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Benjamin Franklin And The Revolutionary War

Updated on April 26, 2013

Most people know that Benjamin Franklin went to France in the early part of the Revolution as the official diplomat and ambassador of the United States of America (or then known as the 13 colonies). But I bet you did not know that he wanted the U.S. to fight the war with bows and arrows.

In opposition against the finest army and navy in the world, the Colonists possessed no trained armed forces and no industry to supply their effort. The Northern American Colonies had been settled to enrich England by exporting raw materials to their factories and then serve as a market for their finished goods. Thus, the manufacturing facilities, such as those needed to produce arms and support a war, did not exist at the time.

At the beginning of the war there were no existing American military groups. There were only the individual militia systems of each colony. And most of the militia were only trained for a few weeks a year and armed with their own firearms. When Washington arrived at Cambridge in 1775, he found an estimated 15 percent of the troops were without firearms and many others with arms not capable of military field service.

In 1776, America had another issue, they had a shortage of gunpowder. In fact, gunpowder was so scarce it actually threatened to end the American Revolution before it began. In the 1700's, gunpowder was made by mixing saltpeter, sulfur, and charcoal. Two of these substances were abundant in America, but saltpeter was not. There were some mills in America that made saltpeter but there were a lot of impurities in it, which absorbed moisture, causing the powder not to light.

Because of this, in February 1776, Franklin proposed that the colonists arm themselves with bows and arrows. He called them "good weapons, not wisely laid aside." For some reason General Washington and the Continental Congress disagreed though.

Benjamin Franklin had many reasons for suggesting the use of the bow and arrow. The longbow was often more accurate. A skilled man could shoot sixteen arrows in the time it takes to fire and reload a musket and a typical, unskilled man could shoot on average four. You could use the bow in any weather, therefore you would not have to worry about the powder getting wet. You did not have to worry about the field of vision resulting from the powder being lit. Bows and arrows are more easily provided than muskets and ammunition. An arrow stuck to a man essentially immobilizes him, until it was extracted. These are just some of the reasons that Franklin offered through his suggestions.

I am sure that General Washington and the Continental Congress did not go along with Franklin for many reasons. I would think the biggest reason, was that they did not think the Americans would have been taken seriously by other nations. They wanted the European powers to see them as a respectable nation, one that could stand on its own two feet in the modern world. I think another good reason was that anyone could shoot a musket. All you had to do was pick it up, point it in the direction of the incoming soldiers, and pull the trigger.

Let's say General Washington and the Continental Congress agreed with Franklin though. I would have to imagine that the bow and arrow would have been very useful in many of the battles. Not all of the battles, but most of them during the Revolutionary War, were fought using Napoleonic tactics. Where men would stand in lines face to face with their enemies and fire into the opposing soldiers. If you had an infantry of archers in the rear firing volleys of arrows I believe that you could have done a lot of damage. And saved many American lives in the process. There were supposed to have been 25,700 American soldiers killed and 25,000 wounded during the Revolutionary War. How many of these men do you think would have lived if the U.S. would have had archers in their ranks?


A common musket used at the beginning of the war.

Do you think it would have been beneficial for the U.S. to have archers in their ranks?

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    • NateB11 profile image

      Nathan Bernardo 4 years ago from California, United States of America

      Very fascinating, I didn't know about any of that; didn't know gun powder was scarce and that Franklin was for the use of bows and arrows; the argument for bows and arrows makes a lot of sense and does make a person wonder if it would have been an advantage. It's also interesting that manufacturing wasn't going on as much as just shipping raw materials to England then America buying the finished products. Good info, very interesting.

    • daskittlez69 profile image
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      daskittlez69 4 years ago from midwest

      Thanks for stopping by NateB11, Frankling did so many things for this country. I am surprised that they didn not listen to his suggestion more just because of the man's credibility.

    • Admiral Murrah profile image

      Admiral Murrah 4 years ago from Texas

      A fascinating aspect of the war which I never heard of before. I never knew that archery was considered as an option at all. Just goes to show how there are still many things to learn.

    • daskittlez69 profile image
      Author

      daskittlez69 4 years ago from midwest

      It is crazy isn't it. One of my buddies and I, both have bachelor degrees in history, always have fun arguments and discussions about history. When he told me that I had to hit the books and find out for myself. Franklin also wanted the soldiers to use pikes.

    • Admiral Murrah profile image

      Admiral Murrah 4 years ago from Texas

      Pikes, that one is new as well. John Brown also wanted his followers equipped with pikes. Pikes were good on Medieval battlefields, but I question their effectiveness against American riflemen or British sharpshooters.

    • daskittlez69 profile image
      Author

      daskittlez69 4 years ago from midwest

      I agree, I would go along with the long bows. But I would rather have a knife and axe in my belt loops than a heavy pike when faced eye to eye with an enemy.

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 4 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      It could have been interesting to watch, the American settlers trying to hold back the Redcoats with bows and arrows. At Towton in early 1461 the Yorkist army broke the back of Henry VI's army with a hail of arrows. They faced a professional army, but these archers were professionals themselves, not militia. The redcoats could quite easily have been stopped in their tracks but for the fact that they had artillery.

      Arrows against artillery? It doesn't bear thinking of. Valley Forge and Yorktown would never have happened, would they... and Benjamin Franklin might not have got to fly his kite with the key on its tail.

      Interesting article, Mr Skittle.

    • daskittlez69 profile image
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      daskittlez69 4 years ago from midwest

      I appreciate you stopping by alancaster149. You are absolutely right, there is a huge difference between professional soldiers and untrained militia. Especially at the begining of the war.

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