Bartholomew Roberts, Mainly known as Black Bart and also called The Great Pirate Roberts, was by far the most sucessful pirate known. His name was Originally John Roberts, it is unknown why he changed his name from John to Bartholomew. He is supposedly to have gone to sea in 1695 but there is not further record of him until 1718, when he was mate of a Barbados sloop. In 1719 he was third mate on The Princess, a slave ship with the Captain Abarham Plumb.
That same exact year The Princess docked in Anomabu, when she was caught by pirates. The pirates were in a total of 2 vessels the names of them were the Royal Rover and Royal James both captained by Howell Davis, Roberts was forced to join Davis's crew, like many of the men. Davis very quickly learned of Robert's abilities in navigation, a true gift back then since navigation included alot of guesswork and alot of luck. He confided in Roberts of information in Welsh so it would keep the info secret from the rest of Davis's crew. Robert's was, how you say, reluctant to his new life. But became accustom of his new lifestyle and rather enjoyed it. Captain Charles Johnson reports of Black Bart saying:
"In an honest service,there is thin commons,low wages,and hard labour.In this, ? plenty and satiety, pleasure and ease, liberty and power; and who would not balance creditor on this side when all hazard is as run for it, at first is only a sour look or two at one choking? No, 'A short life and a merry one shall be my motto"
The lures of piracy are easy to see, for Bart's wage in the Royal Navy was 3 euros a month and he had no chance of promotion. A few weeks later, the Royal James was abandoned due to worm damage. The Royal Rover? headed to then what was called Isle of Princes. Davis hoisted the flags of his British Man-o-War and was allowed to enter harbour.
After a few days, Davis invited the governor to lunch on his ship, planning to hold him in the brig for ransom until they offered him a large amount of money. As Davis sent boats to collect the governor, He was invited to fort for a glass of wine instead. The Portogeuse had discovered by now that their new visitors were pirates, and on the way to fort, Davis's clan was ambushed and Davis himself shot dead.
So, a new captain was to be elected. Pirate crews are divided in "Lords" and "Commons" and it was the Lords that had the position to be able to choose a new captain, and astonishly since it was only six weeks after his capture, Roberts was voted as captain in a unanimous vote among the crew. He accepted the honour, and his first act as captain was to avenge the death of Howel Davis. Bart along with his crew sprang into the island in the dead of night and killed a very large portion of the male population, and stole all the items of value they could find and carry. Captain Charles Johnson said:
"He accepted the honour, saying, that since he dipped his hand in muddy water, and must be a pirate, it was better being a Commander then a Comman Man.'
Soon afterwards Bart caught a Dutch guineaman ship, then 2 days later an English ship called the Experiment. The vote for the next voyage was between the West Indies and Brazil, Brazil won the voting. Combinations of bravery and skills made much sucess in Bart's career and his crew stuck loyal to him and said he was "pistol-proof" and they thought they had much to gain by staying with him which was no lie.
Roberts and his crew crossed the Atlantic and watered and boot-topped their ship ( boot-topping is like cleaning your ship but only the front of the hull gets cleaned) on the an uninhabited island. They then spent 9 weeks off the Brazillian coast and mysteriously saw no ships. They were going to leave for the West Indies and then came across a mass of 42 Portogeuse ships waiting for 2 man-o-war ships with 70 guns each to escort them to Libson. Robert captured one of the ships and ordered the captian to point out the very richest ship in the fleet. He pointed out a ship with 40 guns and 170 men and Roberts and his crew boarded it and captured it. The ship was loaded with 40,000 in gold and jewelry,including a cross laid with diamonds designed and made for the King of Portugal.
The Rover was now headed for an island called Devil's Island of the coast of Guina to spend the loot, A few weeks later they headed for the River Surinam where they captured a sloop. They spotted a brigatine Roberts took 40 men to pursue and capture it, leaving a man named Walter Kennedy in charge of the Rover. The sloop became bound to the wind for 8 whole days, and when Roberts and his men finally returned with the loot it became unveiled that Kennedy had taking the Rover and sailed off with the crew and what remained of the loot.Robert's and his now 40-men crew renamed the ship the Fortuneand made new articles ( rules ) that they swore by the bible the wouldn't break.
- Every man shall have an equal vote in affairs of moment. He shall have an equal title to the fresh provisions or strong liquors at any time seized, and shall use them at pleasure unless a scarcity may make it necessary for the common good that a retrenchment may be voted.
- Every man shall be called fairly in turn by the list on board of prizes, because over and above their proper share, they are allowed a shift of clothes. But if they defraud the company to the value of even one dollar in plate, jewels or money, they shall be marooned. If any man rob another he shall have his nose and ears slit, and be put ashore where he shall be sure to encounter hardships
- None shall game for money either with dice or cards.
- The lights and candles should be put out at eight at night, and if any of the crew desire to drink after that hour they shall sit upon the open deck without lights.
- Each man shall keep his piece, cutlass and pistols at all times clean and ready for action.
- No boy or woman to be allowed amongst them. If any man shall be found seducing any of the latter sex and carrying her to sea in disguise he shall suffer death
- He that shall desert the ship or his quarters in time of battle shall be punished by death or marooning.
