This Christmas got me thinking about the American Revolution. That whole crossing the Delaware to kill red coats keeps me warm on cold winter nights. As my thoughts usually do they turned to the weapons the men must have been carrying. We all know that many continental soldiers supplied their own guns, but surely arming a nation would take more than that. How do a group of colonials an ocean across from European civilization arm a military force? You do the only thing you can, you build your own rifles. How do you organize such an effort? That’s easy, you form a Committee, specifically Committees of Safety.
The 13 colonies were an extension of the English government, and plenty of loyalists occupied positions of power. Governors ruled at the monarch’s whim, and council members rules at the governor’s whim. These men controlled ports, and ensured the King’s will was law.
Think about that for a second, if you governed a colony by royal decree and held a position of power would you really want to give that up? Especially when the other side are some farmers with guns? Probably not. Most of these Colonial governments were not on the side of the future Americans, especially in the beginning of the war. So how could they organize to gather the funds to build and purchase rifles?
The young Patriotic colonials began forming Committees. These Committees were designed to aid in the organization of a military force and future government. The three most common Committees were the Committees of Inspection, Committees of Correspondence, and the Committees of Safety. These committees and their vague names formed a Shadow Government that organized contracts for supplies, gathered and dispersed intelligence, and monitored the Loyalist Governments. I could talk all day about the importance of Committees, but this is the Arms Guide so we are going to focus on the Committees of Safety.
Committees of Safety – How to Gather Guns on the Down low
Committees of Safety did a lot of things and one of the most important tasks was to get weapons into the hands of Revolutionary war soldiers. Before we go too far the Committees of Safety were the most common arms managers, but not the only. Since Committees of Safety were the most common for militia management we’ll keep things simple and use them as the overall term.
Committees of Safety organized and raised money to purchase and build rifles. American gunsmiths were contracted and employed by these Committees to produce what were basically copies of the Brown Bess rifle. This wasn’t as simple as we give you money, you give us guns. These men had to be dedicated to the cause. The Colonies had roughly 3,000 gunsmiths spread among them with the majority supporting the American Revolution.
These gunsmiths were contracted in secret with the Committees of Safety. The rifles they produced were often left unmarked. While most Arms companies would proudly stamp their name on the gun these men could not. They produced these guns under extreme risk. Should they ever have their name attached to supplying the rebellion they were to be tried for treason. They would likely face a short drop and a sudden stop.
Prior to foreign aid American gun builders were often on their own to supply the Army. To speed up supply they often fitted pieces of old guns and imported parts to form their rifles. Oftentimes construction was rough and corners were cut. A rifle could have a wide variety of foreign parts making that turned it into one functional rifle. On top of that broken rifles were often sent to the smiths for repair, adding even more to their workload.
Courtesy Rock Island Auction
These men did this in secret, often risking their own lives and livelihoods for the American dream. Imagine this being you. At home, hiding in your garage, building rifles to supply an army that has very little chance to succeed. Should you be found the best case was a penal colony an ocean away. The most realistic situations was finding yourself on the wrong side of a firing squad.
These men risked everything, and without these early arms builders the country didn’t have a chance. Fighting wars requires fighting weapons. These men were producing modern military rifles to arm their neighbors, friends, and likely family in a long and brutal war. The Committees of Safety and the gunsmiths that worked for them are often uncredited heroes in the war for independence. Even now it’s difficult to determine who they ever were due to their secretive work.
Did these rifles work? Clearly they must have since we are reading this with cockney accents. The rifles were modeled mostly after the Land Pattern Musket the British forces carried. Affectionately nicknamed the Brown Bess these were fighting rifles. Due to the restricted supply lines most Militia rifles were simplistic but functional.
Most of the differences are tied back to the brass used in their construction. This includes red brass forming due to defects in the brass forming. There is also less brass overall. Trigger guards are noticeably thinner, no brass would be spared for sling swivels, and in general the brass parts were smaller and thinner when they wouldn’t risk malfunction.
One thing all these rifles have in common is that they really have nothing in common. They lack uniformity with minor differences making every rifle unique in some way. Without a doubt the lack of uniformity likely made it harder to track rifles back to one manufacturer.
As much as certain political figures may try we can say these gunsmith’s risk wasn’t in vain. To do this day the modern American still has the ability to build their own rifle from nothing. It’s a fantastic liberty that many of us don’t take advantage of. While the gun grabbers have made it impossible for Joe Blow to build a real M16 in his garage he can build an AR 15, a Glock, a Sten gun, or really anything. NFA rules obviously apply, but in general you and I have more freedom when it comes to building firearms than any other country in the world.
Photo Credit Nate Schultz
Companies like ghostguns.com offer you everything you need to build an AR 15 in any caliber, Pistol Caliber carbines Glock, Sig, 1911 and AKs.
80-lower.com partners with manufacturers of 80% lowers, jigs, AR-15 80% build kits and AR-15 components to bring AR-15 builders and enthusiasts high-quality, state-of-the-art products at the best prices in the market.
Indianapolis Ordnance gives you the ability to build the historic Sten gun. Other companies offer the ability to build Glocks, 1911s, AKs, FALs, and even VZ 61 Skorpions. The sky is generally the limit.
Just like the Committee of Safety contracted gunsmiths you can do so in the privacy of your own home with simple hand tools. Of course, your life isn’t at risk. It’s one of my favorite things about this country.
Photo Credit Rick Dembroski
These days these rifles are quite rare and valuable. Many fakes exist, and many people assume any American made musket from that time is a Committees of Safety model. Most of the arms came from overseas and from being stolen from Royal armouries and warehouses. However, we can’t overlook the brave men who filled the arms gap, regardless of how small it was.
Sure, our laws aren’t perfect, but how many other countries allow you to build an AR 15 at home? This freedom was to brought to you by soldiers, and by gunsmiths. Enjoy it.
Featured Photo courtesy of Ghostguns.com