Bartholomew “Black Bart” Roberts was the most successful pirate of the “Golden Age of Piracy,” which lasted roughly from 1700 to 1725. In spite of his great success, he is relatively unknown in comparison with contemporaries such as Blackbeard, Charles Vane or Anne Bonny. Time to set that straight! Here are ten facts about Black Bart, greatest of the real-life Pirates of the Caribbean.
1. He didn’t want to be a Pirate in the First Place
Roberts was an officer on board the slave ship Princess in 1719 when his ship was captured by pirates under Welshman Howell Davis. Perhaps because Roberts was also Welsh, he was one of a handful of men who were forced to join the pirates. By all accounts, Roberts had no wish to join the pirates, but he had no choice.
2. He Quickly Rose in the Ranks
3. He was Very Clever and Brazen
4. Roberts Launched the Careers of Other Pirates
5. He used Several Different Pirate Flags
Roberts is known to have used at least four different flags. The one usually associated with him was black with a white skeleton and a pirate, holding an hourglass between them. Another flag showed a pirate standing on two skulls. Beneath was written ABH and AMH, standing for "A Barbadian Head" and "A Martinico's Head." Roberts hated Martinique and Barbados as they had sent ships to catch him. During his final battle, his flag had a skeleton and a man holding a flaming sword. When he sailed to Africa, he had a black flag with a white skeleton. The skeleton held crossbones in one hand and an hourglass in the other. Beside the skeleton were a spear and three red drops of blood.
6. He had one of the Most Formidable Pirate Ships Ever
In 1721, Roberts captured the massive frigate Onslow. He changed her name to Royal Fortune (he named most of his ships the same thing) and mounted 40 cannons on her. The new Royal Fortune was a nearly invincible pirate ship, and at the time only a well-armed navy vessel could hope to stand against her. The Royal Fortune was as impressive a pirate ship as Sam Bellamy’s Whydah or Blackbeard’s Queen Anne’s Revenge.
7. He was the Most Successful Pirate of his Generation
8. He was Cruel and Tough
In January of 1722, Roberts captured the Porcupine, a slave ship he had found at anchor. The ship’s captain was on shore, so Roberts sent him a message, threatening to burn the ship if a ransom were not paid. The captain refused, so Roberts burned the Porcupine…with some 80 slaves still shackled on board. Interestingly, his nickname “Black Bart” is attributed not to his cruelty but to his dark hair and complexion.
9. He went out with a Fight
Roberts was tough and fought to the end. In February of 1722, the Swallow, a Royal Navy Man of War, was closing in on the Royal Fortune, having already captured the Great Ranger, another one of Roberts’ ships. Roberts could have run for it, but he decided to stand and fight. Roberts was killed in the first broadside, however, his throat torn out by grapeshot from one of the Swallow’s cannons. His men followed his standing order and threw his body overboard. Leaderless, the pirates soon surrendered; most of them were eventually hanged.
10. Roberts lives on in Popular Culture
Roberts may not be the most famous pirate – that would probably be Blackbeard – but he has still made an impression on popular culture. He is mentioned in Treasure Island, the classic of Pirate Literature. In the movie “The Princess Bride,” the character of “Dread Pirate Roberts” is in reference to him. Roberts has been the subject of several movies and books.
For sources, see the Bartholomew Roberts page.