On the Water


A musketoon is a short blunderbuss, or wide barrel muzzle-loading shotgun with a flared muzzle. Its large bore is loaded with several musket or pistol balls. The effect is much like that of a shotgun and is murderous at close quarters or when fired into a large group. Short-barreled guns were excellent short-range weapons, for which the spreading shot pattern was more important than accuracy as an efficient anti-personnel weapon. They also were quicker and easier to point in hand-to-hand combat. Larger musketoons were sometime used in actions involving small boats, where they could be mounted by swivels to special timbers designed to hold them. This example has a bronze barrel for corrosion resistance in a marine environment, and a British Sea Service flintlock action. The lock has a Royal Navy anchor mark and London proof marks dating from around 1760. The blunderbuss became obsolete in the mid19th century, when it was replaced by the carbine.

During the Revolution and War of 1812, the American government did not have a navy big enough to protect and defend its shores. Lacking the resources, men 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 and maintaining order on captured prize vessels. 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.

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