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Bartholomew “Black Bart” Roberts was the most successful pirate of the Golden Age of Piracy

Goran Blazeski

Bartholomew “Black Bart” Roberts was born on May 17th, 1682, in Casnewydd-Bach, Wales, and his real name was John Roberts. In his young years, he took to the sea preparing for a naval career.

He never dreamed of becoming a pirate, but eventually, he became one of the most successful pirates of the Golden Age of Piracy.

Bartholomew Roberts at Ouidah with his ship and captured merchantmen in the background.

Bartholomew Roberts at Ouidah with his ship and captured merchantmen in the background

In 1719 he was working as a third mate on the British slave ship, Princess for the Royal Africa Company under Captain Abraham Plumb. The boat was captured by pirate Captain Howell Davis who commanded the Royal Rover and the Royal James and forced Roberts to join his pirates. As we mentioned before he had no intention of becoming a pirate, but captain Howell Davis left him no choice.

Roberts took a fancy to the pirate life and quickly became Davis’s favorite due to the fact that he was a skilled navigator. In June 1719, about six weeks after Roberts was forced to join the crew, Captain Davies and some of the pirates were killed in an ambush. Despite the fact that Roberts spent just six weeks with the crew he was elected as a new captain.

He decided to change his name to Bartholomew Roberts and began his pirate career. His first action as captain was to avenge the death of Captain Howell Davis. Roberts and his crew destroyed an entire harbor and killed the majority of the male population in the town where Captain Howell Davis had been killed. Later the crew sailed to South America where they plundered many ships.

The death of Captain Howell Davis in an ambush on Príncipe

The death of Captain Howell Davis in an ambush on Príncipe

They came upon a fleet of forty-two Portuguese treasure galleons and two warships anchored off the coast of Brazil. Roberts took one of the vessels and ordered her master to point out the richest ship in the fleet. They seized over 40,000 gold moidores, furs, hogsheads of sugar, tobacco, jewels and diamond studded gold cross worth $130,000 and then headed for Devil’s Island off the coast of Guiana to spend the booty.

Roberts' first flag shows himself and Death holding an hourglass. Photo Credit

Roberts’ first flag shows himself and Death holding an hourglass Photo Credit

The American colonies were next on Black Bart’s list. He and his crew destroyed a harbor in Newfoundland and burned over 20 captured ships. Roberts and his crew captured ten French ships and commandeered one of them, fitting her with 26 cannons, changing her name in Royal Fortune, and then sailed it with his great black flag at the helm, which showed Black Bart standing, with cutlass uplifted, on two skulls, representing his dominance over the islands of Barbados and Martinique.

Between 1719 and 1722, he captured more than 400 ships off the coast of West Africa and Canada and the Caribbean making him the most successful pirate.

Bartholomew Roberts's crew carousing at the Calabar River. Most of the crew were drunk when the Swallow appeared

Bartholomew Roberts’s drunk crew carousing at the Calabar River

He would eventually meet his end off the coast of Africa in combat with the Royal Navy in 1722 when the warship HMS Swallow commanded by Captain Challoner Ogle caught up with Roberts off the coast of Cape Lopez (today’s Gabon).

Read another story from us: Captain William Kidd – the unluckiest pirate in history

Roberts was killed in the battle and the pirates threw his body overboard fulfilling the captain’s wish to be buried at sea.