On the Water

English Coach Gun

The coach gun was developed in England in the late 18th century to defend coaches against highway robbery. This 10-gauge double-barreled “scattergun” was made by Richard Bolton of Birmingham, England. A shotgun’s ammunition, in the form of round pellets or shot, spread out after leaving the smooth bore making it highly useful for close range combat. The two barrels allowed a second blast before reloading. This example features a spring-loaded bayonet that can be deployed after both barrels are fired. This was the ideal sort of gun for privateers, as it allowed two shots and subsequent use of the bayonet.

During the Revolution and War of 1812, the American government did not have a navy large enough to protect and defend its shores. Lacking the resources and time to build its own warships, Congress authorized hundreds of privately-owned armed ships to attack British vessels. These “privateers” were heavily armed, preferably to intimidate their prey into surrendering, or—if necessary—to actually fight. However, a sea battle was the last resort, for it could injure crews or valuable hostages and damage the privateer or its intended prize.

Privateer vessels needed large crews to board enemy vessels or to put their own loyal crews on captured vessels. They also needed large stocks of arms for fighting. Regular pistols and other short-barreled firearms were best suited to boarding or other close actions, but they had to be dropped or thrown after a single use, as reloading in the heat of battle was too time consuming. Routinely, only officers owned and were permitted to bear their personal arms. Weapons were stored under lock and key in arms lockers and distributed among the crew when needed. Although the men were highly motivated and unlikely to mutiny, crews were large and disagreements could occur. In addition, weapons had to be ready for use at any moment, and their condition was easier to maintain if stored together.

ID Number:
AF*43449
Maker:
Bolton, J. H.
Place Made:
Great Britain
Date:
1800-1810
Dimensions:
with bayonet: 7 1/2 x 31 1/2 x 3 3/4 in.; 19.05 x 80.01 x 9.525 cm

Other Views