Did Pirates Value Pistols?

The Hollywood version of the swashbuckling pirate grabbing his trusty cutlass and swinging into action is skewed. The cutlass was the last weapon the pirate wanted to reach for. Pistols has more range that the cutlass and therefore a pirate would want as many pistols as possible at his ready so that when confronted with a man with a cutlass, he could engage him at a distance. One pistol was good, two would be better and three or more would be great.

Of all the weapons used by pirates, the pistols was probably their favorite but second in importance to the musket. In fact pistols, were so admired that some captains used their lure in forming boarding parties. For instance, Captain Avery had a standing order that the first man to board a plunder would get first choice of any pistol and this prize was above his share of the booty. Part of the lure probably had to do with the status attached to the pistol. Pistols were not used for hunting as were muskets. On board most ships, the captain and the officers were issued pistols while the common sailor was not.

Pistols came in a variety of shapes and sizes. While many were turned out for the military and were quite plain looking, some gunsmiths took the manufacturing of pistols and made it into an art form. A made to order set of dueling pistols or a presentation piece for a an officer or gentleman might be quite ornate yet just as functional as a plain pistol. In some cases, a specially made pistol could prove more accurate than the standard pistol. (The opposite was true of some dueling pistols!) Of course the run of the mill pistols made for the military or some merchant services were also sought after; for instance, the French cavalry pistol was a popular workhorse pistol. Pistols were quicker to load and their short ranges was not as much of a liability on board ships. They were also easier to swing into action in tight quarters. There small size also made them easier to conceal, which could also prove a necessarily on some occasions

Sometimes a ship's captain would have a pistol commissioned for him as a sign of his superiority. A gunsmith would decorate the stock with silver and gold or ornate carvings. The doghead would be carved in some ornate fashion or perhaps be shaped like a lion or a unicorn display the coat of arms of the owner. In some ways a pistol in the 18th century would hold the same place of honor as a car would today; that is, some were purely functional while other were highly detailed and expensive. Some pistols proved to be not only valuable but would also be a useful weapon.

An accurate, well balanced pistol with a sturdy stock could prove a life saver. This above all probably made the pistol a favored weapon among pirates.