J'Beard the Pirate Welcomes Ye TO Me Weapons Page
Pirates were walking arsenals when it came to hardware. To board a ship and take it and all aboard captive required a number of tools good in close combat. Some more civilized, some more practical, and some just plain lethal...
The Musketoon of 1758 had a brass barrel and the standard flintlock firing mechanism. This rifle was single shot, loaded and packed from the mouth of the barrel. This weapon was less accurate than a musket, but far more effective at close range. In truth it was something of a small cannon in terms of how it was employed. It is doubtful that a pirate would carry more than one rifle, if any, unlike the rest of the weaponry.
The Blunderbuss was much like the Musketoon in that it was a close range, devastation inducing tool. The blunderbuss is perhaps a more popularly known name for the same kind of large shot rifle. In most cases a blunderbuss is considered the same type of rifle as the musketoon, with the distinction more to be made in the history of firearms than the type of weapons considered.
The Musket, a general term used for single shot rifles, was one of the first attempts at small arms with some accuracy. The Musket eventually became the model for the rifle, though, in the days of pirates, the Musket was only slightly more accurate than the blunderbuss. The Muskett ball was smaller and designed to shoot straighter, but ultimately could be counted on less to cause the kind of damage that a blunderbuss or musketoon could cause at close range. The thinking was that a musket could kill a single person, perhaps by selection, whereas a blunderbuss would cause havok for many in smaller doses. Still, be it Musket, Musketoon, or Blunderbuss a pirate probably only owned one of the varieties of rifle.
Unlike the rifles, pistols seemed to be a pirate's best friend. In most pictures of pirates, it is clear that a number of pistols were carried by each pirate. In most pictures of Black Beard, at least a half dozen pistols, assumed loaded and ready, can be seen in his sash. The pistol of the day was a flintlock (presentation) mechanism exactly like the rifles, and a single shot was also loaded via the barrel.
The Powder box or Powder horn was a key element to the small arms that pirates depended on. Wet powder was useless and it was the job of the powder horn to keep gunpowder ready for action. A pirate probably didn't carry a powder horn or box with him during combat, but relied on a good container to keep his powder dry for the preparatory moments before close combat. A pirate would load a number of pistols, perhaps a rifle, and then set to action, leaving his powder in such a case. In the case of prolonged combat, there were usually pirates designated to loading small arms to be provided to other pirates who would discharge them.
The Dagger was a general classification for a small knife. Every pirate carried a dagger of some sort for more than just combat. Such a knife was used for eating as much as fighting. The dagger was considered a basic adornment of any pirate, and eventually elaboration within the category of "dagger" happened just like with in everything else piratical!
A Dirk was a particular type of dagger or small knife. In Treasure Island it is a dirk, like this one from the Eighteenth century, that is thrown at Jim Hawkins. It is possible that such a dirk was carried by Naval men as well as pirates, but, still, to a seaman a dagger was a dagger. The style of the small cutlery was a matter of taste and personal comfort.
As inn the case of this eighteenth century dirk, many daggers had a case or scabbard in which they were kept. In pratical days, or in the early days of the Navy, keeping weapons clean and functional was on the top of the priority list. For a dagger to become so decayed that it no longer threatened to function was a horrible crime among seamen. Beyond the need to keep a honed edge on cutlery, many pirates had a sense of flash and simply liked the ornate scabbards to hold their weapons while not in use.
Along with small arms and cutlery, a pirate needed a way to cut through riggings and nets to disable a ship or to get to the treasure aboard. In some cases the treasure was simply to disable the ship and take those aboard hostage. In any case, the tool of choice, or of need, was a simple boarding axe. Of course, such an axe could be used on people as a weapon, but in most cases the axe was used in the process of boarding and disabling a ship.
The Cutlass is perhaps the most obvious image of the pirate, perhaps second to the cannon! The swashbuckling pirate with his blade blazing a path to treasure is so etched into the myth of piracy that the weapon can hardly live up to the image. In truth, the cutlass was the hand to hand combat weapon used when all shots had been fired from smaller arms. Pirates were very pragmatic people and, in this, knew that a shot from a gun was better than a slash from a sword. Still, in the face of an empty firearm, the pirates were determined enough to use such larger cutlery as a means to the same end. It eventually proved irrelevant HOW the treasure was to be taken...as long as it was taken!