Barti Ddu), but this name was never used in his lifetime. He is sometimes confused with Charles Bolles, called the "Black Bart" of the American West.
He was born John Roberts in 1682 in Casnewydd-Bach, between Fishguard and Haverfordwest in Pembrokeshire, Wales. His father was most likely George Roberts. It's not clear why Roberts changed his name from John to Bartholomew, but pirates often adopted aliases. He may have chosen his first name after the well-known buccaneer Bartholomew Sharp.
He is thought to have gone to sea when he was 13 in 1695, but there is
no further record of him until 1718, when he was mate of a Barbados sloop.
In 1719, Roberts was third mate on the slave ship Princess under Captain Abraham Plumb. In early June that year, the Princess was anchored at Anomabu (then spelled Annamaboa, which is situated along the Gold Coast of West Africa, present-day Ghana) when she was captured by pirates. The pirates were in two vessels, the Royal Rover and the Royal James, and were led by captain Howell Davis. Davis, like Roberts, was a Welshman, originally from Milford Haven in Pembrokeshire. Roberts and several other of the crew of the Princess were forced to join the pirates.
Davis quickly discovered Roberts' abilities as a navigator and took to consulting him. He was also able to confide information to Roberts in Welsh, thereby keeping it hidden from the rest of the crew. Roberts is said to have been reluctant to become a pirate at first, but soon came to see the advantages of this new lifestyle.
A few weeks after Roberts' capture, the Royal James had to be abandoned because of worm damage. The Royal Rover headed for the island of Príncipe.
Davis hoisted the flags of a British man-of-war and was allowed to
enter the harbour. After a few days, Davis invited the governor to lunch
on board his ship, intending to hold him hostage for a ransom. Davis
had to send boats to collect the governor, and he was invited to call at
the fort for a glass of wine first. The Portuguese had discovered that
their visitors were pirates. They ambushed Davis' party on its way to
the fort, shooting Davis dead.
A new captain had to be elected. Davis' crew was divided into "Lords"
and "Commons", and it was the "Lords" who had the right to propose a
name to the remainder of the crew. Within six weeks of his capture,
Roberts was elected captain. This was unusual, especially as he had
objected to serving on the vessel. Historians believe he was elected for
his navigational abilities and his personality, which history reflects
was outspoken and opinionated.
Roberts' first act as captain was to lead the crew back to Príncipe to
avenge the death of Captain Davis. Roberts and his crew landed on the
island in the darkness of night, killed a large portion of the male
population, and stole all items of value that they could carry away.
Soon afterwards, he captured a Dutch Guineaman, then two days later a
British ship called the Experiment. The pirate ship took on water and provisions at Anamboe, where a vote was taken on whether the next voyage should be to the East Indies or to Brazil. The vote was for Brazil.
Roberts and his crew crossed the Atlantic and watered and boot-topped
their ship on the uninhabited island of Ferdinando. They spent about
nine weeks off the Brazilian coast but saw no ships. They were about to
leave for the West Indies when they encountered a fleet of 42 Portuguese ships in the Todos os Santos' Bay, waiting for two men-of-war of 70 guns each to escort them to Lisbon. Roberts took one of the vessels and ordered her master to point out the richest ship in the fleet. He pointed out the Sagrada Familia, a ship of 40 guns and a crew of 170, which Roberts and his men boarded and captured. The Sagrada Familia contained 40,000 gold moidores and jewelry designed for the King of Portugal, including a cross set with diamonds.
The Rover next headed for Devil's Island
off the coast of Guiana to spend the booty. A few weeks later, they
headed for the River Surinam where they captured a sloop. After they
sighted a brigantine, Roberts took 40 men to pursue it in the sloop, leaving Walter Kennedy in command of the Rover.
The sloop became wind-bound for eight days, and when Roberts and his
crew finally returned to their ship, they discovered that Kennedy had
sailed off with the Rover and what remained of the loot. Roberts and his crew renamed their sloop the Fortune and agreed on new articles, now known as a pirate code, which they swore on a Bible to uphold.
