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Pirate Living History 1680-1725

There is a lot of information on Pirate Weapons, and to keep from having this site be to "Unwieldy", I have broken it into several sections.

I am sure a lot of folks just jumped right to the "weapons" pages, and I can't say I blame you as this is one of the more sexy aspects of pirate re-enacting. I would encourage you though, to check through the site links though as there is a lot of valuable information and resources for historical piracy that you may find of interest. Also, it is not unusual for some folks to get interested in re-enacting due to their interest in weapons from a particular era.

So those of you just joining us, we send out a hearty AHOY!, as "piracy" is a big tent and all are welcome to come in and join us.

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 first. 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.

We get a pretty decent stream of e-mails from folks asking us (you can click on the e-mail link at the bottom of this page if you have a question or comment) and want to know what they should get or what is the best "XYZ". A lot of it depends on what kind of group you are joining and what kind of pirate events you will be doing.

There are some groups that have cut their teeth on re-enacting periods that stress unrehearsed competitive physical contact. That is just a fancy way of saying "sword fighting". Other groups are more "education" or "entertainment" oriented.

Probably the best way to go would be to ask the members of the group you are joining what they use for weapons. They may have a recommendation based on aesthetics, functionality, or safety concerns. Safety is especially important if your group like competitive sword fighting, and your group may prefer you to have a safe weapon from a known source.

The Boarding Axe


Pirates come Ashore

Anne Bonny From Johnson

The boarding axe is an interesting weapon as it was purpose built for working on ships. For such a ubiquitous item, there are very few (GAoP era) left today. There is general information about them at the Trade Axe and Tomahawk Collectors Association's site that will give you a good background.

The boarding axe was as much (if not more) a tool as it was a weapon. Noel Wells describes their use and has a few pictures of surviving/wreck recovered Spanish boarding axe's (one from at least 1715) in his article, The Boarding Axe.

From contemporary engravings and pictures, we see a variety of styles of axes being used. Anne Bonny, in an engraving from an early edition of Captain Johnson's work, has an axe tucked into her belt that appears to be of the typical "landsmen" bearded axe style.

While it may be convenient to dismiss the engraving, chalking it up to an "artist interpretation" of what Anne Bonny may have looked like, (with a little yellow journalism and titillation ta boot!) the reality is that tens of thousands of axes were being sent from Europe to the New World for the purpose of trading with Colonist and the Native Indians.

Since pirates were taking prizes of merchant ships and their goods, it stands to reason that a trade axe could fall into the hands of a pirate (like Anne Bonny).

This leads me to a separate point that folks shouldn't dismiss period art because they believe that artistic license creates unreliable images.

Edward England

While it is a possibility, my feelings are that the period artist in England, the Americas, or Europe at the time was more than likely very familiar with what sailors should look like. After all, they had to create believable images for a viewing public in order to sell books, newspapers, flyers, etc.

Another style of boarding Axe pictured is one that could be described as the "halberd" style. While there are surviving period examples of cut down halberd style axes, the only thing that we have that connects them with naval use are some contemporary woodcuts of Edward England (left) and George Lowthar.

In Gilkerson's work Boarders Away- with Steel, he alludes to a halberd headed style of boarding axe, but then quickly dismisses it saying that no axe of that style has yet been found. While I would not say that the halberd style is the norm for the period, I find it interesting that it has been depicted in GAoP artwork, and carried by Pirates no less.

Surviving Examples

Pirate like thing

Danish Boarding Axe dated 1675

As stated above, there were a lot of axes of many different styles being sent to the Americas for use as trade goods. Some of these axes are of the "Spiked Tomahawk" style. Since there are a limited number of verifiable GAoP boarding axes, it makes distinguishing original boarding axes from period (and later period) spiked tomahawks difficult. From the known examples though, Boarding Axes seem to be larger/beefier than their tomahawk cousins.

The earliest "boarding axe" that has the familiar profile that we are used to is a Danish anterbilor (boarding axe) dated 1675. This is in the Tojhusmuseet Collection in Copenhagen and is fairly robust at just under 10" from blade to spike tip, 28" length, and just under 3lbs.

Swedish Boarding Axe 1704-1710

Swedish Boarding Axe 1704-1710

The Swedish Royal War College for the Navy adopted a model of Boarding Axe in the first decade of 18th Century and it is the earliest known drawing/diagram for a Boarding Axe. The spike on this model doesn't appear to be very long, but the blade is fairly broad.

There is no information on whether this axe had "langets", or metal straps that reinforce the shaft. The handle length is specified as about 38" long, making it much longer than contemporary spiked tomahawks.

Where Can I get a Reproduction Boarding Axe?

