As I discussed at an event last week, the Continental Congress voted to raise rifle companies for the Continental Army in June 1775 even before it chose a commander-in-chief.
The first plan called for two companies from Virginia, two from Maryland, and six from Pennsylvania. The response from western Pennsylvania was so strong that by the end of the month, the Congress added two more companies from that colony.
Thus, about two-thirds of the riflemen who came to Cambridge in the summer of 1775 were Pennsylvanians. That surprised me because I’d read so much about Virginia riflemen.
So I went to Google Book’s Ngram viewer to see if my impression was off. I searched for the frequency of the phrases “Virginia riflemen,” “Pennsylvania riflemen,” and “Maryland riflemen” in literature between 1775 and 1860, stopping the search then so it wouldn’t be confused by results from the U.S. Civil War.
As you can see from the results, “Pennsylvania riflemen” showed up more often soon after those companies were formed. But then “Virginia riflemen” took over. The next century brought a printing boom, and in the 1820s and from 1840 on those Virginian troops were marching far ahead of the men from the other two colonies.
I’m not sure what to make of that. Certainly the most successful and famous rifleman of the initial regiments was Gen. Daniel Morgan of Virginia. But Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, was known for producing the actual rifles. Of course, John Adams would explain it by saying, “Virginian geese are always swan.”
In other riflemen research, at the Journal of the American Revolution Ian Saberton shared some sources about the marksmanship of those soldiers compared to British infantrymen. And here’s Hugh Harrington’s article on the work by David Rittenhouse and Charles Willson Peale to mount a telescopic sight on a rifle.