Documentation for knapsacks and blankets in use by the Massachusetts Militia in 1775

A firing line of Revolutionary War militiamen shown from behind firing their muskets

NPS photo

The following is a compilation of primary source documentation for knapsacks being worn, nearly universally, by minute men and militiamen on April 19, 1775. We are indebted to the following historians for the submissions: Joel Bohy, Don Hafner, Alex Cain, Henry Cooke and Jim Hollister.

What is a “snapsack?”

While, previously thought to reference a tubular sack closed at one end with a drawstring and slung over the right shoulder, current scholarship indicates snapsack and knapsack were interchangeable terms for, a bag worn on the back and secured by two shoulder straps over the shoulders. Mention of both terms can be found in “A Dictionary of the English Language: In Which The Words are deduced from their Originals, Explained in their Different Meanings”, Samuel Johnson, A.M., W.G. Jones, Dublin, 1768,

  • Snapsack {snappsack, Swedish} A soldier’s bag

  • Knapsack {from knappen, to eat] The bag which a soldier carries on his back, a bag of provisions.

Historian John Rees provides evidence of the word “snapsack” being “a regional slang term” in his work “Commentary on Snapsacks.” In the pension application of Jacob Francis, a fellow soldier testified: “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 “snapsack,” we told him it was “nap sack” he said that they called it snapsack in the New England troops that he had been with.”i

The Knapsack in Massachusetts Militia History

In 1693 the Province of Massachusetts Bay, now operating under a Royal Charter, passed a comprehensive militia law:
V. THAT every listed Soldier and other Housholder (except Troopers) shall be always provided with a well fixt Firelock Musket, of Musket or Bastard Musket Bore, the Barrel not less than Three Foot and a half long; or other good Fire Arms, to the Satisfaction of Persons liable to Train. Clerk to take a List four times a Year. Persons to attend Duty where listed, till orderly dismissed. Penalty on such as shall shift to avoid Listing. Foot Soldiers, how to be armed 3 the Commission Officer of the Company; a Snapsack, a Collar with Twelve Bandaleers, or Cartouch-box; One Pound of good Powder, Twenty Bullets fit for his Gun, and Twelve Flints; a good Sword or Cutlash, a Worm and Priming-wire fir for his Gun, on Penalty of Six Shillings for want of such Arms as is hereby required, and Two Shillings for each other Defect, and the like Sum for every Four Weeks he shall remain unprovided; the Fine to be paid by Parents for their Sons under Age, and under their Command; and by Masters or Heads of Families, for their Servants, other than Servants upon Wages. ii

Were these recommendations followed?

On December 10, 1774, as Massachusetts was preparing for war against Great Britain, the Provincial Congress passed the following resolution. December 10, 1774: “each of the minute men, not already provided therewith, should be immediately equipped with an effective firearm, bayonet, pouch, knapsack, thirty rounds of cartridges and balls.” iii

The Provincial Congress, being on dubious legal grounds, only made recommendations to the towns. On November 21, 1774, the Town of Danvers resolved its minute companies would be equipped with “an effective fire-arm, bayonet, pouch, knapsack, thirty rounds of cartridges and balls.”

On December 26, 1774, Roxbury ordered “Militia minutemen [to] hold themselves in readiness at a minutes warning, compleat in arms and ammunition; that is to say a good and sufficient firelock, bayonet, thirty rounds of powder and ball, pouch and knapsack.”

In January 1775, Braintree required each soldier furnish himself with “a good fire lock, bayonett, cartouch box, one pound of powder, twenty-four balls to fitt their guns, twelve flints and a knapsack.”

From Bridgewater, there is the Journal of Arthur Harris, 1775 "each soldier to provide himself with a good fire arm, a steel or iron ram rod and a spring for same, a worm, a priming wire and brush, a bayonet fitted to his gun, a scabbard and belt thereof, a cutting sword or tomahawk or hatchet, a . . .cartridge box holding fifteen rounds . . . at least, a hundred buckshot, six flints, one pound of powder, forty leaden balls fitted to the gun, a knapsack and blanket, [and] a canteen or wooden bottle to hold one quart [of water]." iv

On March 20, 1775, the town of Lincoln voted funds, not to pay its minute men but instead to supply them with the equipment recommended by the Provincial Congress months before: “Voted as followes that the Sum of fifty two Pounds four Shillings be and is hereby granted to provide for those persons who have inlisted as munite men each one a bayonet belt Catridge Box Steal ramer gun stock and knapsack: they to attend military Exercise four hours in a day twice a week till the first Day of May next.” The town did not intend to purchase the required equipment and distribute it to each Lincoln minute man. Instead, it relied upon each man to acquire his own, to be reimbursed later. For men who could not afford to pay out-of-pocket for accoutrements and then wait for reimbursement, the town “voted to choose a committee to provide the aforesaid accoutrements for such persons as was not able to provide for themselves on the town’s cost.”2 The special allotment of £52 was sizeable, equal to more than a third of the town’s annual budget in 1775. Ultimately, £49 was paid out. Of Lincoln’s sixty-two minute men, forty-three collected reimbursements directly, and the town committee equipped perhaps seventeen others.v

