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Bartholomew "Black Bart" Roberts

The Most Successful Pirate of the Caribbean



Bartholomew "Black Bart" Roberts

Engraving by Benjamin Cole (1695-1766)

Bartholomew "Black Bart" Roberts (1682-1722) was a Welsh pirate. He was the most successful pirate of the so-called "Golden Age of Piracy," capturing and looting more ships than pirates like Blackbeard, Edward Low, Jack Rackham and Francis Spriggs put together. At the height of his power, he had a fleet of four ships and hundreds of pirates. His success was due to his organization, charisma and daring. He was killed in action by pirate hunters off the coast of Africa in 1722.

Early Life and Capture by Pirates

Not much is known of Roberts' early life, other than that he was born in Wales in 1682 and that his real first name was possibly John. He took to the sea at a young age, and proved himself a competent sailing man, as by 1719 he was second mate on board the slaver ship Princess. The Princess went to Anomabu, in present-day Ghana, to pick up some slaves in mid- 1719. In June of 1719, the Princess was captured by the Welsh pirate Howell Davis, who made several crew members, including Roberts, join his pirates. Roberts did not want to join, but had no choice.

Ascension to Captain

"Black Bart" seems to have made a good impression on the pirates. Only six weeks after he was forced to join the crew, Captain Davis was killed. The crew took a vote, and Roberts was named the new captain. Although he had been a reluctant pirate, Roberts embraced the role of captain. According to contemporary historian Captain Charles Johnson, Roberts felt that if he must be a pirate, it was better "being a commander than a common man." His first order was to attack the town where Davis had been killed, to avenge his former captain.

A Rich Haul off Brazil

Captain Roberts and his crew headed for the coast of South America to look for prizes. After several weeks of finding nothing, they hit the mother lode: a treasure fleet bound for Portugal was getting ready in All Saint's Bay off of northern Brazil. There were 42 ships there, and their escort ships, two massive Men of War with 70 guns each, were waiting nearby. Roberts sailed into the bay as if he were part of the convoy and was able to take one of the ships without anyone noticing. He had the master point out the richest of the ships at anchor. Once he identified his target, he sailed up to her and attacked. Before anyone knew what was happening, Roberts had captured the ship and both vessels were sailing away. The escort ships gave chase but could not catch them.

Double-Crossed and Articles

Not long after, while Roberts was off chasing a ship he thought had supplies, some of his men, led by Walter Kennedy, made off with the Portuguese treasure ship and most of the loot. Roberts was infuriated and determined to not let it happen again. The pirates wrote up a set of articles and made all newcomers swear to them. It included payments for those injured in battle and punishments for those who stole, deserted or committed other crimes. The articles also excluded Irishmen from becoming full members of the crew: this was most likely in remembrance of Kennedy, who was Irish.

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