Bartholomew Roberts
The Great Pirate Roberts

During his short 4 year carrier Black Bart was the most successful and menacing pirate in the Americas. He and is crew captured an incredible total of more than 400 ships.

Bartholomew Roberts (aka Black Bart) was born John Roberts in Wales in 1682. He took the name Bartholomew Roberts in June of 1719 when the ship in which he was third mate was captured off Ghana by Howell Davis, another of the great pirates of the era. Roberts had been engaged in purchasing slaves for the Royal Africa Company. Roberts was forced to join Davis' crew. A short time latter Davis was ambushed and killed by the governor of Principe Island. In his short time on the pirate ship Roberts proved his competency and superiority, so the crew elected him Davis' successor. Upon his ascension Roberts is said to have 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."

In 1720, Roberts wreaked havoc along the Newfoundland coast capturing 26 sloops and 150 fishing boats, as well as destroying sheds and machinery along the shore. Roberts sailed south and plundered at least a dozen English merchantmen. Roberts is reputed to have tortured and killed French prisoners.

In September 1720, Roberts reached the West Indies where he attacked the harbor at Saint Kitts. He seized one ship and burned two others then sailed out of the harbor. Roberts returned to Saint Kitts the next day, only to be driven away by cannon fire. Roberts repaired his ships at Saint Bartholomew. In October he returned yet again to Saint Kitts where he proceeded to plunder an additional 15 French and English ships.

On February 5, 1721 the HMS Swallow, a British man-of-war captained by Challoner Ogle, caught up with Roberts near Cape Lopez in Gabon. Some accounts suggest Roberts mistook the Swallow as a Portuguese trader and closed to fight her. Others say Ogle found the Robert's ship, Royal Fortune at anchor with most of Roberts' crew drunk or hung over after celebrating the taking of a prize the previous night. What ever the reason, Roberts turned the Royal Fortune toward the HMS Swallow. Once in range Ogle sent a volley of cannon fire into the pirates' ship and Roberts' men immediately responded with a broadside of their own. When the smoke cleared, the crew saw that Bartholomew Roberts was slumped over a cannon and had been killed in that first and only barrage.

The crew were taken prisoner and tried at Cape Coast in Ghana. 70 black pirates were returned to slavery, 54 pirates were hanged, and 37 received lesser sentences, 74 were acquitted. Shortly after this piracy almost completely died. The names of men like Roberts reached immortality even if their lives were short, and although piracy would flare up every now and then it never again reached the intensity of this Golden Age of Piracy.