In connection with Bill Poser's post "What did it mean to 'bear arms' in 1791?", I searched the Literature Online database for instances of the phrase "bear arms" whose authors were alive between 1650 and 1791, adding the options of variant spellings (e.g. "beare arms") and variant forms (e.g. "bearing arms") . I got 36 entries in Poetry, 38 in Drama, and none in Prose. My opinion, after a quick read of the 74 hits, is that all of them occur in a military context and are used in a military sense.
Usually this is straightforward, as in Robert Anderson's "Fair Sally" (1798): "When Honour bade her sons bear arms, And boldly meet their country's foe …" Sometimes the implication of military or militia service is implicit, e.g. Wordsworth, in a footnote to "Song at the Feast of Brougham Castle": "for the Earl was no child, as some writers would have him, but able to bear arms, being sixteen or seventeen years of age".
This sample is small, and weighted towards poetic language, so that I don't think it really contributes a great deal to the argument, except perhaps in a statistical sense. However, there were a number of examples whose content I thought was interesting, quite apart from any bearing they might have on D.C. v. Heller. I'll give one in this post, and perhaps some others later on.
In 1776, John Leacock published The Fall of British Tyranny, or, American Liberty Triumphant. A Tragi-Comedy of Five Acts, As Lately Planned At the Royal Theatrum Pandemonium, at St. James. The passage that discusses bearing arms is most interesting, to my mind, as an example of political propaganda in a (mock?) paranoid style.
Lord Paramount: Now then for a line of politics——I propose to begin first by taxing America, as a blind——that will create an eternal animosity between us, and by sending over continually ships and troops, this will of course produce a civil war ——weaken Britain by leaving her coasts defenceless, and impoverish America; so that we need not fear any thing from that quarter. Then the united fleets of France and Spain with troops to appear in the channel, and make a descent, while my kinsman with thirty thousand men lands in Scotland, marches to London, and joins the others: What then can prevent the scheme from having the wish'd for effect? This is the main point, which keep to yourself.
Lord Mocklaw: If it has heretofore, failed 'tis impossible it should fail now; nothing within the reach of human wisdom was ever planned so judiciously; had Solomon been alive and a politician, I would have sworn your Lordship had consulted him.—But I would beg leave to hint to your Lordship the opposition to be apprehended from the militia of England, and the German forces that may be sent for according to treaty.
Lord Paramount: As to the militia, they are half of them my friends, witness Lancaster, Manchester, Liverpool, &c. &c. &c. the other half scarce ever fired a gun in their lives, especially those of London; and I shall take care by shaking the keys a little to have such officers appointed over them, who are well known to be in my interest. As to the German forces, I have nothing to apprehend from them; the Parliament can soon pass an act against the introduction of foreign troops, except the French or Spaniards, who can't be called foreign, they are our friends and nearest neighbours. Have you any thing further to object against the probability of this plan?
Lord Mocklaw: Nothing, my Lord, but the people of Ireland, who must be cajol'd or humbugg'd.
Lord Paramount: As to that, let me alone, I shall grant the Roman Catholics, who are by far the most numerous, the free exercise of their religion, with the liberty of bearing arms, so long unjustly deprived of, and disarm in due time all the Protestants in their turn.
Lord Mocklaw: That will be a noble stroke, the more I consider it, the more I'm surprized at your Lordship's profound wisdom and foresight: I think success is certain.
You could argue that when Lord Paramount discusses his plan to "grant the Roman Catholics … the free exercise of their religion, with the liberty of bearing arms", he's referring to an individual right. But it seems to me that the context pretty clearly has to do with the freedom to participate in a militia, not (say) with hunting.
According to LION's biographical sketch:
[John Leacock] was a Philadelphia metalsmith and anonymous literary supporter of the American Revolution. He was born in Philadelphia to John and Mary Cash Leacock in 1729. He entered his father's business by apprenticeship to a silversmith and, in the early 1750s, opened his own shop. He was well connected in the unique Philadelphia atmosphere of industry coupled with learning. Benjamin Franklin was married to a cousin, and Leacock numbered among his friends leading tradesmen, writers, and politicians. […]
In 1767, Leacock retired from his business to live on a country estate, where he pursued interests in agriculture and politics and continued to write for the cause of colonial liberty. The First Book of the American Chronicle of the Times (1774-1775) was a series of 6 anonymous pamphlets written by Leacock as a biblical allegory. The pamphlets presented a sometimes humorous and satirical depiction of the events leading to the Revolution and were written as the events happened. The pamphlets were popular for their entertainment value, and the anti-British political content had resonance among a populace increasingly ready for confrontation with England.
Encouraged by the success of this work and spurred by the urgency of events, Leacock then wrote a drama, The Fall of British Tyranny; or American Liberty Triumphant (1776). Again published and produced anonymously, this propaganda piece purported to show the personal venality and more pervasive general evils of British rule.