Overview of Bartholomew Roberts
Black Bart was born John Roberts in Casnewydd-Bach, or Little Newcastle, Wales, in 1682. He was not the most famous of the Golden Age pirates but he was certainly the wealthiest. Although he survived less than four years as a pirate, he gained immense fame. He was one of the most daring captains and was considered the most successful pirate of the Golden Age of Piracy having captured over 470 ships in his short career. At the height of his power, he commanded a fleet of four ships and commanded up to 500 pirates.
Roberts was, however, a man of contradiction. He led his men in both positive and negative activities always setting the example. He was highly organized, and charismatic but he was also pious. He was daring but could also at times be very ruthless.
Black Bart was known for having created the most famous set of pirate rules which determined how his vessels operated and how his crew was to behave. He created these rules because of a betrayal he suffered at the hands of one of his men.
In February of 1722, Black Bart's luck dried up. He was killed by cannon fire during a battle off the coast of Africa. His death shocked the world as most sea merchants thought of him as invincible. His death was seen as the end of the Golden Age of Piracy and is marked by the celebration known as The Blackest Day still celebrated by some on February 10.
Quick Facts About Bartholomew "Black Bart" Roberts
|Title||Welsh Pirate Captain|
May 17th, 1682
Casnewydd-Bach or Little Newcastle
Name at Birth
Member of the Royal Navy
In 1718, served on the slave ship the Princess
Began Life as a Pirate
In 1719, he was encouraged to join pirate Howell Davis' crew after the Princess was captured by Davis
Became Captain Bartholomew
Three weeks after joining Howell's crew, Howell Davis was killed and the crew elected Roberts as Captain
February 10, 1722
Place of Death
Cape Lopez, Gabon
Manner of death
Cannon fire during battle
John Roberts, Black Bart
Pirate with a raised scabard standing skulls, with the logo below-ABH AMH
Rover, Royal Rover, Little Ranger, Great Ranger, Sea King, Fortune, Good Fortune, Royal Fortune(flagship)
Length of Pirate career
Quote From the Pirate
Bartholomew Roberts, after becoming a pirate, was said to have remarked,
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 the hazard that is run for it, at worst is only a sour look or two at choking? No, a merry life and a short one shall be my motto.
Bartholomew Robert's Employment History
- He left home at an early age, going to sea as a member of the Royal Navy.
- In 1718, he found employment on the slave ship Princess.
- Pirate Howell Davis captured the Princess in 1719 and third mate Roberts at the age of 37 was 'encouraged' (although he did not want to join Davis' crew) to become a pirate.
- Having advanced navigational skills he became a valued member of the crew so that when Davis was killed a few weeks later during an attack, Roberts was elected as the new Captain.
Becoming Black Bart
- Probably because of his dark hair and complexion, John became known as Black Bart.
- He began his career in a frenzy of attacks.
- Even among feared buccaneers, Black Bart became a source of terror.
- He never hesitated in his attacks which became legendary.
- He successfully attacked ships and gunboats bigger than his own vessel.
- His successful escapades led to the decline of the shipping trade.
- Some historians claim he brought shipping nearly to a halt for a time.
- Even when law and order were strongly enforced, most officials refused to tackle Black Bart.
Pirate Articles Written by Him
While Roberts was chasing a ship, Walter Kennedy, leading some of Bart's men, made off with the Portuguese treasure ship, including most of the booty, they had just captured.
In order to not have this happen again, Bart came up with a list of articles or rules for ship etiquette and behaviour which have been paraphrased below.
- Every crew member shall have the same vote in all affairs. Each member is entitled to the same fresh provisions and liquors looted and he shall use them as he sees fit unless a scarcity makes it necessary to conserve resources in which case a vote will occur to see how to proceed.
- Every crew member shall have an equal turn at the prizes accumulated from seized ships and beyond that, they are allowed a change of clothes. Any defrauding of the company by even one dollar will result in that member being marooned. Any crew member robbing another will have his nose and ears slit, and be marooned to endure the hardships of abandonment.
- Gambling with either dice or cards is prohibited.
- Lights will be put out by eight at night, and any drinking after hours if so desired shall occur on deck in the dark.
- The piece, cutlass, and pistols of each man shall be kept clean and ready for use at all times.
- Women and boys are strictly forbidden on the ship amongst the crew. Any crew member found seducing any woman and bringing her on board the ship shall be put to death.
- Deserters during times of battle shall be put to death or marooned.
- No physical combat between crew members is allowed on board but disputes will be ended on shore using the sword or pistol. The Quartermaster will command the duel to start, each man standing back to back to begin, will turn and fire immediately upon the command. Any man who does not fire loses his pistol. If both miss, they continue the duel with cutlasses, and the first man to draw blood wins.
- Crew members who become crippled or lose a limb during their service will be given 800 pieces of eight from the ship's stock and those with lesser injuries will receive proportionately less.
- The ship's prizes will be divided as follows: the captain and quartermaster each receive two shares, the master gunner and boatswain, one and one-half shares all other officers receive one and one quarter while private gentlemen of fortune get one share each.
- Musicians have rest on the Sabbath Day only and on all other days by special permission only.¹
- It was also rumored that one of the articles included a provision that no Irishman should be part of the crew as Kennedy, his betrayer, was Irish.
Activities of Bartholomew Roberts
- In All Saint's Bay off of northern Brazil, Roberts came upon a treasure fleet headed for Portugal.
- The fleet consisted of 42 ships, their escort ships, and two Men of War with 70 guns each waiting nearby.
