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Pike and Spontoon from the Revolutionary War

During the Revolutionary War, both armies used similar weapons to fight. Cannons, mortars, and muskets were fairly standard for both sides. However, the American colonies had far less access to the materials needed to manufacture arms and ammunition and they were heavily reliant on importing from other countries and besieging British forts.[1] Gun powder, among other things, was one of the materials that the Americans so desperately needed in order to stand a chance against the British Army. Congress was doing all they could to prevent running out of supplies, but by February of 1776 the American colonies were dangerously low on gun powder. This concern prompted Benjamin Franklin to write a letter to General Charles Lee urging him to provide his troops with pikes, and possibly even bows and arrows since neither of these weapons needed gun powder to operate.[2] Franklin even went so far as to design his own pike that he intended the Pennsylvania regiment of volunteers to use.[3]

This pike from the Mercury Collection is not one of the ones designed by Franklin, but it was used in the Revolutionary War. Measuring over six and a half feet long, the pike was a beautifully simple weapon. It required no ammunition, no skill to operate, and it still left a fair bit of distance between the user and the enemy. Although this pine pole and iron spike look rather crude, the pike had a more refined looking relative that was also used in the American Revolution; the spontoon.

The spontoon got its name from the Italian word for sharp-point,[4]  and these weapons are easily identifiable by their elaborate tri-bladed heads. Unlike the pike though, this type of spear was used as a signaling tool rather than a weapon. Only officers carried spontoons, and they used them to nonverbally communicate with the infantry. If the spontoon was pointed forward the infantry marched, if it was resting on the ground the infantry halted, and if it was tilted backwards the infantry knew to retreat.[5] One of the only accounted for instances of a spontoon being used in combat comes from the Battle of Cowpens. The British were firing two heavy artillery guns at the American troops, and Colonel John Howard of the 2nd Maryland Regiment ordered his troops to seize the guns. Captain Anderson, obeying his colonel, marched with his men directly towards the cannons. As they approached, Anderson realized that one of the British soldiers was about to light the cannon that was aimed directly at him and his group. “At this critical moment he ran up, and, with the assistance of his spontoon, made a spring, and lit immediately upon the gun, and spontooned the man with the match”.[6] So not only can a spontoon be used as a communication device and a weapon, but in a pinch it doubles as a vaulting pole too.

Featured below are images of a pike and spontoon used during the Revolutionary War and now featured in Mercury One’s collection.


[1] Dull, Jonathan R. Benjamin Franklin and the American Revolution. University of Nebraska Press. 2010. p. 47

[2] The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, vol. 22, March 23, 1775, through October 27, 1776, ed. William B. Willcox. New Haven and London. Yale University Press. 1982. p. 342–344

[3] Dull, Jonathan R. Benjamin Franklin and the American Revolution. University of Nebraska Press. 2010. p. 47

[4] “Spontoon”. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 27 Apr. 2018.

[5] Duane, William. A Military Dictionary, or, Explanation of the Several Systems of Discipline of Different Kinds of Troops, Infantry, Artillery, and Cavalry. Philadelphia: Printed and published by William Duane. 1810. p. 650

[6] “Old Times”. Niles’ Weekly Register. Vol. 32. H. Niles. May 19, 1827. p.200


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