Cap’n ‘Black Bart’  Aaaarrrggh !!!

Bartholomew Roberts – Pyrate Cap’n ‘Black Bart’  Aaaarrrggh !!!

Born John Roberts

in Casnewydd-Bach

nr. Haverfordwest, West Wales

ON THE 10th OF FEBRUARY 1722, AT CAPE LOPEZ IN WHAT IS NOW THE WEST AFRICAN STATE OF GABON A CAPTAIN CHALLONER OGLE OF THE ROYAL NAVY ENGAGED AND DEFEATED ONE OF THE WORLDS MOST NOTORIOUS OUTLAWS, BARTHOLOMEW ROBERTS.
ROBERTS HAD COME A LONG WAY FROM HIS ROOTS NEAR THE LITTLE WELSH TOWN OF HAVERFORDWEST BOTH FIGURATIVELY & LITERALLY.

His journey so far had taken him across the Atlantic from the cool waters of Newfoundland to the blistering equatorial heat he & his crew now suffered. Years of constant running had taken its toll on the men and their vessels, ‘The Royal Fortune’ and ‘The Ranger’. Piracy was losing its appeal, living ‘on the run’ was part of their occupation but now they were being hunted.

A Man of his Times

Just one year earlier Captain Teach had died and the Navy had the upper hand right across the Atlantic. Unlike Teach, the psychopathic template for a thousand one dimensional pirate characters, Roberts was a complex man. He was everything you’d expect from a cutthroat rogue but more. Sharp minded and apparently well read, disciplined and humane in outlook but ruthless when needed. Of course, this ruthlessness is well documented thanks to the Royal Navy. Biographers were scarce amongst pirates but there are enough fragments to piece together a better idea of the man than the naval account offers.

The British government saw Roberts as a major threat and not just to shipping. Disrupting vital trade links was bad enough but of all the freebooters to ever leave British shores there have only been a few with the potential for military and political organisation enough to pose a greater danger. The legendary Captain Morgan, the Pirate King, being the most notable. Bartholomew Roberts or ‘Black Bart’ as he has been referred to could have equaled Morgan. To the English crown this was unthinkable.

This was a time when the British were still struggling to maintain their North American and Caribbean possessions, problems that would ultimately express themselves in the American Revolutionary War. The British were desperate to secure their foothold in India and stability there was threatened by Raja Sulaiman. The global land-grab was heating up; Spain, France and Holland had explorers everywhere. Complex and fragile agreements between states were at risk.

The Swallow and the Weymouth, armed to the teeth !

Black Bart had to be stopped and to this end orders were issued to Captain Ogle. His brief was simple, to hunt down and stop Roberts. A measure of how dangerous the admiralty thought Roberts was is in the way they equipped Ogle. He set sail with two ships, the ‘Swallow ‘and the ‘Weymouth,’ both armed to the teeth, ‘The Swallow’ alone carried sixty guns! In addition to this, each ship had specially selected crewmen.

You would be forgiven for thinking Bart’s reputation had been built up over a lifetime but far from it. Bartholomew Roberts had only been a pirate for about three years. In his brief career he had been accused of ‘taking’ four hundred trading ships, eleven in one day! Pirates would routinely attack settlements too, Roberts was no exception. It’s claimed he assaulted a Newfoundland harbor destroying twenty-one ships then turning his guns on the town itself. He certainly earned his reputation.

However, there are a number of ways he differs from other pirate captains. It’s said he was a ‘tea-totaler’ and very respectful to the clergy. The main difference is in his attitude to his crew and their prisoners. He wrote a contract to which all his crew subscribed. It stated among other things, that no women should be permitted on board, dice and gambling were not allowed, lights were put out at eight o’clock and musicians were exempt from playing on Sundays. This is very unusual and deserves a closer look.

The Safety of Female Prisoners

Contra to popular belief pirates had no problem with having women on board. In fact, two of the most notorious pirates were female, Anne Bonnie and Mary Read. Historians now accept the Royal Navy even had some women serving aboard. When in port it was normal to have wives or ‘girl friends’ aboard since the Navy didn’t want to risk the men absconding on shore leave. So why did Roberts insist otherwise, why no women on board? Could it have been a way of ensuring the safety of females found on plundered ships?

