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Gentlemen of Fortune

Pirate Living History 1680-1725

The weapons section has been spread across several pages to ease off on the bandwidth. Below are the hot links to the various topic categories.

For those of you that have "googled" your way here, we want to welcome you aboard, and at the same time, encourage you to take a look at the rest of the site. There is a lot of valuable information and resources for historical piracy that you may find of interest.

Let me start by saying though, that if you do not already have a weapon, I don't think that the best thing to do is to run out and get one. Actually, I rank weapons down on the list of things to get if you are just starting for many reasons, and if you would like to get an idea of what I think are the most important, you can check them out at my Sailors and Pirates Top 8 List.

As said on the previous pages, we encourage you to talk with the members of the group you are joining to find out what is most suitable for the kinds of events and activities you will be taking part in.



Blackbeard "Festooned" with Weapons

From Wikipedia, the Free Online Encyclopedia, French courtier Marin le Bourgeoys made the first firearm incorporating a true flintlock mechanism for King Louis XIII in 1610. The development of firearm lock mechanisms had proceeded from matchlock to wheellock to snaphance and miquelet in the previous two or three centuries, and each type had been an improvement, contributing some design features which were useful. Monsieur le Bourgeoys fit these various features together to create the flintlock mechanism. The new system quickly became popular, and was known and used in various forms throughout Europe by 1630.

Unlike most weapons systems and configurations, which last a few decades, the flintlock mechanism was center stage for both military and civilian use for over 200 years. Not until the Reverend Alexander John Forsyth, a Scottish minister, invented the rudimentary percussion system in 1807 did the flintlock system begin to slide into oblivion. The slide was a slow one, even at that, since the percussion system was not widely used until around 1830, and the flintlock continued in common use until the time of the American Civil War.

The Flintlock

The following photographs show both sides of the flintlock mechanism, along with descriptions of the annotated parts.

Flintlock Mechanism

Diagram of Flintlock (Front)

A- Lockplate B- Feather of frizzen spring C- Frizzen spring screw D- Mainspring retainer stud E- Frizzen spring F- Tail of frizzen G- Frizzen pivot screw H- Frizzen (hammer, steel) I- Face of frizzen J- Pan K- Flashguard L- Cock (hammer) M- Lower (fixed) vise jaw N- Upper (moveable) vise jaw O- Vise screw (cock screw) P- Sear spring screw tip Q- Tail of lockplate R- Sear pivot screw tip S- Tumbler screw

Flintlock Diagram

Diagram of Flintlock (Rear)

A- Upper limb of mainspring B- Lower limb of mainspring C- Mainspring retainer hook D- Tumbler hook of mainspring E- Cup of tumbler F- Tail of frizzen G- Tumbler axle/pivot H- Frizzen (hammer, steel) I- Face of frizzen J- Pan K- Flashguard L- Cock (hammer) M- Lower (fixed) vise jaw N- Upper (moveable) vise jaw O- Vise screw (cock screw) P- Bridle Q- Sear pivot screw R- Body of the sear S- Arm of the sear T- Sear spring U- Sear spring screw V- Bridle screw W- Stop, upper vise jaw X- Cock spur (hammer spur) Y- Frizzen pivot screw Z- Bolster AA- Fly BB- Frizzen spring retainer stud

Firearms are a really large category, even when you "limit" them to a specific time period. It is probably beyond the scope of this website (and my ability) to write a treatise on Flintlock Firearms, so I will limit my comments here to which weapons best befit one who is trying to portray an accurate version of a GAoP sailor.

Boarding Pistols - The Horse/Dragoon Pistol

Pistols used by pirates were probably made up from what ever they could have gotten their hands on. Merchant vessels and military ships kept their arms under lock and key and were only issued in times of need. Pirates, on the other hand, were responsible fot their own weapons, both in their acquisition and their maintenance. Often, first pick of captured pistols was given to "the first to board" or for the first one to "site a potential prize ship", which gives us a glimpse of their value and importance.

Probably the most numerous pistol at the time were the Horse or Dragoon Pistols. With a few exceptions, most countries were not making pistols exclusively for the Navy or Maritime use and were adopting and modifying, at best, pistols that were manufactured for the Cavalry.

If you don't already own Boarders Away Vol II Firearms in the Age of Fighting Sail, then follow the link and go buy it as its a great resource for all weapons used aboard ship from 1600-1900.