In November 1775, the town of Springfield voted to compensate those who contributed to the war effort. “To Ariel Collins, for 43 cartouch-boxes, £1. Is. 6d.; to Thomas Bates, for a gun and bayonet, £2. 10s.; to Luke Bliss, for a gun and bayonet, £2. 8s.; to Capt. Thomas Stebbins, for the use of a gun, 6s.; to Timothy Bliss, for a large homespun blanket, 15s.; to John Burt, for a blanket, 9s.; to Oliver Burt, for a gun delivered Sylvanus Hale, £2; to John Warner, for exercising as a minuteman, 9s.; to Seth Storer Cobourn, for a horse to assist the minute men when they marched from this town to Headquarters near Boston, in April, 1775; 13s. . . . to George Cotton, Jr., for a blanket and knapsack delivered Benoni Barrister, 13s. 6d." vi

In early June 1775, a Chelmsford militia company and alarm list assembled in town for an inspection. 83 Militiamen mustered, of which it was noted " “The whole number of Equipments in the Training Band and Alarm List Present... 83 Good Fire Arms...31 Steel Ram-rods...58 worms...74 Priming — wire and Brushes...74 Belt and Scabboard Bayonets...3043 Bulletts...63 Cartridge-Boxes of 15 Rounds...83 Blanket...5339 Buck-Shott...72 Canteen.” vii

Other documentation includes the claims for losses from the Battle of Bunker Hill. For example, there are the following claims in the Massachusetts State Archives researched by Joel Bohy.

Jeremiah Shattuck of Cat. John Nuting’s Company, Col. Prescott’s Reg’t, who was killed
One gun of the value of -£1-16-0
One blanket 10/
one powder horn, cartridge box -£0-17-0
One strait boded coat & jacket valued at -£1-8-0
One shirt 6/8 a pair of good trowsers 6/ - £0-12-8
A hat 8/
[one] pair stockings 2/8
shoe buckles 4/8 - £0-15-4
One silk handkerchief 4/6
pocket Do. 1/4 - £0-5-10
One pair of shoes 3/
a knap sack 1/6 - £0-4-6
Tumpline 1/
a uniform coat 25/ - £1-6-0

Samuel Walker, Capt. Jonathan Stickney’s Company, Col Ebenezer’s Bridge’s Regiment
To one gun & bayonet lost at the fight at Bunker Hill. Cost him 48/
To 1 Great coat made of duffle lost at the same place about half worn 0-8-0
To 1 jacket 2/, 1pr stockings, 2/8 - 0-0-8
To 1 snapsack & tumpline – 0-2-6

From New Hampshire: viii

Cambridge, December ye 22d, 1775 This may certify that we the Subscribers in Capt. Reuben Dow's Company in Col. Wm. Prescott's Regt in the Continental Army, that we lost the following Articles in the lake engagement on Bunker's Hill at Charlestown on ye 17th of June last.

James McConnor, 1 gun, 1 napsack, 1 hat, 1 Jaccat (?), 1 tumpline
Wm. Nevins, 1 knapsack, 1 jacket, 1 tumpline
Minott Farmer, 1 knapsack, 1 sword, 1 tumpline
Saml Hill, 1 knapsack, 1 tumpline
Ephraim Blood, 1 gun, 1 knapsack, 1 tumpline
James Macintosh, 1 knapsack, 1 jacket, 1 tumpline
Libbeus Wheeler, 1 knapsack, 1 hat, 1 tumpline
David Farnsworth, 1 knapsack, 1 tumpline
Noah Worcester, 1 knapsack, 1 tumpline
Elias Boynton, 1 gun
Francis Blood, 1 knapsack, 1 tumpline
Abel Brown, 1 gun, 1 cartridge box, 1 tumpline
Nahum Powers, 1 knapsack, 1 hat, 1 jacket, 1 bayonet, 1 tumpline
Isaac Stearns, 1 gun, 1 knapsack
Israel Kenney, 1 knapsack, 1 tumpline
Thoss Pratt, 1 gun, 1 knapsack, 1 tumpline
Nathl Patten, 1 knapsack, 1 jacket, 1 tumpline
David Ames, 1 knapsack, 1 cartridge box, 1 tumpline
Saml Jewett, 1 knapsack, 1 tumpline
Wm. Wood, 1 gun, 1 knapsack, 1 tumpline
Benja Cumings, 1 knapsack, 1 tumpline
Francis Powers, 1 gun, 1 bayonet
Wm. Adams, 1 knapsack
Josiah Fisk, 1 knapsack, 1 cartridge box, 1 tumpline
Wilder Chamberlin, 1 knapsack
Nehemiah Pierce, 1 knapsack, 1 hat, 1 tumpline
Abel Conant, 1 knapsack, 1 tumpline
Uriah Wright, 1 knapsack, 1 tumpline (1)

Making sure its soldiers were properly armed AND equipped was essential to the Massachusetts preparations and war effort. These efforts even gained the attention of General Thomas Gage. "each man is supplied even to a knapsack, canteen and blanket and directed to bring a week’s provisions with him when called to the field. A number of bell-tents are directed to be made. Shovels, pickaxes, handbarrows, billhooks, axes, hoes, etc. are already provided"ix

Would militiamen rushing to answer an alarm bother to take their knapsacks?

