Terror of Black Bart

Bartholomew Roberts was born in Wales and began his career at sea by working as a mate on a slave ship. In June 1719, the slave ship was captured by Howell Davis, and Roberts joined his crew. Now a captain, Roberts' life of piracy would last for less than three years, but it would be one of the most prolific and successful pirate careers in history. After avenging Davis' death, Roberts sailed for Brazil, where he captured booty from several ships, but after the successful plunders, a few of his crew stole the Rover, one of the ships in his fleet. Not one to let rebellious thievery stop him, Roberts sailed off in another of his fleet's sloops and continued to capture ships, which he then sailed to New England. Once there, he sold the ships and their cargo and continued his pirating ways in the waters off Newfoundland, where he captured approximately 170 vessels. In late 1719, after commandeering a French ship with twenty-eight guns, he sailed south, capturing more prizes along the coast of colonial America and eventually ending up in the Caribbean.

Rampage in the Caribbean

By now, Roberts had earned the nickname “Black Bart,” reportedly because he was very tall, dark, and handsome. He was alternately called the “Great Pirate Roberts,” which most likely referred to his immense success as a pirate. In the pirate realm, Roberts was unlike most pirates on several accounts. He didn't drink alcohol, preferring tea instead, and he was known as a flamboyant dresser who liked to wear crimson coats and pants, a red feather in his hat, and a diamond cross on a gold chain around his neck. He was highly respected by his crew, but greatly feared by others, as he was equally known for his brutal and bloodthirsty methods of torture. Roberts' arrival in the Caribbean in 1720 was a continuation of the rampage he'd begun farther north, and in approximately nine months' time he had captured another hundred ships.

Near the end of his time in the Caribbean, Roberts captured a fifty-two-gun warship. Unfortunately for the governor of Martinique, he was present on the ship when Roberts captured it. Roberts hanged the governor from the yardarm of his own ship, then proceeded to torture and murder the rest of the crew. He renamed the ship Royal Fortune, and made her his flagship. It was aboard the Royal Fortune in 1721, leading his convoy of pirate ships, that Roberts sailed off on what would be his last voyage across the Atlantic.

Why did Roberts' flag show two skulls with the initials “A.M.H.” and “A.B.H.” written on them?

Roberts had a special hatred for the people of Martinique and Barbados. He designed his black flag to show a picture of himself — holding a flaming sword in one hand and a dagger in the other — standing on two human skulls. The skulls were marked with the initials to show that they represented “A Martinican's Head” and “A Barbadian's Head.”

West African End

Bartholomew Roberts arrived in West Africa in the summer of 1721, and immediately announced his presence by capturing several slaving vessels. Among other atrocities, Roberts had a history of commandeering slave ships and their human cargo, then forcing the ship's owners to pay a ransom to retrieve their property. During his African voyage, the owner of one of the ships Roberts captured refused to pay the ransom, so Roberts had the ship burned — with the cargo of slaves still onboard. It was at this point that authorities had finally had enough. In February of 1722, the British navy tracked Roberts and his ships and captured the Great Ranger, one of his fleet. The following day a British warship caught up with the rest of Roberts' fleet. As the warship passed alongside the Royal Fortune, it fired on Roberts and his flagship, and Roberts was struck and instantly killed.

Bartholomew Roberts had always said that he didn't want to be hung out as an example to other pirates, so his crew quickly threw his body overboard so that it couldn't be taken by the British. They continued to fight, but after about three hours they surrendered. The British then liberated three of Roberts' ships, and a large haul of gold and other booty. The remaining members of Roberts' crew were returned to Cape Coast Castle in West Africa, where a mass trial was held. Fifty-four pirates were hanged, thirty-seven were sentenced to life in prison, and seventy African pirates were sold into slavery. The trial and hangings marked the end of the era of Black Bart, who had captured over 400 ships during his brief career as a pirate.

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