- Pretending he was part of this convoy, Bart was able to take over one of the ships unnoticed.
- Having the master point out the richest ship in the fleet, he attacked her and sailed away with both vessels.
- Chased down by other ships in the treasure fleet, they still managed to avoid capture.
- Roberts next arrived on the coast of Senegal in June 1721.
- He raided many ships along that coast.
- After anchoring at Sierra Leone, he discovered two Royal navy ships the Swallow and the Weymouth had left the area and were not expected back any time soon.
- They captured the Onslow, a massive frigate.
- They renamed it the Royal Fortune and added 40 cannons.
- Roberts and his crew enjoyed freedom by pillaging dozens of ships.
- He amassed a small fortune during this uninterrupted run of luck.
- In February of 1722, Roberts's ship the Great Ranger was captured by the Swallow, captained by Challoner Ogle.
- A two-hour battle left the Great Ranger damaged, her crew captured.
- Repairs by Ogle allowed the Brits to send the Ranger away with the pirates in chains leaving him to go back and capture Roberts.
Black Bart's Final Days
- On September 10, 1722 the Swallow returned to Cape Lopez finding the Royal Fortune still there.
- After the ship was identified, many of Bart's men wanted to flee but Black Bart decided to engage in battle.
- He was found that day not to be invulnerable.
- He was killed by the first broadside attack by grapeshot fired from one of the Swallow's cannons.
- His wishes on death were to have his body thrown overboard and his men respected that wish.
- They lost heart without their leader and gave up the fight within the hour after Robert's death.
- His crew of 152 was tried at Cape Coast Castle.
- 52 were Africans and were sold back into slavery.
- 54 were hanged.
- 37 were sentenced to serve as indentured servants in the West Indies.
- The rest were acquitted because it could not be proven that they had not been forced to join Black Bart's crew.
His Unusual Personal Traits
- Even in battle, Black Bart dressed very well wearing a crimson waistcoat, breeches, and a matching plumed hat.
- He wore jewelry, especially notable, a gold cross which had been designed for the King of Portugal.
- He neither drank nor smoked and encouraged the same behavior of his crew.
- He was a classical music lover, keeping musicians on board for his entertainment.
- His musicians worked very hard as they only had the day of the Sabbath off and could only rest at any other time, day or night, with special permission.
- Gambling and stealing were banned on board ship.
- He had a clergyman on board ship.
- He refused to attack on Sundays.
- His religious beliefs, however, did not stop him from robbing, killing, and torturing outlining the complex life of a pirate.
Captain Johnston vividly retells the story of the burning of the Porcupine:
Roberts sends the Boat to transport the Negroes, in order to set her on Fire; but being in haste, and finding that unshackling them cost much Time and Labour, they actually set her on Fire, with eighty of those poor Wretches on Board, chained two and two together, under the miserable Choice of perishing by fire or Water: Those who jumped overboard from the Flames, were seized by Sharks, a voracious Fish, in Plenty in this road, and, in their Sight, tore Limb from Limb alive. A Cruelty unparalell'd!
Cruelty of Bartholomew Roberts
- At times, Black Bart was particularly cruel.
- After taking over a 52-gun warship, he hung the Governor of Martinique from his own ship.
- He then tortured and killed the Governor's crew, after which he confiscated the ship.
- He showed no mercy after capturing the slave ship Porcupine.
- Sailing off of the coast of Whydah, a known slaving area, he captured the slave ship while its captain was ashore.
- This Captain Fletcher refused to pay the ransom Roberts asked for so Roberts ordered his men to burn the Porcupine.
- As the slaves were shackled below deck and it would take too long to free them, the ship was burned with slaves still aboard.
The Legacy of Black Bart
Black Bart is known as the greatest and most successful pirate of the Golden Age even if he is not remembered as the most famous. He looted around 400 ships in his short career as a pirate and accumulated vast wealth for the time. His success was due to his great navigational and organizational skills, his personal charisma and his ability to inspire leadership. Although he was religious, he could be exceedingly cruel and inspired fear in merchants often bringing commerce to a crawl. His name was used in the classic Treasure Island and in the movie The Princess Bride, the name 'Dread Pirate Roberts' refers to him. True pirate buffs revere him and he has been the subject of video games, novels, and movies.
¹Burl, Aubrey. Black Barty: Bartholomew Roberts and his pirate crew 1718-1723. Sutton Publishing. 2006
Clever Media. Age of Pirates. Pirate Encyclopedia: John Bartholomew "Black Bart" Roberts. 2006
²Defoe, Daniel (Captain Charles Johnson). A General History of the Pyrates. Ed. by Manuel Schonhorn. Mineola: Dover Publications. 1972/1999
Minster, Christopher. About.com Latin American History. Bartholomew "Black Bart" Roberts. 2012
piratespades.org. Famous Pirates. Bartholomew Roberts. 2012
Wikipedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Bartholomew Roberts. July 23, 2012
Icarly on April 17, 2018:
thanks this was very helpful!!! :) :0 B-) i feel much smarter now!
jeffy mic duck on February 27, 2018:
i thick he is cool
Jevelyn on February 06, 2017:
Damn ye, you are a sneaky puppy
owen on March 11, 2015:
my faves !
Teresa Coppens (author) from Ontario, Canada on July 02, 2013:
Briteney, glad I could be of help!
Briteney on July 01, 2013:
I never knew about this information before i want to be more o a pirate now arghhh!!!!
Briteney on July 01, 2013:
Good thanks for the help