As soon as the American Revolution started, continental soldiers were required to be equipped with a firearm and a secondary melee weapon. But unlike the England’s militia regulations, in which the authorities controlled the arms and stored them in a secured central location, continental soldiers had to provide their own weapons. This issue was only made worse as many of the patriots left their personal arms at home for the hunting demands and physical protection of their families. When Washington arrived at Cambridge opposite Boston in July 1775, he found an estimated 15 percent of the troops without firearms and many others with arms not capable of military field service.
The immediate need of fire-power forced the Continental army to resort to existing guns (many of which were confiscated from previous wars), raiding local arsenals, confiscating Loyalist guns, purchasing civilian arms, seizing British supplies, making use of the 2,500 to 3,000 gunsmiths on the colonies, and arranging large private deliveries of assorted armaments from Europe’s professional arms dealers (of which Benjamin Franklin took part of). The patriots’ shortage was then relieved by supplies from abroad, including France, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, and Spain, making the American Revolution one of the most diverse in terms of countries involved and artillery.
Cannons were the most devastating weapon used in the American Revolution. Though it took as many as 14 soldiers to operate, cannons during the this time were some of the smallest in history. A cannon could fire a projectile for hundreds of yards and hit dozens of enemy soldiers in a single shot; it also helped that the war was fought in the open and that British troops fought in formation. Cannons were not restricted to fire solid cannon balls either, most cannons could also use gun shells. The two most innovated cannons involved in the Revolution were the Gallopers and Swivel Guns.
Gallopers were among the first mobile cannons in history. However, this improvement resulted near useless as most cannonballs weight between 2 to 50 pounds each and still needed to be transported by ox-carts.
Swivel Guns were small cannons named after their attachment mechanism. Despite their need of a fixed solid base, Swivel Guns could be pointed quickly to any direction and were one of the first cannons that could be operated by a single gunner.
Cannons used in the Revolution by both sides were usually made of either iron or bronze. Iron cannons were stronger and therefore could withstand bigger charges of gunpowder, allowing for a greater blast range. Bronze cannons however were much lighter, could be melted down and recast if they become unserviceable, and were almost immediately reusable if lost at sea, whereas even a short time immersed in sea-water was enough to destroy an iron cannon's usefulness.
Despite their imperfect accuracy and long reload time, muzzle-loaded muskets were the most commonly used type of firearms during the American Revolutionary War. To make up for their long reload time, it was common for muskets to have "Bayonets" (a blade attached to the end of the barrel, useful against cavalry and in close combat). The two most prominent muskets during the revolution were the "Brown Bess" (the standard issue British firearm) and the "Flintlock" (modeled after French muskets, made with a rugged design for battle rather than for hunting, and mass-produced in Springfield). Of the 300,000 muskets used by Continental troops during the Revolutionary War, over 80,000 were produced by the 2,500 to 3,000 colonist gunsmiths who constructed them with the parts of other firearms.
French Musket which will serve as a template for the "Flintlock"
Musket assembled prior to the Revolution. Even then colonists relied on reusing gun parts.
Musket manufactured in Goshen, Connecticut.
Hessian Musket slightly altered by the colonists
British Brown Bess
American hunting gun. Personal weaponry tended to be the most unique.
Mass-produced American musket. Its bulky design made it sturdy compared to the other firearms at the time.
French hunting gun that shares features with the British Brown Bess
Since long firearms were still far from perfect, it's safe to assume that short firearms were even less reliable. The most notable handgun involved in the American Revolution was the "Flintlock Pistol". Flintlock Pistols were used primarily as secondary weapons by soldiers. Reloading limited it to 2 or 3 rounds per minute and was very inaccurate. It was more popular in duels than it was in battle as it was very unlikely to kill anyone. Ironically, the gun that killed Alexander Hamilton was one of these.
Swords during the revolution were mostly used by high-ranking officers. As with personal firearms, swords were customized, often decorated with precious materials. George Washington considered his sword to be part of the uniform and many paintings depict him holding an unsheathed sword. Despite the American Revolution being fought mainly with muskets, swords ironically became common and mass-produced in America after the revolution.
Quite possibly the most surprising fact of American weaponry is that America first experimented with the concept of underwater vessels during the Revolutionary War. Invented by David Bushnell, "Turtle" was the world's first submersible. It was intended to attach explosives to British ships without being detected and though General Washington loathed this underwater manner of attack, calling it "ungentlemanly", Turtle was deployed three times. Unfortunately, all three resulting in failure.