Pirate Pistol

Dragoon Style Pistol recovered from 1717 Wreck of the Whydah

Dragoon pistols were large and heavy with barrel lengths averaging around 14", though larger ones existed. Slight modifications were made in some of these pistols, to include brass hardware and sometimes "belt hooks", but for the most part, they were the same Dragoon or Horse pistols used on land.

Evidence of this comes in the form of a dragoon style pistol (left) that was recovered from the pirate ship Whydah.

This pistol has brass hardware including a stylistic "dragon" sideplate and a buttcap with long side stirrups. While the various European countries cavalry pistols have some minor differences, these are, for the most part aesthetic differences.

While it would be difficult to represent all the pistols that were available during the GAoP, below are a few examples that will give you an idea of what the styles were at the time.

French Pistols

French Dragoon Pistol

French 1720 Dragoon Pistol

In 1733 the French formalized their Cavalry Pistol design into the Pistolet Cavalerie & Dragoons Modele 1733, and this model was adopted and slightly modified for naval use. Prior to that date, and for the GAoP, the French had pistols that were similar in design to the 1733, but are generally slimmer and longer in the wrist of the stock, and without the nose cap found in the later models.

French Dragoon Pistol

Early 18th Century French Dragoon Pistol

According to Gilkerson's Boarders Away Vol II, brass components to French Naval Vessels are not a requirement as many were used in iron finish. The above pistols and pair below probably exemplifies the simplicity and elegance of this weapon.

French Dragoon Pistol

French Dragoon Pistols 1690-1710

The last of our French Dragoon pistol pictures shows the sideplate side of a Pistol that dates to 1700. Again, note the clean and slim lines of this pistol, with just enough stock to hold the thing together. Except for its iron hardware, it looks a lot like the Whydah pistol above.

French Dragoon Pistol

French Dragoon Pistols 1690-1710

English Pistols

Blunderbuss Pistol

Blunderbuss Pistol

Much like France, England didn't adopt a standard pistol for Naval use until around 1730. Prior to that, and again for the GAoP, the Dragoon pistol in the James II style was probably one of the most common. Others did exist, however, and the Blunderbuss style pistol may have been a favored style of pistol. Many of the surviving examples are dated to the Queen Anne period (1702-1714) and seem to be utilitarian, with brass barrels and minimal hardware.

James II Dragoon Pistol

James II Dragoon Pistol 1680s

With the James II Dragoon pistol, we see the classic long lines of the period style with barrel lengths of around 14 inches. A fair number of surviving examples have, or were once fitted with, belt hooks. Gilkerson almost always makes this a "shoe-in" for being a Naval pistol, though it should be said, cavalry troops and "land use pistols" would benefit from a belt hook as well.

English Dragoon Pistol 1700

English Dragoon Pistol 1700

Dutch Pistols

Dutch Dragoon Pistol

Pair of Dutch Dragoon Pistols 1685

While their Navy was not as large as that of other European countries during the GAoP, nevertheless the Dutch were significant Naval players in European and American waters.  Since Dutch trading ships were active in the Caribbean,  they were targets for Pirates.  The Dutch pistols follow their own style until about the end of the 17th Century where they then become heavily influenced by French designs.

Dutch Dragoon Pistol 1700

Dutch Dragoon Pistol 1700

One of the earliest surviving examples of a ship's pistol that has Naval markings is a Dutch model from around 1690.  Some of these pistols lack the normal butt cap and end in a bulbous wooden ball.  The Dutch also had an affinity for the long barrels and as other countries shortened their Naval Pistols during the 18th Century, the Dutch continued to produce these long barreled models.  

Queen Anne Pistol

The Queen Anne Pistol is also known as the "turn-off" pistol due to the fact that the barrel unscrews from the chamber for loading. It takes the name "Queen Anne" from the era in which it first appeared in numbers. While any gun from the 1702-1714 period could technically be called a "Queen Anne", it is the turn-off pistol that has become synonymous with that name. The ability to have the barrel unscrew allowed for a tighter fitting bullet that would develop more power and greater accuracy in use. Most period pictures of Black Beard show him with lots of pistols that seem to be of the Queen Anne style (see above picture)

An excellent book on the subject is The Queen Anne Pistol 1660-1780, by John W. Burgoyne. Sadly, I don't have this book yet, but it should be in my collection.

