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Weapons that were fit for a pirate to use on the seven seas

Ian Harvey

Pirates have their place in history. These men and women sailed the high seas looking for trouble and treasure. When an unfortunate vessel became their target, they were able to deploy many weapons to seize their prize.

They used any means at their disposal to get the job done. Weapons were mainly used to bring the target under their control, not necessarily to destroy.

Blackbeard battles Lt. Maynard at the height of the Golden Age of Piracy

Blackbeard battles Lt. Maynard at the height of the Golden Age of Piracy

Pirates had the same ships as any other crew to be found sailing on the seas, and their weapons were no different. Pirates preferred that their victims surrendered, but if they did put up a struggle, they had the means to subdue their enemy. Thus they preferred weapons that were easy to use, and they used them to devastating effect to get a battle over quickly.

The ships they sailed were fitted with cannons:

Many ships had cannons mounted on their bows; this was common on many naval and secured merchant ships. Pirates also had cannons on their ships, and they used them.

A good cannon master could lay waste to the target with ease. Pirate ships were fitted with anywhere between ten and forty cannons, as illustrated by Blackbeard’s flagship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, which was a pirate ship fit to slug it out with the best naval warship.

 

Queen Anne’s Revenge, the flagship of Blackbeard the Pirate.

Queen Anne’s Revenge, the flagship of Blackbeard the Pirate.

They could lay waste to their opponent by damaging the mast, the hall, and more. This is why cannons were useful – they could clear the decks of enemy ships and damage their target. This would maroon their victims and usually brought about their surrender.

Close quarter combat weapons:

Once the target ship was boarded, the fight was about to get close, and the pirates were prepared for such hand-to-hand combat. Their personal arsenal of weapons was basically anything they could grab. A good example was the use of belaying pins. These items were mainly used for securing ropes, but they turned into deadly weapons when used as clubs.

The pirates could club an enemy to death with one of these pins. During close quarters fighting, anything became a weapon. They had their daggers and cutlasses, but they also improvised.

Belaying pin

Belaying pin

Another example was marlin-spikes – these objects were normally employed to loosen rope but also made handy daggers. Tools used around the ship for splicing became, in the hands of a pirate, knives for stabbing.

Boarding Pike:

A modern recreation of a mid-17th-century company of pikemen.

A modern recreation of a mid-17th-century company of pikemen.

This was another example of the pirate using what was on hand. A boarding pike, which would normally be used to bring two ships close together at sea, could be used as a spear to pierce through an enemy’s flesh. Pirates were notorious for their savagery during a battle. This was a typical example of how devastating they could be to a victim that put up any kind of fight.

Firearms, pistols, and flintlocks:

Notorious for affording only one or two shots back in those days, firearms were common among pirates. Some of the most infamous pirates had a whole arsenal of them.

During the 1700’s firearms were particularly accurate for long distance firing, but at close quarters one could pack a punch and cause a lot of damage.

A flintlock pistol

A flintlock pistol

The murderous pirate “Blackbeard” had several tucked into his belt. Besides being an intimidating sight, he used them to devastating effect. The biggest problem with firearms was that they could only fire once or twice at most so pirates would often rely more upon their trusty knives and other weapons. They used muskets such as the matchlock and flintlock rifles when they could, but beyond that anything became a weapon.

The use of handheld and improvised grenadoes:

This was an intimidating weapon used by the pirates at sea. They filled pots of metal or glass with gunpowder and attached a fuse. They would light the fuse and throw it towards their target.

As one could imagine, it would wreak havoc and cause all sorts of damage. Another example of their ingenuity in battle is an adaptation of the grenade called the stink bomb.

Seven ceramic hand grenades of the 17th Century found in Ingolstadt Germany Photo Credit

Seven ceramic hand grenades of the 17th Century found in Ingolstadt Germany Photo Credit

Adding a smelling agent to the gunpowder in pots of glass or metal, they were able to incapacitate their enemy with noxious fumes. This assisted them to board their victims’ vessel as the crew would be vomiting and unable to defend themselves.

Their reputation proceeded them:

During the 1700s, considered the “Golden Age of Piracy,” seeing a pirate flag would cause lots of fear. This was one of the best examples of the effect that pirates had on their victims. Their reputation as villains made their jobs easier as most victims would rather surrender than fight. Knowing the capabilities of the die-hard pirates and their battle tactics encouraged their victims to give up. Understandably, this is what pirates preferred in any event, as they would most likely spare their victims.

Often, they embellished their fearful reputations, and certain pirates were well known to enjoy playing the part. For example, one of the most feared pirates, the infamous “Blackbeard,” was likened to the devil due to his scary appearance. And, to his credit, “Blackbeard” played this role to the tee. He was an intimidating figure, a true pirate who sailed the high seas. He was described as having smoke coming out of his beard, giving him the look of a fiend. This was enough to make many victims surrender peacefully without much fuss, About Education reported.

Pirates fight in Who Shall Be Captain? By Howard Pyle

Pirates fight in Who Shall Be Captain? By Howard Pyle

It is understandable why most pirates would not want to fight. They may have had the weapons at their disposal, but it still meant effort and risk on their part.

Here is another story from us: One of the few female pirates to sail the high seas – Anne Bonny

Their victims also understood that if they didn’t put up a fight, their lives would be spared. As well, there would be no damage to either ship, which was good business. But it still was a frightening prospect for the victims, and this intimidation was the pirates’ most preferred weapon.