This question comes in through the "Question and Comments" link quite often, so I will go ahead and answer it here. I hate to disappoint, but like many of the items specific to the GAoP, there is no source that has an off-the-shelf spot on Boarding Axe for sale.

Original GAoP Boarding axes are going to be expensive, if you could ever find one. I saw this one on German eBay in Early 2008, and it looks good to me (it sold for $1000).

Boarding Axe

Boarding Axe sold on eBay ~$1000

GGGodwin has one listed, but to me, it looks more like a tomahawk than a Boarding Axe. At just under $45, the price is right, but I would say its more of a "captured" trade axe than an honest to goodness Boarding Axe.
Late 18th Century Boarding Axe

Late 18th Century thru 19th Century Boarding Axe

The next axe that is the most commonly available, are copies of a later British Boarding Axe.

Its hard to determine just when this axe come onto the scene, but it appears in numbers during the second half of the 18th century, and is the defacto standard from the American War of Independence to well into the 19th Century.

The problem with using and Axe of this pattern is that, we can't positively date it to the GAoP, and second, it can readily be identified as a Revolutionary War Weapon. That is, it would be difficult to pass it off as a GAoP weapon, because it IS recognizable as a legitimate Rev War Boarding Axe.

My first option for getting a reproduction Boarding Axe would be to contact a reputable black smith that is familiar with weapon making (like Old Dominion Forge) and show them the diagrams of the Spanish, Danish, and Swedish axes, and see what kind of estimate you get.

European Fireman's Axe

Modern European Fireman's Axe

A custom made Boarding Axe, will set you back some money. My second choice is a cheaper alternative, but requires a little elbow grease. Try to find one of the European style fireman's axes, and "modify" it a bit. The current English Fireman's Hatchet is almost the exact same thing as the Rev War pattern boarding axe. A German Fireman's Axe, pictured at the left, has a lot of the Early Boarding Axe characteristics.

With a little bit of time spent on the grinder, removing the paint and replacing the langets with something more "period", you could have a nice generic GAoP Boarding Axe.

Belayin' Pins

Pre 1750 Belaying Pin Proportions

Photo by Giles Renault

A Belaying pin is a wooden pin that the running rigging lines are made off to. These belaying pins are kept in holes on rails called pin rails and or, in the rails surrounding the masts, called fife rails.

It is important to remember that these are tools used ABOARD ship and are part of the ships equipment and not the property of the individual sailor!

Any boson worth his salt would have had a fit and rain down his furry if he saw a sailor carrying part of the ships equipment off the ship! Try to remember that when you are in your "off ship" impression.

That being said, because they were easily found on a ship AND, since sailors were deeply familiar with them, they are actually a handy weapon. The size of the pin is directly related to the size of the ship as the diameter of a belaying pin was never less than the diameter of the rope which was to be belayed. As only one size of belaying pin was kept on board, its diameter was that of the thickest rope to be belayed.

Pre 1750 Belaying Pin Proportions

Sea-going naval and commercial vessels had pins from 1 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter with lengths of 12 to 18 inches. Pin shapes varied slightly but all had rounded ends, shoulders on the upper portions and a slight taper to the shaft.

Grenadoes

There is very little info on Grenadoes on the web, if you find a site with more, please let me know. At the same time, these are probably the most "stolen" graphics on my website. I have seen them turn up in Newspaper articles, magazine articles, and even eBay sales. I really don't mind you using my graphics, but please, acknowledge my site. All I am asking is a simple, "I got these images from a great authentic pirate site www.gentlemenoffortune.com ". And if you are using them for "sale" purposes, I am always interested in buying original grenadoes, so drop me a line first!

Grenadoe

Grenadoes are round cast iron hollow ball filled with explosive powder and capped with a fuse. The diameters on these could be rather small, (2.5"for hand mortar use), to rather large (some 1750 dated grenadoes are up to 4.5" or more in diameter). The ones recovered from the Whydah are approximately 3 inches in diameter. Some examples have a slight dimple in the bottom/side (apparently to keep it from rolling around on the deck) and maybe a 3/8ths-3/4th inch hole in the top (for the wooden dowel/fuse).

Grenadoe

This picture shows a good view of the parting line of a sand mold

The fuse was a tapered length of wood inserted into the hole. You can get a good idea of the shape of the wooden fuse from the Grenadoes recovered from the Whydah

Grenadoe

These Grenadoes were recovered from the Whydah Wreck circa 1717

Grenadoe

Reproduction Grenadoe From GoF

GoF Grenadoes For Sale

From time to time, I have a few reproduction Grenadoes for sale. If you are interested, please contact me via the link below for more information.