THOMSON, Charles (1729-1824) Secretary to the Continental Congress. Autograph extracts of the minutes of the Continental Congress, "In Congress" [Philadelphia], 4 and 10 November 1775. 1¾ pages, folio, integral blank boldly docketed 8 December 1775, the sheet untrimmed, with original deckle edges preserved. In very fine condition.
"TO ARMS!": CONGRESS ESTABLISHES SPECIFICATIONS FOR THE FIRST CONTINENTAL WEAPONRY: MUSKETS AND BAYONETS, AND ORDERS THE PRODUCTION OF SALT-PETER FOR GUNPOWDER
Thomson's autograph extracts of four Resolves of the 2nd Continental Congress, when the colonies had begun earnest, emergency efforts for armed defense. One of the resolves sets penalties to be administered "to all who harbor deserters, knowing them to be such"; another authorizes the legislatures of the colonies "to empower General [Washington] to impress carriages, vessels, horses...for the transportation or march of the army"; yet another gives instructions to increase production of salt-peter for the manufacture of gunpowder, and directs that delegates to "send this resolution to their respective colonies & cause them to be printed and made public." The first of the four resolutions, though, is of particular interest in that it marks the very first attempt of the colonies to specify uniform weaponry for the soldiers of the newly created Continental Army: "Resolved: That...the several Assemblies or Conventions of the colonies...set & keep their gunsmiths at work to manufacture good firelocks with bayonets, each firelock to be made with a good bridle lock, three quarters of an inch bore and of a good substance at the breech, the barrel to be three feet 8 inches in length; the bayonet to be 18 inches in the blade, with a full ramrod, the upper end thereof to be trumpet mouthed, that the price to be given be fixed by the Assembly or Convention or Committee of Safety of each colony; and that until a sufficient quantity of good arms can be manufactured, they import as many as are wanted by all the means in their power..." (See Journals of the Continental Congress, 3:322-23 (text slightly different).
The supply of serviceable muskets for the newly American army was extremely meager, and while many who joined the Continental army brought their own arms (as did those who served in the colonial militia), the increasing variety of muskets of different bores necessarily posed a serious problem in the supply of ammunition. In spite of Congress's efforts, the problem persisted, and in early February 1776 Washington advised the President of Congress that there were nearly 2,000 men in camp at Cambridge without muskets. For a detailed account of the early problems faced by Washington in obtaining the most basic arms, see E. Risch, Supplying Washington's Army, Chapter 12. Thomson, an Irish-born immigrant, became a redoubtable figure in the movement for independence and was, in his role of secretary, the 57th individual to sign the Declaration of Independence. He served diligently from 1774 to 1789 as Secretary to the Continental Congress, to Congress under the Convention and to the Constitutional convention.