03 January 2022
I spent several years researching flintlock rifles, as they were actually used in the 1750's. There were two type, the Jaeger that used an oversized ball driven down the bore with a mallet, and lead patched ball. They considered the proper size was that a naked ball would fall of its own weight all the way to the back of the barrel. This was because they had no standard patch; chewed piece of thin leather, cloth material or two oak leaves. Muzzles were recessed, forget the proper term, so you thumb started the ball below the crown.
Manufactured cloth in the US wasn't done until after the Revolution, as it was forbidden in colonial days. They think cloth patches and patch knives didn't come into common use until after the War of 1812. There is no record of ever having short starters taken west for the fur trade rendezvous.
The earliest I ever found mention of "starters" was when picket bullets for match rifles became popular, post 1845. For classic rifles, the earliest I can find in Dillion's book The Kentucky Rifle published in the 1930's. Since he based everything on what he saw being used in the 1920's and 1930's, he assumed it had always been done that way.
If you can find the movie "Last of the Mohicans" with Daniel Day-George from 1992. The technical director, Mark Baker, is world renowned for his historical anthropology of the period. You will find great scenes of slam loading with no starters or patch knives.
Hope that is of some use to you.