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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.

There are very few swords that can fill all of your needs. A spot on reproduction of an original may be to expensive to use to sword fight with your pirate buddies. A sword that is great for competitive "fencing" may have some compromises for safety and hard-use that make it less like original swords. 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.


Dutch Shell Cutlass

Author's Dutch Naval Hanger from ODF

There are many types of swords for use in the Golden Age of Piracy. Some, however are coming into fashion at the same time other are going "out of fashion". Two good reference books for anyone interested in this topic are Swords and Blades of the American Revolution and Boarders Away Vol 1 ( both of which can be seen in the Pirates' Library).

My two cents on swords for Pirate re-enacting is that, though cool, Rapiers had their heyday between 1550-1650. By the close of the 17th Century, it had given way to the small sword. Not only that, but the gigantic Rapier (many are over 40" in length) may prove to be more of a hindrance during the close quarters of ship board battle. There are still lots of cool swords to choose from to complete your impression and we will take a look at a few of them here.

The Cutlass

18th Century Cutlass

Early Cutlass From Swords and Blades by Neumann

During the 1600 and early 1700s, the word "cutlass", which comes from the French word "cutteaux," was used interchangeably with the term "hanger". It was not until the last quarter of the 18th Century that the word "Cutlass" began to designate the style of sword used by sailors. Its basic design is a short, broad-bladed cutting sword, usually with a curved blade. The naval cutlass/hanger exhibits many variations due to its ubiquitous use by merchant and military vessels. Towards the end of the 18th century, the cutlass is described as a straight or slightly curved blade with a single edge and a large bowl-shaped guard both to protect the hand and deliver a smashing blow in close combat.

French Naval Cultass circa 1840

19th Century French Cutlass NMM Collection

When we hear the word "Cutlass", we get the mental picture of either one of two swords. Around 1770, an English pattern with curved blade and wide stirrup shaped iron guard begins to influence naval cutlass patterns which culminate into the French 1801 pattern. This is the "classic" cutlass design which stays in the French arsenal for almost a century and is imitated by nearly all European Naval Powers.

This cutlass is readily available, and a good choice if you are doing a War of 1812 Privateer, but for GAoP use, it is way of of date.

Another sword that is available on the repro market is the British 1742 pattern Infantry Hanger. This provides a bit of a sticky wicket in terms of authenticity for GAoP. While the official model is "1742", which refers to the date of introduction, we do see similar elements in earlier swords. The heart shaped brass guard appears as early as the late 17th Century in some French designs, but we don't really see it in conjunction with the brass spiraled grip until the mid 1720s. To use the sword "as is", it really depends on your definition of the GAoP. If you extend it out until 1730, this sword is a possibility, but even so, it would probably be the exception and not the norm.

English 1742 Pattern Indian Copy

Replica 1742 Infantry Hanger Made in India

You could modify this sword to make it more acceptable. Neumann's Swords and Blades has a wire wound grip on a 1690s model that is similar to the 1742 Infantry Hanger.

Military / Civilian Hanger

The Hanger is a short sword with a blade averaging 25 inches and having at least one cutting edge. Originally it was used as a supplement to the infantry man's musket for close fighting. The general adoption of the bayonet during the 18th century caused a decline in the use and favor of the hanger. There are many variations of the Military Hanger, some examples resemble a stereotypical cutlass, while others appear to be more "smallsword like".

1690 Hanger

1690 Hanger from Swords and Blades by Neumann

During the GAoP, the Hanger was the Cutlass (again, the Cutlass doesn't really become identifiable as the naval sword archetype until late in the 18th century) and there are many varieties acceptable for use. Popular themes include iron clam shell guards, grips of bone, wood, or horn, and quillions that curve or point towards the sword tip.

Original swords from the period can be found at Militaria Shows and Gun Shows from time to time, if you know what you are looking for. I really recommend buying or going to the library and checking out Swords and Blades of the American Revolution, Battle Weapons of the American Revolution, and Boarders Away with Steel so that you can familiarize yourself with sword types and varieties in use during the GAoP.

Early Clam Shell Hanger

Old Dominion Forge Hanger 

As usual, there is no correct off the shelf sword that is perfect for GAoP use. You either have to make one yourself, modify one of the later models, or commission a design of your liking from a competent sword smith. The Example at left was made By Kyle Willard of Old Dominion Forge.

There are many quality swords makers available, but be prepared for long waiting lists and paying a considerable amount for a mueseum quality piece.

The Small Sword

English Small Sword 1700

English Small Sword from Swords and Blades by Neumann

Smallswords were believed to have been developed in Holland during the early 17th century where they quickly spread to France and throughout Europe, gaining wide acceptance by the 1660s. It is a weapon intermediate in period between the rapier and the classical Epée. The thin straight blade was designed only for thrusting, and required considerable training. The abandonment of the edge meant that strength of the blade could be increased by the adoption of a stiff triangular , hexagonal, elliptical, or diamond cross section.

Small Sword Characteristics

GAoP Small Sword Characteristics

The hilt usually has a simple knuckle bow, pas d'ane, and double lobbed counterguard. The incredibly light weight and very fast action were an extremely lethal combination and resulted in a refined style of sword play.

The successful use of this type of sword was dependant on the the owners skill. Since most sailors (including those in the Official Navies of the world) did not receive specialized training with any sword until the mid 1750s, its probably best reserved for those with an impression reflecting the middle to upper classes.

The reproduction small swords available usually have late 18th Century characteristics due to the fact that the French and Indian War/American Revolution re-enactor groups are their target market.

Hunting Hangers and Cuttoes

English Hunting Hanger 1700

English Hunting Hanger 1700

Hunting swords were short civilian arms originally intended as a "back up" weapon while hunting. By the time of the American Revolution, their styling was refined and became narrower. These hunting swords, now called "Cuttoes" after their French name "Couteaux de Chasse" were adopted by gentlemen as informal town swords. Their small blade size (under 26") and their lightness made them more of a rank symbol by both land and naval officers than an actual combat weapon.

Late Hunting Hanger

Late Hunting Hanger with Guard Parallel to Blade

The late 17th and early 18th Century Hunting Hangers seem to have guards/shells that are perpendicular to the blade whereas the later hangers have guards/shells that lie parallel to the blade of the sword.

Basket Hilt Swords

Believed to have originated in central Europe, The Basket-hilt was known in both England and Scotland (where it rapidly achieved a deep nationalistic identity still maintained today) by the middle of the 1600s. Most of the Scotch swords utilize the long straight double-edge blade (broadsword) of between 37 and 40 inches. It is widely believed that Blackbeard received a mortal blow from a Scotsmen's Basket-Hilt Sword while fighting Lieutenant Maynard.

Basket Hilt Sword

Scottish Broadsword From Swords and Blades by Neumann