In 1719 Bartholomew Roberts was an upright honest gent. He sailed from London bound for Guinea as Second Mate on the Princess under the command of Captain Plumb. At Anamaboe (today Anamaboe is in Ghana) they were ‘taken’ by another infamous Welsh pirate, one Captain Howel Davis. It should be noted it was common for pirates to seek new crewmen amongst prisoners on the ships they plundered. First by persuasion then by force, if necessary. The threat of violence was always present. One way or another, Roberts agreed to sail with Davis on his ship, ‘The Rover’’.

Welsh Pirate Black Bart

Siarad Cymraeg, A Welsh Speaking Pirate

In-fighting and mutiny were common place with pirates although Captain Davis was very well respected by his crew. Even so, finding a Welsh speaking, educated second mate must have been a boon. Here was an apparently trustworthy man with whom he could confide in without revealing plans to the other non-Welsh speaking company. However, Bart’s service to Davis was cut short at just six weeks. Leading an attack on a Portuguese colony at Princes Island (Panaitan) off Guinea Davis was killed and the pirates thrown back.

The chain of command aboard a pirate ship differed from military and civilian vessels greatly. Each crewmember had the right to vote on how the ship was to be managed, its missions and exploits. In normal running the ships Quartermaster would command but deferred to the Captain on offensive and defensive operations. The crew appointed both positions. With Davis lost the ‘Rover’s’ crew elected Bart his replacement, their first action to seek revenge on the Portuguese at Princes Island.

Roberts proved an able and confident commander. He dispatched a troop of thirty men in the charge of his lieutenant, Walter Kennedy with orders to over-run the fort defenses under the cover of the ship’s guns. This surprise attack terrified the Portuguese who ran from their positions allowing Kennedy to enter without a man lost. The crew felt this was insufficient revenge for the loss of Captain Davis and sought to burn the town to the ground. Roberts argued against this and persuaded the men to spare the rest of the colony. The first evidence he was not quite the cutthroat we are lead to believe, though his argument was selfish in nature. He put it to the crew that since the town’s defenses were stronger than the fort’s a balance had to be found between its worth and their losses in taking it. The crew eventually came to side with Bart but in the harbor there lay three ships, one French and two Portuguese. As a final insult to the colony they spared the French vessel and burnt the other two. The insult wasn’t enough for Kennedy, he held a grudge over this all the while he sailed with Roberts.

They made a nuisance of themselves in that area for a while longer, seizing a Dutch ship, which once plundered, was returned to her captain. Shortly after that and still in sight of Cape Lopez they came upon the Experiment, an English ship commanded by Captain Cornet. It seems all of the Experiment’s crew agreed to join with ‘The Rover’’ though we don’t know what Cornet thought of this. Whatever happened they burned her before moving on across the Atlantic to Brazil where between luck and judgment they would hit the jackpot.

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A Prize for the Plundering

On a few occasions each year the Portuguese would mass a convoy to take produce from Brazil back to Europe. After a few weeks of aimless sailing off the Brazilian coast one such convoy, forty-two ships, came into view. It had not yet fully configured itself, two men-o-war set to guard it but were dragging their anchors some way behind, no doubt thinking they were safe still close to the coast.

Roberts ordered weapons to be concealed and the ship made orderly and inconspicuous. He then drifted into the midst of the Portuguese vessels looking for a victim – as a lioness seeks her prey amongst the wildebeest. Eventually a target comes in sight but Bart was not convinced it was the real prize. They drew close and signaled to the Portuguese trader requesting her captain come aboard. He was treated respectfully according to his rank but given no doubt that his life, crew and ship were in peril. Roberts forced him to reveal the richest ship in the convoy the ‘Clemente do Artigo’, and then pressured him into helping with a ploy to take her.

The ship was big but not untouchable, a forty gunner with a hundred and fifty men on board. The pirates were out gunned and out manned, but that didn’t stop them approaching her. They used the same tactic as before but this time they forced their Portuguese prisoner to do the talking. Although he obliged with no apparent deceipt the pirates suspected the game was up. Without further adieu they went into action, beginning with a devastating broadside. It worked; in fact they took the ship losing just two of their company.

