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Thursday, July 28, 2011

I have not yet begun to fight A Pirate's Arsenal part II

*Please note the photos in this post have been removed. I will update with new photos once I have more time. Thank you.*

Weaponry for any era is an important piece of the puzzle for many authors and we have to make sure we get it right. With that said, here’s my introduction into pistols and their history.
The matchlock was the first mechanism, or "lock" invented to facilitate the firing of a hand-held firearm. This design removed the need to lower by hand a lit match into the weapon's flash pan and made it possible to have both hands free to keep a firm grip on the weapon at the moment of firing, and, more importantly, to keep both eyes on the target.

Flintlock is the general term for any firearm based on the flintlock mechanism. Introduced at the beginning of the 17th century, the flintlock rapidly replaced earlier firearm-ignition technologies, such as the doglock, matchlock and wheellock mechanisms. It continued to be commonly used for over two centuries, replaced by percussion cap and, later, cartridge-based systems in the early-to-mid 19th century. These terms refer to how the weapon was fired.

Here’s an interesting video of how a flintflock fires in slow motion. http://youtu.be/D1XMuZuPZFE
Now on to the pistols themselves. One shot muzzle loaders were the standard pistol during the early years of the golden age of piracy. The process involved shoving the powder and ball, along with paper wadding down the barrel. Which is very time consuming and not really effective during close combat because by the time a man got the pistol loaded he’d find a saber through his gut. And much of the pirate combat was aboard a ship and during close confines. A pistol was much easier to load than a rifle due to the short barrel.

These pistols were loaded using a rammer or ram rod which pushed the powder and ball down the barrel. In some cases, the rammer would be attached to the pistol with a swivel so that it would not be lost.
As the technology advanced multi-barreled pistols became available. They had multiple barrels and in most cases two separate locks were used, one for each barrel. In some over/under pistols, the locks were both on the same side but this was not the norm. Often one trigger fires both barrels. A more common method was a small lever-like trigger forward of the real trigger which the shooter would tap after the first barrel is discharged; this would reset the trigger for the second shot. A third method was that the shooter would not cock both dogheads preventing both barrels from firing.

Interesting tidbit: This is where the term “don’t go off half cocked” originates from.
These type of pistols were heavy and often unreliable.

You can find out more about the different multi-barreled pistols here:

Volley guns were interesting weapons. Similar to the multi-barreled pistol, where the multi-barreled pistol was designed to shot one barrel at a time, the volley pistol would shoot several barrels at once. Funny looking thing it is but it was designed to shoot several balls at once. I imagine they weren’t very effective except at close range and even then I would think it would be iffy.

An interesting tidbit: Volley pistols were somewhat rare it is said they were sometimes used by captains of ship for putting down mutinies.

So this is just a basic guide to early pistols and there are several websites that go into deeper detail. I’ve listed many here as well as books. Enjoy and do note that this technology was used through the regency era until the repeater pistols came into play during the mid-nineteenth century.


The Great Book of Guns: An Illustrated History of Military, Sporting, and Antique Firearms http://www.amazon.com/Great-Book-Guns-Illustrated-Military/dp/159223304X

Percussion Pistols And Revolvers: History, Performance and Practical Use http://www.amazon.com/Percussion-Pistols-Revolvers-Performance-Practical/dp/0595357962


  1. This is great, Suzie! I sure could have used this on my last book! It took me forever to figure out what type of gun my hero would have/cold have used!

  2. Thanks Julie, hope it helps someone. There's a great blog by Linore Rose Burkard on petticoats and pistols on regency guns. You regency gals should check that out. Excellent information there. Thanks for stopping by!