- None shall strike another on board the ship, but every man's quarrel shall be ended on shore by sword or pistol in this manner. At the word of command from the quartermaster, each man being previously placed back to back, shall turn and fire immediately. If any man do not, the quartermaster shall knock the piece out of his hand. If both miss their aim they shall take to their cutlasses, and he that draw the first blood shall be declared the victor.
- No man shall talk of breaking up their way of living till each has a share of 1,000. Every man who shall become a cripple or lose a limb in the service shall have 800 pieces of eight from the common stock and for lesser hurts proportionately.
- The captain and the quartermaster shall each receive two shares of a prize, the master gunner and boatswain, one and one half shares, all other officers one and one quarter, and private gentlemen of fortune one share each.
- The musicians shall have rest on the Sabbath Day only by right. On all other days by favor only
In the late Febuary 1720 they were joined by a French pirate in yet another sloop The Sea King. The inhabitants of the island Barbados were equipped with 2 well-armed ships the Summerset and the Philadelphia to try to put an end to pirate menace. The Sea King quickly fled and Roberts fled and headed for Dominica to repair his ship with 20 of his men dying on the way. Roberts swore vengeance on the people of Barbados and Martinque. He made a flag of him stand on 2 skulls one of them saying ABH ( a Barbadian head ) and the other AMH ( A Martinque head ) you may see the flag at the top of the page.
On Febuary 5th The HMS Swallow,commanded by Captain Charles Ogle came upon the 3 pirate ships, Royal Fortune, Little Ranger and Ranger. The Swallow veered away to avoid a shoal,making the pirates think it was a fleeing merchant ship.The Ranger captained by James Skryme departed in pursuit.Once out of earshot of the other pirates,the Swallow opened her gun ports and shot the Ranger ten pirates were killed and Skryme had his leg taken off by a cannonball,but refused to leave the deck. Eventually the Ranger was forced to strike the colors.
On Febuary 10th the Swallow returned and found the Royal Fortune still there. On the previous day, Roberts had captured the Neptune, and most of Roberts's crew was unfortunately drunk on rum when he needed them the most.At first the pirates thought that the approaching ship as the Ranger returning, but a deserter from the Swallow recognized it and alerted Roberts when while he was having breakfast with the captain of the Ranger as he usually did before action Roberts got in his finest clothes.
" Roberts himself was a gallant figure, at the time of engagement, being dressed in rich crimson damask waistcoat and breeches, a red feather in his hat, a gold chain around his neck, with a diamond cross hanging from it and a sword in his hand with two pairs of pistols slung over his back." -- The General History of the Pyrates
The pirate's plan was to sail past the Swallow exposing one broadside. Once they were past they would have quite a good chance of escaping. Although, the helmsman failed to keep the Royal Fortune on the right course and the Swallow was able to deliver a second broadside. Captain Black Bart Roberts was killed by a grapeshot, which he got hit in the neck by while he stood on deck. Before Ogle could get a hold of the Captain's body, Roberts wish to be buried at sea was fulfilled by his crew they wrapped it in sail to way it down, and threw it overboard.Roberts body has not yet been found.
Roberts's death shocked the pirate world, as well as the Royal Navy. The local merchants and civilians thought him invincable, Some people thought of him as a hero. Many people thought and manay historians now think that Black Bart's death was the end of the Golden Age of Piracy.
The battle continued for another two hours, until the Royal Fortune's mainmast fell and the pirates signalled for quarter. One member of the crew, John Philips, tried to reach the magazine with a lighted match to blow up the ship, but was prevented by two forced men. Only three pirates, including Roberts, had been killed in the battle. A total of 272 men had been captured by the Royal Navy. Of these, 75 were black, and these were sold into slavery. The remainder, apart from those who died on the voyage back, were taken to Cape Coast Castle. 54 were condemned to death, of whom 52 were hanged and two reprieved, for thought to be forced into piracy. Another twenty were allowed to sign indentures with the Royal African Company; Burl comments that they "exchanged an immediate death for a lingering one". Seventeen men were sent to the Marshal sea prison in London for trial, while over a third of the total were acquitted and released.
Things to Know
- In the 1987 movie The Princess Bride ( based on the 1973 novel ) one of the main characters, Wesley, takes a turn at being the Dread Pirate Roberts.
- In the anime, One Piece, there is a character named Bartholomew Kuma named after the pirate.
- In the classic book Treasure Island, Roberts is one of the four pirate captains mentioned.
- In the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, it is mentioned that Roberts and Henry Morgan sent down 'the code', a.k.a the laws of the pirates
- In the fourth game of the Assassin's Creed franchise Black Flag, Roberts is one of the main antagonists.
- Roberts is rumored to have a lover by the name of John Walden, who is known for his burning of a slave ship.
- He was called "Black Bart" because of his swarthy complexion.
- He refused to attack ships on Sunday.
- He was a classical music lover, and even hired musicians to entertain his crew.
- The author of Women Pirates & the Politics of the Jolly Roger ( 1997 ) claimed that Roberts was a female transvestite. It has been rumored the crew had tossed Roberts' body overboard to hide the fact. Rumors also state that Bart could have possibly been Anne Bonny in disguise, but this is impossible, seeing as the same time that Bonny was sailing around Jamaica with Jack Rackham, Roberts was on his way to Cape Verde.