The Fortune next headed northwards towards Newfoundland, raiding Canso, Nova Scotia, and capturing a number of ships around Cape Breton
and the Newfoundland banks. Roberts raided the harbour of Ferryland,
capturing a dozen vessels. On 21 June, he attacked the larger harbour of
sailing in with black flags flying. In the harbour he discovered 22
merchant ships and 150 fishing ships, all of which were abandoned by
their panic-stricken captains and crews, and the pirates were masters of
Trepassey without any resistance being offered. Roberts had captured
all 22 merchant ships, but was angered by the cowardice of the captains
who had fled their ships. Every morning he had a gun fired and the
captains were forced to attend Roberts on board his ship; they were told
that anyone who was absent would have his ship burnt. One brig from Bristol was taken over by the pirates to replace the sloop Fortune
and fitted out with 16 guns. When the pirates left in late June, all
the other vessels in the harbour were set on fire. During July, Roberts
captured nine or ten French ships and commandeered one of them, fitting
her with 26 cannons and changing her name to the Good Fortune.
With this more powerful ship, the pirates captured many more vessels
before heading south for the West Indies, accompanied by Montigny la
Palisse's sloop, which had rejoined them.
In September 1720, the Good Fortune was careened and repaired at the island of Carriacou before being renamed the Royal Fortune, the first of several ships to be given this name by Roberts. In late September, the Royal Fortune and the Fortune headed for the island of St. Christopher's
and entered Basse Terra Road, flying black flags and with their
drummers and trumpeters playing. They sailed in among the ships in the
Road, all of which promptly struck their flags. The next landfall was at the island of St. Bartholomew,
where the French governor allowed the pirates to remain for several
weeks to carouse. By 25 October, they were at sea again off St. Lucia, where they captured up to 15 French and English ships in the next three days. Among the captured ships was the Greyhound, whose chief mate James Skyrme joined the pirates. He later became captain of Roberts' consort, the Ranger.
During this time, Roberts caught the Governor of Martinique, who was sailing aboard a 52-gun French warship.
Robert's ship pulled up next to the warship pretending to be a French
merchant ship, and offered information on the location of Captain
Roberts before suddenly attacking it, spraying the warship with cannon
and small arms fire, after which the pirates boarded it and took it over
using pistols and cutlasses. The Governor was caught and promptly
hanged on the yardarm of his own ship, which the pirates converted into
the new Royal Fortune.
By the spring of 1721, Roberts' depredations had almost brought seaborne trade to a standstill in the West Indies. The Royal Fortune and the Good Fortune therefore set sail for West Africa. On 18 April, Thomas Anstis, the commander of the Good Fortune, left Roberts in the night and continued to raid shipping in the Caribbean. The Royal Fortune continued towards Africa.
Roberts next headed for Sierra Leone, arriving on 12 June. Here he was told that two Royal Navy ships, HMS Swallow and HMS Weymouth, had left at the end of April, planning to return before Christmas. On 8 August, he captured two large ships at Point Cestos, now River Cess in Liberia. One of these was the frigate Onslow, transporting soldiers bound for Cape Coast
(Cabo Corso) Castle. A number of the soldiers wished to join the
pirates and were eventually accepted, but as landlubbers were given only
a quarter share. The Onslow was converted to become the fourth Royal Fortune. In November and December, the pirates careened their ships and relaxed at Cape Lopez and the island of Annobon. Sutton was replaced by Skyrme as captain of the Ranger. They captured several vessels in January 1722, then sailed into Ouidah
harbour with black flags flying. Ten of the eleven ships at anchor
there immediately struck their colours. So enraged was Roberts' crew at
the eleventh ship that, at night, under the cover of darkness, they
climbed aboard and set her on fire.
On 10 February, the Swallow returned to Cape Lopez and found the Royal Fortune still there. On the previous day, Roberts had captured the Neptune, and many of his crew were drunk and unfit for duty just when he needed them most. At first, the pirates thought that the approaching ship was the Ranger returning, but a deserter from the Swallow recognized her and informed Roberts while he was breakfasting with Captain Hill, the master of the Neptune. As he usually did before action, he dressed himself in his finest clothes.
The pirates' plan was to sail past the Swallow, which meant
exposing themselves to one broadside. Once past, they would have a good
chance of escaping. However, the helmsman failed to keep the Royal Fortune on the right course, and the Swallow was able to approach to deliver a second broadside. Captain Roberts was killed by grapeshot,
which struck him in the throat while he stood on the deck. Before his
body could be captured by Ogle, Roberts' wish to be buried at sea was
fulfilled by his crew, who weighed his body down and threw it overboard
after wrapping it in his ship's sail. It was never found.
Roberts' death shocked the pirate world, as well as the Royal Navy.
The local merchants and civilians had thought him invincible, and some
considered him a hero.
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