From the Diary of Israel Litchfield () Alarm given of the Regulars landing at Hingham (actually Grape Island off Great Hill, Weymouth, but near to Hingham) and the minute company mustered to march "So Daniel, and I and Lot and Amos and John Whitcom Came home and got our guns, Catoos boxes, knapsack & c. & went down to Cohasset" x

Finally, in early 1776, the Massachusetts legislature amended the militia laws. The law of 1693 mentioned snapsacks but made no reference to blankets. Based on wartime experiences, the new law stated: “[Each officer and private soldier] “...shall equip himself, and be constantly provided with a good FireArm, with a steel or iron ramrod, and a spring to retain the same, a worm, priming wire and brush, and a bayonet fitted to his gun, a scabbard and belt therefore, and a cutting sword, or a tomahawk or hatchet, a pouch containing a cartridge box, that will hold fifteen rounds of cartridges at least, a hundred buck shot, a jack-knife and tow for wadding, six flints, one pound of powder, forty leaden balls fitted to his gun, a knapsack and blanket, a canteen or wooden bottle sufficient to hold one quart.”xi

Can we say with absolute certainty that EVERY militiaman and minute man who answered the Lexington Alarm carried with him a knapsack and blanket? Of course not. However, this documentation shows that it was very common and in the vast majority. In living history we seek to portray the common, the usual, the standard instead of playing up the exceptions.

For more on blankets, please see “In the Late Action, Many of the Soldiers Lost Their Blankets" - The Use of Blankets by Massachusetts Forces in the Spring of 1775 by Alexander Cain "In the Late Action, Many of the Soldiers Lost Their Blankets" - The Use of Blankets by Massachusetts Forces in the Spring of 1775 (U.S. National Park Service) (


i John Reese, “Commentary On Snapsacks (U.S. National Park Service) (”, accessed 1/25/2023.

ii ACTS and LAWS Passed by the Great and General Court or Assembly of the Province of the Massachusetts-Bay in New-England; Begun and Held at Boston the Eighth Day of November, 1693. An Act for Regulating of the Militia in John Welch, comp., trans. ”Laws, Order, and Resolutions Concerning the Militia of Massachusetts-Bay 1693-1775“ Scribed, November 2013,

iii Massachusetts Provincial Congress, The journals of each Provincial congress of Massachusetts in 1774 and 1775, and of the Committee of safety, with an appendix, containing the proceedings of the county conventions-narratives of the events of the nineteenth of April, 1775-papers relating to Ticonderoga and Crown Point, and other documents, illustrative of the early history of the American revolution (Boston, Dutton and Wentworth, Printers to the state, 1838) accessed via, 1/25/2023,

iv Cain, Alexander, Historical Nerdery: "Provide for 50 Minute Men a Cartridge Box, Knapsack, and Thirty Rounds of Cartridge and Ball" - Massachusetts Wartime Buildup Efforts On the Eve of Lexington and Concord ( January 9, 2022

v Don Hafner “The Things They Carried” - The Lincoln Minute Men on April 19, 1775 (Unpublished paper, 2022) Lincoln First Book of Records 1754-1806, Lincoln Library Archives, Administrative Records, Document 2003.015.1.2 3 • The town committee received £14-10s-7d for its expenses, enough to equip seventeen soldiers. The record does not indicate specifically what equipment the committee acquired nor the men who received it. There were eighteen minute men who were not paid reimbursements, and some of those may have been outfitted by the town committee. See “Book of the Treasurers Accompts in Lincoln, 1755-1788,” Lincoln Library Archives, Treasurers Records, Document 2003.022.1.1. Payments to the town committee are in entries for February 28, 1776, and July 9, 1777

vi Cain, Alexander, Historical Nerdery: "Provide for 50 Minute Men a Cartridge Box, Knapsack, and Thirty Rounds of Cartridge and Ball" - Massachusetts Wartime Buildup Efforts On the Eve of Lexington and Concord ( January 9, 2022

vii ibid.

viii Losses of Hollis Men in the Battle of Bunker Hill ( Transcribed from “Documents and Records Relating to the Province of New Hampshire From 1764 To 1776. Compiled and Edited by Nathaniel Bouton, D.D. Printed by Nashua: Orren C. Moore, State Printer, 1873.”

ix Documents of the American Revolution 1770-1783, (Colonial Office Series) Volume IX, Transcripts 1775, January to June, Edited by K.G. Davies, Irish University Press, Dublin, 1975, pp. 66

x “Diary of Isreal Litchfield” New England Historical and Genealogical Society Journal, October 1975), 365.

xi “The Militia Act; Together With The Rules and Regulations for the Militia” Published by Order of the General Assembly, Boston; Printed by J. Gill, in Queen Street. M,DCC,LXXVI (1776) , google,

Last updated: January 25, 2023