Revolutionary War

Gunpowder manufacturing during the American Revolution

A rare and fascinating collection of Revolutionary War period documents concerning the manufacture and distribution of gunpowder for the American cause. The five documents include several recipes for the all-important substance, the highlight of which is very rare manuscript instructions for powder sent to a man in New Milford, Connecticut, and two published in The Essex Journal and New Hampshire Packet in 1775 and 1776. Other documents detail the procurement from domestic producers, who were critical in the early days of the war to keeping the rebel armies supplied with black powder.

Of particular interest is an important document noting the inspection of 618 pounds of saltpeter, from early 1777. Manuscript Document Signed by the Select Men of Milford, Connecticut, 1p. 4to. (8 x 10 in.), Milford, January 13, 1777 in which select men Gideon Buckingham, Isaac Clark and Lewis Mallits, Jr. certify "...that a Quantity of Salt Petre offered for Inspection by William Attwater of Milford the maker thereof amounting to six hundred & eighteen Pounds 1/4 is well and carefully Inspected & according to our best judgment and Skill, the same is found to be pure, clean and dry, free from any corrupt Mixture. The said Willm Attwater having made Oath according to the directions of the Law in such case made & provided, which Salt Peter is received fro the use of this State..." At the middle right, Eneas Munson from the "Powdder Mill New Haven" wrote on January 15, 1777 that he had "Reinspected the above Salt Petre which is approv[ed in Quality as above amounting to Six Hundred four pounds, ten oz --" Attwater endorsed the verso on February 14, 1777 noting the receipt of £149.17.6 for the sale.

Saltpeter is the key ingredient for gun powder, together with brimstone, coal. The amount here would have produced approximately 750 pounds of black powder. The Continental Army had about 80,000 pounds of powder on hand in the Spring of 1775. But, by December, 1775 almost every ounce of this had been used (much, according to Washington, in a wasteful manner), placing the army in Cambridge in danger. Washington appealed for any quantity that could be produced and state governments began encouraging domestic powder manufacturing which was virtually nonexistent at the time. The entire struggle would rest upon the efforts of Attwater, Munson and others like them to supply the army's needs until more plentiful foreign supplies could be obtained. In all, domestic gunpowder manufacturers produced only 100,000 pounds of powder from 1775 through 1777, but it allowed the struggle to continue. Things improved dramatically as France clandestinely supplied the Americans beginning in late 1776, sending over 1,000,000 pounds helping ensure the continuation of the struggle and allowing for the much needed victory at Saratoga in the fall of 1777.

A few toned spots, usual folds, else bright and clean and in fine condition.

The early revolutionary effort to encourage domestic gunpowder manufacture took many forms, states as well as individuals did what they could to establish powder mills and saltpeter mines. Knowledge of the art of gunpowder manufacture was also freely distributed. Of interest is a manuscript Document, 1p. 4to. (7.5 x 11.5 in.), [no place, no date, addressed to Mr. Davis Marsh of New Milford on the address panel on verso. Entitled “To make Gun powder” the document provides a fairly detailed method for manufacturing the gunpowder so important to the American cause during the Revolutionary War. The recipe reads, in most part:

“Refine salt peter in this way, put it in a clean Iron kittle with water enough to desolve [sic it When it warm, after it is desovled [sic let it get cool & it shoot into cristals [sic take out those crystals & heat it again &^ so on till you get it all refin’d &c- Prepare you Brimstone in this way - tye [sic it up in a linen rag & boil it in weak lye about an hour then boil it in clear water till it becomes soft enough to rub fine with your thum [sic & finger -- To cole [sic you can get the heart of red ce[ader that is neither winding nor knotty you can burn your cole in an Iron pot or kittle by covering the top including close & heating it slowly on a fire &c Bass wood will do middling will but hemp stalks is said to be the best however ceder [sic will be as good perhaps -- Put all our materials into a wooden Morter with water enough when pounded a little to make it like hardish [sic morter [sic then pound 2 days at least, the more the better while pounding if it gets to[o dry, put in a little water so on till it is pounded enough, let it be dry enough to sift, or keep pounding at the last so as to have it dry enough to go through a sieve the size you want the grains, sift it through & let it dry & then take finer sieve & take out all the dust & wet the dust a little & pound it over again & so on till you get it all the seize you want -- Dry it in the sun &c. The water you use should be rain or soft clear water”
On the left margin, the amounts of the various ingredients is listed. Clean horizontal fold separation, usual folds, two moderately toned spots, otherwise very good condition.

The other two recipes in the collection are published in two editions of The Essex Journal and New-Hampshire Packet 4p. each, (10 x 15 in.). The first, from December 15, 1775, bears a nearly full-page article which notes that "As the know[l'edge of making SALT-PETRE, engages the attention of numbers, who at this critical time are zealous for their country's good, induces us to hope that by inserting the following, which we have taken from a late London magazine; we shall, at lest, gratify some, and in the meantime, disoblige none of our readers..." The article discusses the various sources of "Nitre". The second, from the January 19, 1776 edition, features an article by Henry Wisner (1725-1790) who gives detailed instructions for the production of powder. Wisner himself established three powder mills in the Hudson Valley and served as a member of the First and Second Continental Congresses. He notes that he had "...lately erected a powder mill in the south end of Ulster county..." and offers to "Any person inclining to build a powder-mill... a plan, with directions for the constructions of all it's [sic parts and utensils..." These articles appeared at that most critical time when Washington at Cambridge had virtually no gunpowder in his stores. There was only enough powder to fire off a cannon from Prospect Hill on occasion while the balance of the artillery stood silent. Had Howe learned of Washington's vulnerability, he could have destroyed the main body of the Continental Army in an afternoon. Fortunately Howe never gleaned this critical intelligence. When Washington finally received a quantity of powder in March, 1776, he ordered the Ticonderoga cannon hauled up onto Dorchester Heights. The appearance of American artillery that could bombard Boston directly convinced Howe to evacuate, ending the nearly year-long siege.

Also sold together with a manuscript Document Signed "Enoch Huse", 1p. (6 x 2.5 in.), Boston, December 22, 1787, a receipt for Nathaniel Cushing who purchased "1 Qr Cask Gunpowder" for the sum of £2.2. Nathaniel Cushing commanded a company in the regiment of Col. Joseph Vose. Vose's regiment participated at the Battles of Monmouth, Newport and Yorktown.

Margins slightly irregular, else very good.
Together this fine collection provides a vivid testament to the early days of the American Revolution when the initiative and hard work of many individuals helped to continue the struggle despite tremendous odds


Item: 54674

Price: $5,000.00
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 Revolutionary War Revolutionary War Revolutionary War Revolutionary War
Revolutionary War
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