Commentary On Snapsacks

John Rees, a critically acclaimed historian and perhaps one of the leading experts on arms and equipment of Massachusetts militiamen and soldiers during the American Revolution has been researching the term “snapsack” as used by New England troops between 1774 and 1776. According to Rees the The New England "snapsack" was not a tubular single-strap pack with drawstring closures. Instead, the term “snapsack” was a regional slang term that was used to describe a knapsack.

According to Rees research, the term snapsack was often used interchangeably with the term knapsack.

he basis for his conclusion? The pension application packet and supporting documentation of Jacob Francis.

Francis was a black man, born in New Jersey, contracted as an indentured servant when young, had his contract shifted from one master to another, and eventually ended up being taken by one of his masters from New Jersey to Salem, Mass., by way of St. Johns.

In October 1776, he enlisted in Colonel Sergeant's 16th Continental Regiment, and served with Lee's Division as it marched through New Jersey. He fought at Trenton, was discharged there, and made his way back to Amwell Township. He served in the New Jersey militia the rest of the war, and this is what one of his old comrades, Moses Stout, wrote under oath to support Francis’ pension claim following the American Revolution:

“I am acquainted with Jacob Francis … I recollect being out and serving a tour of duty of one month in the militia … Jacob was out and served with us that month – we went first to bound brook and from that to Pompton & Pyramus and lay there some time I recollect while we lay there there was a scouting party of 50 or 60 men turned out to go down to Hackensack & toward the English Neighbourhood as we called it. down toward Bergen & Paulus Hook Jacob went as one of the party while the was gone the Militia marched from Pyramus to [portion of page missing] … [learned] at that time that Jacob had been out in the New England service among the Yankeys as we then called them. Jacob called his, nap-sack “snap-sack,” we told him it was “nap sack” he said that they called it snapsack in the New England troops that he had been with.”

As a side note, "snapsack" and “knapsacks” were used interchangeably on the extensive lists of items lost by Massachusetts militiamen at the Battle of Bunker Hill.

Thus, it appears the term “snapsack” was a generic, archaic New England term for a knapsack and not the name for a specific 17th Century or early 18th Century era pack.

Minute Man National Historical Park

Last updated: October 21, 2021