Bartholomew Roberts aka Black Bart Roberts was just a common sailor up until the last few years of his life. Bart was accustomed to a rough life and poor wages until a chance encounter where he was captured and turned into a pirate. Black Bart went on to be the most successful sea-robbing pirate of his time, going on to make Forbes list for top earning pirates. Black Bart’s death signaled the demise of the “Golden Age of Pirates” but his legend lives on forever.
Bartholomew “Bart” Roberts was born in Wales in 1682. It was said that Roberts became a sailor at the age of 13 but it wasn’t until he was 36 years old that Roberts became the pirate notoriously known as “Black Bart.”
Pirate Captain Howell “Dave” Davis was in the middle of, what would end up being, a 10 month career of pirate plundering. Davis drunkenly sailed south down the Gold Coast of Africa capturing ships along the way. This was at a period in time (1719) where piracy was controlling the ocean. Suppressing trade and keeping many vessels anchored in port as they feared having to face the pirates on the open seas. As Davis continues to pillage the Gold Coast he comes across three trade ships (trading in gold, slaves and teeth) anchored together in the bay. Davis is able to capture all three ships without any conflict. One of the ships captured was the slave ship known as “Princess” which Roberts just so happened to be the second mate of.
With Davis’ new found treasure; of dry goods, over 140 slaves, and massive amounts of gold dust; he sails off with his three new ships towards the Portuguese settlements along the coast. It was during this voyage that Davis began to trust Roberts as a highly skilled sailor and fellow Welshman alike, eventually promoting him to the pirate ships navigator. As they headed to the Island of Principe they plundered nearly every ship they came across. Roberts began to embrace the pirate’s life, finding it invigorating. On this particular voyage Roberts made his first noteworthy heist when they came across the ship belonging to the governor of Ockra walking away with 15,000 pounds of sterling silver from the ship.
Once they arrived at the Island of Principe they hoisted up the English flag and convinced the Portuguese that they were searching for pirates. The Portuguese understood and invited Davis and the rest of his crew to come ashore as guests. The invite ended up being nothing more than a trap as Davis was shot in his bowel as he was on his way to eat with the governor (or so he thought).
The Davis crew in peril, had to quickly appoint a new captain. Although Roberts had only been with the crew for less than six weeks his crew-mates elected and appointed him as Davis’ replacement. This vote marked the beginning of Captain Roberts victorious and vicious tenor, that kicked off with his resolve to avenge Captain Davis’ murder. Roberts and 30 of his men returned to the Portuguese fort to overwhelm and set fire to the Portuguese fort, taking two of their ships upon departure.
As they set out on new voyages and adventures Roberts would capture a slew of ships and spend the treasures as fast as they would steal it, rumored to have spent up to 2,000 pieces of Eight in a single night. After pillaging all they could, Roberts sat down with his crew to decide where their next voyage should be. They were debating on if they should either head to the East Indies or Brazil. They finally decided on Brazil and set sail for 28 days until they reached the uninhabited island of Ferdinando. Once they reached Ferdinando they prepared their ships and themselves for their next pirating adventure.
For 9 weeks Roberts’ and his crew rove the coast until they came across a fleet of 42 off the Bay of Los Todos Santos. It was here where they were able to strike one of the ships by surprise and make off with a ship full of tobacco, sugar, and 40,000 gold mortars before anyone could take action against them.
In typical Black Bart fashion they needed to find somewhere to spend the new found loot and enjoy their new found riches. Bart and his crew settled for a port at Devil’s Island until their provisions began to run low. It was at this point that Bart and 40 of his crew set off on a small scope mission to capture a brigantine laden full of supplies. Bart and the 40 crew members failed and returned to Devil’s Island to find their ship gone, later to find out it was under the new leadership of a captain named Kennedy. Kennedy and the other crew that abandoned Bart wanted to return home to spend their gold. This left Roberts stranded on the coast of Quiana with just a few men at his helm. This treasonous act made Roberts form a new set articles that he forced his remaining men to sign and swear to. These articles went on to become what is now known as the “Pirates Code.”
Here are a few of the bylaws within the articles:
- Every man has an equal vote
- Every man has an equal share in treasures
- Lights and candles are to be put out by 8 o’clock
- Pistols are to be kept clean
- Desertion while in battle is a capital offense
- Those that lost limbs are to be given money and the right to stay aboard as long as they wish (this provided one of the first forms of social security)
Now with a new code of ethics in order, Roberts and his crew set off towards the West Indies in an attempt to make up for their losses. Once they reached the West Indies they immediately captured a brigantine and then seized the Bristol ship. Once occupied, they took all of the food, gunpowder, and extra men to reinforce their efforts as they sailed into Barbados. When they reached Barbados they pillaged and ransacked everything in their path.
While wreaking havoc through Barbados, Roberts designed his first jolly roger (pirate flag).The flag was a picture of Roberts and Death together holding up a timepiece. By just raising these flags while beating drums many merchant sailors would abandon their ships without even a fight.
Black Bart’s exploits would eventually become so acclaimed that other captain pirates would sail to join him, just to learn his art and methods of pirating.
Towards the end of June in 1721, Black Bart and his crew set sail for Sierra Leone. It was at this time Bart was able to capture a man of war that had tremendous success targeting slave ships. Bart had heard rumors of two Royal Navy ships that were protecting the area he was voyaging to, were leaving the area and wouldn’t return until the end of the year. Unfortunately for Bart, on February 10th one of the ships (The Swallow) had already returned and had already destroyed a few of Black Bart’s ships that were in the area.
Roberts had just captured The Neptune, when he was advised that The Swallow was literally right behind him. In a very a-typical pirate fashion, most of Roberts’ crew was drunk from celebrating their capture of The Neptune. Roberts immediately changed into his finest clothes, adorned a gold chain, and put a feather in his cap before going out to fight. It was in this battle where Black Bart would perish, being struck in the throat with a grape shot. However, before the Royal Navy was able to board, Roberts’ (now sober crew) was able to give him a burial at sea. A total of 272 pirates were captured with 65 of them were sold back into slavery. This battle is viewed as the pivotal point in the war against pirates.
During Bartholomew “Black Bart” Roberts’ short but illustrious pirate career he was able to overthrow and take control of over 400 ships and amass an estimated fortune of $32 million. Thus making him the 5th wealthiest pirate of all times.