The rest of the convoy panicked and fled. Roberts noticed the two men-o-war seemed too reluctant to engage. Even though the Pirates had little chance of keeping their prize in a head to head battle, Roberts refused to run. He ordered the crew to ‘come to’ and prepare to engage but after a while it became obvious these guards weren’t up to the fight. They eventually allowed the pirates to get away at their leisure. Their haul was massive. A cargo of sugar and tobacco, highly sought after commodities fetching very high prices. That alone would have been enough but there was gold jewelry too, lots of it. One diamond-studded piece, a gold cross, was destined for João V, the King of Portugal himself.

The Cross of King João

Had they retired after this latest victory they could have lived as gentry for the rest of their lives providing, of course, they didn’t settle in one of the pirate haunts. These ‘haunts’ were akin to the gold rush towns of the Klondike; massively inflated prices could eat a fortune in no time at all. Returning to regular society risked capture but with care their money went further. It was not uncommon for the crown to offer an amnesty for limited periods; at these times pirates could escape the noose and live legitimately with their takings. Many chose to do this and did well for themselves. Half of Bart’s crew were already thinking along these lines as they headed back to the familiar waters off West Africa, the ‘Rover’ and their prize too.

IN GUINEA THEY FOUND RELATIVE SAFETY WHILE THEY PLANNED THEIR NEXT ADVENTURE. THE DIAMOND STUDDED CROSS INTENDED FOR KING JOÃO FOUND ITS WAY INTO THE HANDS OF THE GOVERNOR OF GUINEA AS PAYMENT FOR TUNING THE PROVERBIAL BLIND EYE.

It was during this visit we see Bart (though it may have been put to a hasty vote and not his decision at all) making a major error. While plundering a sloop [a smaller ship with one mast unfortunate enough to come their way] Bart was told of a ship from Rhode Island now in the vicinity and laden with good provisions. Since the pirates had not yet replenished the stores aboard the ‘Clemente do Artigo’ to their satisfaction it seemed a likely target. When the lookout spotted the brigantine [a smaller ship but big enough for two masts] the chase was on.

Not wishing to waste a moment he ordered the sloop to sea. The brigantine soon outran them. Then their troubles really began because the winds failed and worse still they found themselves in a current, being pulled far off course.

Their impetuous decision to rush after the brigantine now compounded; the sloop had fewer provisions than his own ship. They found themselves in a desperate situation, days away from the rest of the crew and without food or water. A small party was ordered to take a boat and row back to alert the rest of the crew to their predicament. This was a terrible miscalculation because they did not even hold enough supplies to last until help arrived. Just two days later they were forced to break up the sloop’s deck to make a raft and used it to get ashore in search of water. Help eventually arrived but it was bittersweet. Roberts lieutenant, Kennedy double crossed them and had stolen the ‘Clemente do Artigo’, the ‘Rover’ and all of their Portuguese treasure.

Walter Kennedy gets a ‘Short Drop with a Sudden Stop’

Kennedy and Roberts were chalk and cheese. The crew simply didn’t trust Kennedy; he already had a criminal career long before taking to sea. As a child he was a professional pickpocket and later turned to burglary, two occupations pirates considered beneath them. In contrast, Roberts was a gentleman and seen as good to his word. Never the less, the crew abandoned him and sailed away with Kennedy on the promise of an easy retirement for those wishing to leave piracy and more wealth for the others. Roberts never saw them again, as nearly all those who stayed with Kennedy were executed on their return to Britain. Walter Kennedy was hanged on the 17th of July 1721 at Execution Dock in London. The judges comment read “He was a sad dog and deserved the fate he met with.” a sentiment which Bart would probably have agreed with.

It is at this time Roberts wrote his articles, making those loyal swear an oath to obey. He told the crew “It was in everyone’s interest to observe them if they were minded to keep up so abominable a combination.” It seems he recognised their profession was distasteful but felt obliged to continue, we will never know why.

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A Stolen Sloop to Barbasos

There were numerous laws including the banning of some pastimes pirates would normally take for granted. For instance, anyone caught stealing from the ship would be marooned, no gambling with cards or dice, and no drinking alcohol below deck after eight in the evening. No children or women were allowed on board; further to this if a man smuggled one aboard the penalty was death!

Although there was a clause in case they had to rescue random women. In these circumstances a guard was to be placed on them at all times. No man was to strike another on board; quarrels were to be settled ashore. Once entered into their company one could not leave until he had acquired a share of plunder of at least 1000. Finally, despite the purpose of the oath Roberts insisted each man swear on the Bible.

