Blunderbuss barrels c. 1700
Found on the wreck site of the Henrietta Marie, sank 1700
Three brass blunderbuss barrels were found on the wreck site of the Henrietta Marie. Although they remain in good condition, their shoulder stocks and flintlock firing mechanisms disintegrated into the sea long since.
Rugged and versatile, the blunderbuss was developed in the 1400s and barely needed improving over the next three hundred years. While the blunderbuss is possibly of Dutch origin—its name means, “thunder pipe” in Dutch—other countries were quick to adopt it. Fifteenth century African bronze sculptures depict Portuguese soldiers carrying these guns into battle.
As a weapon, it was shorter and more manageable than a musket and its wide spread of shot provided effective accuracy, even in the hands of a novice. Africans, who had not been familiar with firearms earlier, realized that they could train their soldiers to use blunderbusses easily. A brisk gun trade began as European merchants recognized that profits would come both from selling guns and from fomenting wars. More wars meant larger numbers of prisoners would be available to be sold into slavery.
By 1700, the time of the Henrietta Marie, the blunderbuss had become a favorite of ship’s officers—as well as privateers and pirates. It was an ideal weapon for holding off several enemies at once at close quarters above or below decks and its wide muzzle made it easy to reload while standing on a ship’s heaving deck. In the case of the slave trade, one sailor could use it to hold off a crowd of Africans attempting a shipboard rebellion. One of the Henrietta Marie blunderbuss barrels was found to be loaded with four lead balls, concrete evidence of its ability to deliver a deadly blast.
While no stocks were ever found, a brass butt plate, marked “Henreato WD,” suggests that the captain of the ship’s first slaving voyage, William Deacon, left his personal weapon on board for use by his successor. Since by then he was an investor in the ship’s voyages, it is quite likely that he would have considered it a contribution to the defense of the ship.