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- Apr 12, 2004
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An interesting article on the pirate they based Johnny Depp's char on...some um....not to since stuff in this so just be forewarned the pirate was a bad guy!
His name was Bartholomew Roberts. The most successful raider in the history of piracy, he took prisoner an astounding 470 vessels, and so renowned was his ferocity that many of those ships were surrendered to him without a fight.
Black Bart was the nickname he was given - and not only because of his black locks and dark eyes. When this swashbuckling Welsh buccaneer had to fight for his prizes, he was merciless. In 1720, the crew of a 42-gun Dutch vessel anchored off Dominica in the Caribbean dared to resist. In the close-quarters cannonade which followed, several of his crew were cut down. Even more were slaughtered in the hand-to-hand fighting as Black Barts pirates swarmed over the vessel.
Roberts renamed the ship the Royal Fortune, and 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.
He was one of the many sailors who took to freebooting after his own ship had been captured by pirates.
Born in Wales, 325 years ago this month, he went to sea in 1695 at the age of 13. He served on British merchant vessels before fighting in the 1702-1713 War of the Spanish Succession.
Apart from a brief mention of him as mate of a Barbados sloop, he is not heard of again until 1719, when he sailed as third mate aboard the slave ship Princess.
The Princess was anchored at a small, semi-derelict fort on the Gold Coast of West Africa (present day Ghana) when she was captured by two pirate ships, the Royal James and the Royal Rover, led by another Welshman, Captain Howell Davis.
Roberts was said to have been reluctant to be forced into piracy - but he soon saw the point of it.
A contemporary quotes Roberts as saying: "In an honest service, there is thin victuals, low wages and hard labour. In this, plenty and satiety, pleasure and ease, liberty and power... "No, a merry life and a short one shall be my motto."
While Jack - and nearly every other pirate we know of - was very partial to a shot of rum, Roberts was teetotal. He disliked drunkenness. Instead of rum, he drank cups of tea.
The secret of Black Barts success was patience and tactical flair. He took the Royal Rover to Brazil, where, after a fruitless nine weeks merely looting and burning a couple of slave ships, he encountered 42 Portuguese trading vessels under the escort of two 70-gun warships, at anchor off Bahia.
It was the Lisbon Fleet, an annual armada of incalculable riches. In the darkness, Roberts sailed between the merchant vessels, established which one had the richest cargo and towed it out to sea.
As one of the huge Portuguese warships gained on the Royal Rover, Roberts fired a broadside. Astonishingly, the 70-gunner panicked and heaved to, waiting for the other men-of-war to sail out in support. Roberts escaped with £40,000 in gold coins and jewellery.
But while Roberts was chasing prey off the coast of Guyana, his deputy, left in charge of the Royal Rover, sailed away in an act of treachery, leaving Roberts with one small, poorly armed sloop.
Black Barts resources were badly depleted: he had a crew of tough and experienced mercenaries, but his supplies were low and his chances of capturing a prize with this second-best sloop were slim.
Roberts response was to ensure the loyalty of his men by making them sign a code of conduct.
This was democracy with iron gloves. Each man would have an equal vote in the big decisions and an equal right to food, liquor and prize money. If any man robbed or defrauded another, he would have his nose and ears slit and be marooned.
No gaming was allowed. Lights went out at eight, and any drinking after that had to be done on deck, in the dark. Quarrels would have to be be resolved by duelling. Any man carrying a mistress to sea in disguise would be executed. The musicians (all conscripted) would be on call every day except Sunday.
These rules the pirates swore on the Bible to uphold.
That done, Roberts renamed his sloop the Fortune, later Royal Fortune. He joined forces with a small-time French buccaneer, and together they harassed shipping around Barbados and Martinique, until the local inhabitants financed a well-armed ship which saw off both sloops.
The Fortune limped to Dominica for repairs, with 20 of her crew dying on the journey. Then, when he set sail for Newfoundland, Black Barts luck began to change. He plundered up and down the Atlantic coast, capturing or destroying 27 sloops. Among his bounty was an 18-gun galley in which he proceeded to cause serious havoc.
Roberts own life, for all its flamboyance, demonstrates that there was no "golden age": only the base metal of greed, ruthlessness, debauchery and vicious cruelty, which for 60 years or more bedevilled the Western seas.