Bartholomew Roberts

One of the most successful British Pirates ever

Born: Unknown

Died: 1723

If Black Beard (Edward Teach) was the most famous of pirates, Bartholomew Roberts was the most successful and menacing. He had a brief career (less than four years), yet he captured a mind staggering total of more than 400 ships. Before Roberts captained a ship, he was a skilled mate aboard a Royal vessel. Off the coast of Africa his ship was boarded by Howel Davis, another great pirate of the era and Roberts was forced into his crew. Reluctant to piracy at first, his illustrious appointment began in 1719 after Davis was killed in battle less than a month after Roberts' capture. In his short time on the pirate ship Roberts proved his competency and superiority, so the crew elected him Howel's successor.

Roberts stated, "It is better to be a commander than a common man, since I have dipped my hands in muddy water and must be a pirate." Henceforth the man who became known as "Black Bart" sailed the seas looting wherever he went. He pillaged along the coast of Brazil, and north to the French settlement of Guiana. He was then turned away by the Royal Navies before entering the Caribbean, for at this time governments had finally established much control of piracy on the Spanish Main.

Continuing north Roberts made his way up the North American coast taking many a prize until reaching Newfoundland. There he captured another half a dozen ships, or so, and turned back to the South. Reaching the Bahamas he tried to sail back to Africa but met with unfavorable winds and was forced to turned back.

Then, in the boldest of actions, he proceeded to loot in the Caribbean attacking and pillaging anything in sight including the town of St. Kitts. By 1721 Roberts had nearly single handedly halted shipping to and from the Spanish Main, having lasted over a year in the Navy infested waters of the Caribbean.

At this time he returned across the Atlantic to sell his stolen wares, and then proceeded to plunder the African coast. This eventually led to a confrontation with a Royal Navy patrol commanded by Captain Chaloner Ogle. Roberts attempted to flee by setting sail before the wind so that his ship had the advantage, but then for reasons, which remain opaque, he turned the ship back towards their pursuer, the Swallow.

Once in range Ogle sent a bombardment of cannon fire to the pirates and immediately Roberts' men responded in kind. When the smoke cleared, the crew saw that Bartholomew Roberts was slumped over a cannon and had been killed in the first and only barrage. With a devastated moral, the pirates attempted to flee, but they were over taken easily. Because their mizzen topmast had been damaged, they sailed ineffectively. All were taken prisoner and later tried for their crimes, subsequently resulting with fifty-two hangings that when on for a fortnight. After this piracy almost completely died. While this most certainly would have had the effect of striking fear into the hearts of other pirates it adds little to the explanation for why piracy suddenly ended.

Literally thousands of pirates at large simply disappeared. The harsh living conditions of the poor people continued as well as the severity of life in the Navy ships. It remains a mystery why these men simply gave up their life of plundering and faded into history. The names of these men reached immortality even if their lives were short, and although piracy would flare up every now and again it never reach the intensity of the Golden Age.

Marked with Roberts death, the era of piracy, itself, died.

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