Research About the Patch Knife

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“The patch knife is a standard part of any rifleman’s equipment. But what is a patch knife? A patch knife can be said to be any kind of a knife that will cut a patch and there are a multiplicity of blades, which can do the job. They may be loosely placed into three main classifications:

1. Knifes which were carried in a scabbard attached to the front shoulder strap of the hunting pouch.

2. Belt knives of every kind and description.

3. Pocket or folding knives, which would be carried in the pouch, coat pocket or pants pocket.”

Source; The Kentucky Rifle Hunting Pouch

By Madison Grant

Published by Madison Grant, 1977

The quote above is on page 166

Of the 133 hunting bags shown in the above referenced book, which covers the time frame from 1750 to 1850 (There were two or three Indian bags, which I did not include) 81 were shown with no evidence of a patch knife anywhere on the bag. 7 were shown as having a knife sheath sewn to the backside of the pouch, and 25 had the sheath sewed to the front shoulder strap.

In the six bags shown in “Accouterments”, 3 did not have knife sheaths, 1 had a sheath sewed to the pouch, and 2 had sheaths sewed to the front shoulder strap.

Source: Accoutrements, 1750-1850

Author: James R. Johnston, pgs. 67-70

Publisher: Golden Age Arms Co.

“All back woods men carried blades, commonly called ‘hunting’, ‘scalping’, and ‘long’ knives. Actually the so-called ‘scalping knives’ or ‘scalpers’ which the British were trading to the Indians at the western forts had a relatively short blade, virtually the same as the common butcher knives.

The ‘long knife’ or ‘hunting knife’ that the rifleman carried was a much larger weapon, usually eight to fourteen inches long. Often these knives were either homemade or the product of a local blacksmith. Patch knives were made in a variety of ways, and no two of these knives were ever alike. These knives were primarily used to cut patches, pieces of cloth or leather which were wrapped around the rifle ball to insure a tight fit against the rifling in the barrel of the weapon. Handles were often made of either antler, wood, or cow horn, and were attached to the three or four-inch blades with a mixture of pine resin. These knives were carried in a sheath which was fastened either to the strap of the hunting pouch or directly behind the pouch itself.”

Source: The Frontier Rifleman

Author: Richard B. LaCrosse, Jr. Pg. 135

His arms, Clothing, and Equipment During the Era of the American Revolution, 1760-1800

Publisher: Pioneer Press, Union City , Tennessee

Conclusion

In all this research listed above, plus many books that were consulted, not in one instance was it shown or mentioned of any primary sources, or surviving examples that show any type of “neck knife” as being used. This is not conclusive enough as in the first source mentioned, of the 113 bags, 81 had no evidence of any type of sheath attached anywhere on the bag. Is this proof that the 81 bags were used in conjunction with “neck knives” or that the belt or “butcher” knife was used for any and every application? In my opinion, I believe that the 81 bags without knives, had for a trusty companion a first rate “butcher “knife, as I have found no evidence to the contrary of a hanging knife around the neck.

John T. Misskelley

In my research – secondary sources – I found little reference to neck knives. Only in Madison Grant’s book The Knife in Homespun America did I find any listed. Pages 124 and 129 both show knives with sheaths attached to loops too small for a waist that had to go about the neck. They are both Native American, 14 to 18 inches in length, and come from Alaska and British Columbia ! The third reference is to a ca. 1770 to 1800 dagger, but it has a 6-inch blade, is probably 10 inches overall, and attributed as “Indian”. Madison says that, “This type of knife was usually worn in a leather scabbard suspended on the chest by a neck thong.”

Bob McCann

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