneously to the active duty of the Long Land musket, but that the name arose in late years of the eighteenth century.

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 completely 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). Similarly, the word "Bess" is commonly held to either derive from the word "arquebus" (a predecessor of the musket) or to be a reference to Elizabeth I of England.

The Land Pattern Muskets

From the seventeenth through early years of the eighteenth century, most nations did not specify standards for the firearms of their militaries. Firearms were individually procured by soldiers and officers, and were often custom made to the tastes of the purchaser. As the firearm gained ascendance on the battlefield, this lack of standardization led to increasing difficulties in the supply of ammunition and repair materials. To address these difficulties, the standardization of "patterns" began. Stored by the military in a "pattern room", a pattern rifle served as a reference by which arms maker could make comparisons and take measurements to insure that they could produce firearms that would achieve some level of standardization.

Stress-bearing parts such as the barrel, lockwork, ramrod and sling-swivels were customarily made of iron; while other furniture pieces such as the butt plate, trigger guard and ramrod pipe were found in both iron and brass. It weighed around 10 pounds (5 kg). It could be fitted with a 17 inch (430 mm) triangular cross-section bayonet.

Many variations and modifications of the standard pattern musket were found over its long history. The earliest version was the Long Land Pattern of 1722, 62 inches long (without bayonet) and with a 46 inch barrel. It was later found that shortening the barrel did not detract from its accuracy, but made the musket easier handling. 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.

Another notable version with a 39 inch (991 mm) barrel was manufactured for the British East India Company, and eventually adopted by the British Army in 1790 as the India Pattern.


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