Pirate or Naval Blunderbuss. A seafaring tale of these nasty weapons, and their many uses.
Unlike the many muskets, carbines and
pistols used throughout history, the blunderbuss was a fast and loose
weapon. Lacking in accuracy or range, it was a blunt and
crude weapon used for fighting in close quarters on land or
sea. Sometimes referred to as a "naval" blunderbuss or
"pirate" blunderbuss, they were actually in use on land as
well. Naval and merchant ships carried them for protection,
to repel boarders such as pirates, who used them also, for the opposite
purpose. Once a victim's ship was softened up by broadsides
from cannon and swivel gun fire, or caught off-guard by stealth, they
would move in and board. They would often attack by throwing
burning pots of sulfur, rotting fish or other nasty substances--called
stinkpots--onto the decks of their victim's ships in an attempt to
cause pandemonium and nausea, to repel and demoralize them before
attacking to loot, rape and pillage. They would
then board forcefully using axes, pistols, cutlasses, pikes and other
weapons in addition to the blunderbuss. One
of a pirate's best weapons was their reputation. The more
and merciless their reputation preceding them, the better to intimidate
their victims. Their flags would be revealed just before they
attacked, revealing their identity to strike terror into the hearts of
those being raided.
For the most part, a blunderbuss was a hybrid between a pistol and a carbine or musketoon. It had a short stock, but was usually fired from the hip, as it is too short to fire from the shoulder. It also had a vicious recoil, like a shotgun, so you really wouldn't want it up against your cheek when it went off, unless you're looking to loosen a few teeth. The blunderbuss was usually loaded with multiple lead balls rammed onto a large powder charge, although in a pinch, the user could drop in nails, rocks, broken glass or bundle shot--a nasty projectle consisting of a small bunde of metal rods that would blast out like a swarm of tiny spears. While some of these items might damage the barrel, they could be utilized in a fight if they became necessary. Blunderbusses were also used for crowd control or clearing the decks-- just having it in hand made for a strong deterrent to any challengers or mutineers. More compact than a musket--or for that matter, even a carbine or musketoon--but more intimidating than a pistol, it was relatively light and portable. They were sometimes attached to the railing of the ship or the gunwales, using a crude, mounting swivel to steady them for use as a makeshift boat gun to disperse people standing on the deck of a ship alongside. The large, flared muzzle did not improve the scatter of the shot used, but was more useful for ease of loading when in the heat of battle, especially on the deck of a rocking ship or climbing around in the rigging. Like mainstream weapons of the day, the blunderbuss was fired using a flintlock mechanism.
The earliest use of the
blunderbuss was in the 17th century, and continued until the middle of
the 19th century, around the 1840s. The heaviest use of the
blunderbuss was during the mid 1700s, when piracy was at an all-time
high. Many were left unemployed after the War of Spanish
Succession (1701-1714) and turned to piracy to make a living.
This is often referred to as the "Golden Age of Piracy", during which
time a large portion of maritime commerce was violated and
plundered. The British Royal Navy in particular waged a
vicious war against piracy. When the British caught pirates,
the punishment was extremely severe, and their chained bodies were
often hung out in public waterfront areas, and left to rot for months
as an example and warning to others. Much later,
blunderbusses were used by mail and stagecoach drivers to ward off
attacks on the road by bandits and highwaymen.
The most well-known blunderbuss weapons were produced by armories in England, France, and the United States. They were also produced in Poland and elsewhere. The armory at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia) produced a limited number of blunderbuss weapons. By far, the largest producers of the blunderbuss were the various gunmaking firms in and around London. Firms such as H. Nock, Waters & Co., Ketland & Co., and Rea of London.
Nation Of Manufacture: Britain, France, United States, Poland, others
Service Dates : Late 16th Century-Mid 19th Century
Variations: Numerous. Not much information on production
Ammunition: Lead Balls, Grapeshot, whatever else would fit in barrel
Wars: Various Maritime Raids and Skirmishes
Recent Prices at Auction for Originals: US $1,000-$6,000
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