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Pirate Warfare

Besides the weapons and ammunition shown below pirates often used hand grenades made of glass or metal to demoralize the enemy before boarding a ship or storming a fortress. Many victims were so shocked by a grenade attack that they surrendered instantly.

Cutlass from around 1800. Pirates liked the short, easy to handle blade. Cutlass drills continued in the Royal Navy until 1901.

A silver-mounted presentation pistol, c. 1730, made in London and presented to Captain Reed, a privateer. This is a typical sort of weapon that would have been used by pirates in the Caribbean at the beginning of the 18th century. The butt was designed to be used as a club in hand-to-hand fighting.

different kinds of roundshot


Special ammunition, like this double-headed shot was fired from cannon to cut the rigging of enemy ships. This particular shot was fired during the Battle of Trafalgar and killed eight men onboard Admiral Nelson’s ship.

expanding bar-shot

split shot

chain shot

In general, pirates greatly preferred weapons that only lightly damaged or temporarily disabled the attacked ship but wreaked havoc among its crew. This was because the pirates frequently  shifted into the prize ship which was often a larger vessel in much better condition.

In the warm waters of the Caribbean the hull of a ship began to leak after only a few months. Shells attached themselves to the hull and slowed the ship down which could not have been very welcome to the pirates who mainly relied on speed to catch their prey or evade their hunters. Since they had no dockyards they had to beech the ship on a remote island to repair it and hope that no warship came by.