Queen Anne Turn-off Pistol

In the begining of the Turn-off's development, the pistols were essentially the size and style of other pistols, they just had a barrel that unscrewed. The rest of the pistol remained the same with a traditional lock, which was separate from the breech. I can not confirm a date, but at some time in the "pre" or early GAoP, turn-off pistols transitioned to a combined breech and lock, that is, it was formed as one unit (if anyone can help with this transition date, please e-mail me). So the Archetype Queen Anne's that would best exemplify GAoP use would have the breech and lock as a single unit.

Queen Anne Style Pistol

Pedersoli Queen Anne Kit

This is perhaps best described with some pictures. To the left we have the Pedersoli Queen Anne kit from Dixie Gun Works. As you can see, the lock is separate from the breech and barrel. (NOTE: This is a fairly easy kit to build, and could be done in a weekend. There are many sources for this kit, so check around for the best price)

This next Queen Anne kit is from E.J.Blackley & Son. You can see that the breech and lock are made together as one unit.

Queen Anne Turn-off pistol

Queen Anne Turn-off Pistol from Blackley & Son

While this particular pistol is a copy of Queen Anne from around the 1740s, this breech/lock combination would be the dominant style used during the GAoP.

The kit pictured is more involved than the Pedersoli version. Kind of like the difference between a snap-tite model car and one from Tamiya.

The exchange rate absolutely sucks right now, so the Blackley kit will run you $560. Figure at least on another $300 to have someone put it together for you.

For the astute, you probably notice something else different with the Pedersoli kit. The pistol is not a "turn-off" at all. The kit is a muzzleloader without an unscrewing barrel. This makes it hard to figure out what Pedersoli is really copying. It has features of the early Queen Anne (large and has a separate lock), but the barrel is fixed yet there is no provision for ramrod. If anyone has a good idea of what it is, or knows which and from when the pistol is copied, please chime in and let me know.

Queen Anne Night pistol

Queen Anne "Night Pistol" (non turn-off)

To confuse the matter even more, there were Queen Anne style pistols that did not have unscrewing barrels. Some refer to these pistols as "night pistols" and the claim is that they were intended to be loaded with shot instead of a ball (thus not needing the turn-off barrel). These must be "the rarest" of the Queen Anne style pistols as even Burgoyne's book only has one or two pictures of them. The one pictured above even has a thimble attached for the ramrod.

Reproduction GAoP Pistols

Original firearms are all but out of reach for the majority of Pirate re-enactors, unless they luck into one somehow. They do exist, though and can be found at gun shows, militaria shows, auctions and the like. Sadly, even in poor condition they can fetch $1000 and more and would be too delicate for anything other than display purposes. That leaves the re-enactor with no other recourse but reproduction firearms. These reproductions are either Indian Imports at the budget end, and custom guns made from cast parts in the middle and higher end.

TRS Queen Anne Dragoon

Queen Anne Dragoon Pistol from TRS

 The Rifle Shoppe (TRS) has cast reproduction parts from original guns. If you feel that you are up to the challenge, you can order the parts and assemble your own firearm. If its biting off more than you can chew, than you would need to find someone to build the gun for you. You can find parts suppliers and gun builders at sites like the excellent Muzzleloading Forum.

Track of The Wolf carries kits and parts for flintlock firearms and pretty much any accessories that you would need. They have a great book shop and a consignment shop for new and used reproduction flintlocks.

MSVT French 1733 Dragoon

Sea Service Pistol from Track of the Wolf's Consignment Shop

Reproduction Guns from India

Over the last decade or so, there have been reproduction flintlocks coming onto the market from India. These pistols have hit on an incredible price point and have made many styles of flintlock accessible to a wide range of re-enactors. The guns though, are a bit of a compromise between authenticity and affordability. In my opinion, most of these guns have too much wood and detract from the clean lines of the original guns. This can be fixed with a little bit of work and the right woodworking tools if you want to go that extra bit.

Loyalist Arms (Cnd) There tag line says sales and service of Black Powder Firearms and Accessories at affordable Prices. They seem to do just that. Another of the companies that gets their guns from India, but they have done a great job of customizing the parts to make some truly interesting pieces. 

Loyalist Arms 1720 French Pistol

Loyalist Arms French 1720 Dragoon Pistol

Middlesex Village Trading Company (US) This is one of the companies that is getting firearms made for them in India, and then customizing them for the western market. Most of the parts seem to be forged, and for the price, are a great deal. MVTC has a good reputation and is based in the States.

Loyalist Arms 1720 French Pistol

French 1733 Dragoon Pistol from MSVT