One of the items of important gear used during the American Revolution has to be the canteen. Obviously, the musket and bayonet are necessary, but without water an army can’t keep marching and …
One of the items of important gear used during the American Revolution has to be the canteen. Obviously, the musket and bayonet are necessary, but without water an army can’t keep marching and fighting. There were various types used, and my favorite is the so-called “cheesebox” style, which is a collector’s term. When you look at one you can see why they are called that. They look just like a cheesebox but with both ends closed. For a long time, people thought these were used during the War of 1812; however, a few dated examples and new research has proven that they were used prior to and during the American Revolution in large numbers.
They are constructed with two pine ends, or drums, about 7” in diameter which are attached to an ash hoop about 2 ¾” wide. The drums are attached with small wooden pegs and the hoop is nailed to itself and the drums. Many of them have two small iron wire loops on the sides and one on the bottom to be slung with a thin piece of linen cording, commonly called a line. There are also examples with three leather tabs nailed to the hoop so that either a line or a thin leather strap can be attached. They were cheap to make and were probably strong enough to withstand a season of campaigning before needing to be replaced. The earliest known example I have seen is in a private collection. It is marked “N.H./1771” on the drum, probably the original owner’s initials and the date. Documentation proves they were being produced as early as the 1750s.
In October 1774, Massachusetts formed its own Provincial Congress and began collecting tax money. Some of these monies were used to purchase supplies to form an army for the war that was brewing with England. Colonel Benjamin Lincoln (later general) from Hingham, Massachusetts was the man who was responsible for gathering a supply of canteens amongst other warlike stores. Hingham was a town known for their wood working skills, and many were probably produced in and around that town. By April 14, 1775, just five days before the outbreak of the war, there were 15,000 canteens stored in the Town of Concord at the home of Ephraim Potter.
After the Battle of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775, the canteens were shipped into the Siege of Boston for issue to the troops. Many of the supply books survive that show all the issues to units that surrounded Boston. Although 15,000 is a large number, they continued to be manufactured and shipped to the supply locations. When George Washington took command of the newly formed Continental Army, he asked for a list of all the arms and provisions on hand. Even with the many canteens that had been issued, on July 4, 1775, there were still 13,000 on hand.
These canteens, or “wooden bottles” as they are sometimes called, were issued to soldiers throughout the war, and supply documents list wooden canteens in stores when the war officially ended in 1783. While such a simple object, these canteens can be highly collectable, especially when marked with a date and the name of a soldier.
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