An 18th Century Sloop sporting Barts Flaming Sword Jolly Roger. Illustration © Wayne Stock, 2007

They prepared the stolen sloop as best they could for a Trans Atlantic voyage and set sail for the West Indies. They robbed a couple of similar vessels along the way and were lucky enough to come by a brigantine too.

Off Barbados they robbed an English ship but mercifully left her enough cargo to make her journey from England to the Indies worth while and sent her on her way.

This Merciful Act nearly led to their Downfall

As soon as she arrived at Barbados her captain alerted the authorities to the robbery. The governor immediately ordered two vessels fitted for a police action and appointed trustworthy men to command them. A Captain Rogers and a Captain Graves were sent to search for the pirates.

It didn’t take them long to find ‘The Rover’ – just a few days. Roberts spotted the Galley commanded by Rogers and of course having no idea he was being hunted went on the offensive. We can only imagine the profanity when instead of surrendering their prey they turned and fired!

THE PIRATES IMMEDIATELY SAW THEY WERE OUT GUNNED AND FLED. CAPTAIN ROGERS, TRUE TO HIS COMMISSION, GAVE CHASE.

The action lasted a couple of days but Roberts finally slipped away. This scared them, it was the first time they had experienced the wrong end of a cannon and they didn’t like it. From then on, whenever they came by a Barbadon ship they were especially cruel.

Trepassy Harbor

A slight diversion, He made for Dominica where they knew the natives to be friendly to traders. This was a well-known pirate haunt but they only stayed long enough to repair the sloop and find men willing to swell their ranks. As soon as they could they sailed north to Grenada. Why this diversion is interesting is because it shows how precarious the balance between friend and foe was, for the governor there sent word to Martinique that pirates were on their way!

Roberts already knew things were heating up and though he eventually discovered proof of the treachery at Dominica for now he had only suspicions. He changed his plans mid stream and rather than cruising about Granada he kept on, eventually finding the coast of Newfoundland. It was obvious their sloop was not up to the job. She was maneouverable and quick but they were on the lookout for something better. In June1720 they came to a town called Trepassy where they engaged in one of the most infamous pirate assaults recorded. We can only speculate why they were especially brutal here but no doubt there was some grudge or perhaps even a commission to stir the madness. Pirates were after all, mercenaries.

Whatever the cause they entered Trepassy harbor in a very strange manner. With their black flags flying and weapons at hand the whole crew were on deck. Roberts had some blowing trumpets and rolling drums too, quite a show!

Trepassy harbor was full; over twenty ships lay at anchor. They destroyed all bar one, which they took with them but not before going ashore and burning the towns trading quarter to the ground. It was such a savage attack the town did not recover for a decade. Straight after, they went hunting around the Newfoundland coast and found surprisingly rich pickings. One ship, the Samuel especially so. She was filled with commodities but more importantly she carried numerous passengers. After plundering her they felt it was time to head south again knowing such a haul would attract trouble especially since her passengers witnessed everything.

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South to Saint Bartholomew

They finally arrived at St. Bartholomew in the West Indies where they were given a marvellous welcome. They spent freely and indulged themselves as pirates would, the natives being more than happy to oblige. Here they planned their next adventure, another trip across the Atlantic.

Roberts was still on the lookout for a better ship and a few days out of St. Bartholomew he found exactly what he wanted. French ship from Martinique, christening her ‘The Royal Fortune’’ they left the original captain with the tired old sloop saying “exchange is no robbery”.

However, as rich as they were, the new ship was not prepared for a transatlantic crossing. Roberts could have taken all the provisions from the sloop but he left plenty for the French Captain and his crew, typically humanitarian. It was a mistake. Before ‘The Royal Fortune’’ could make Africa they found themselves dry as a bone. With a hundred and twenty four men to water and feed he was forced to change course following the quicker trade winds back to the West Indies. This was a disaster; they lost numerous crewmen to starvation and thirst before reaching Suriname at northern shoulder of South America. This voyage shocked them, some of the crew took it as a warning and voiced an opinion as to leaving piracy and returning to law abiding civilian life. With this in mind they sailed north, taking their chances.

Soon they met with a ship sailing from St. Christopher and found not only proper provisions but also a friendly captain who joined with them. He informed Roberts of the treachery at Dominica and let him know that when the governor at Martinique heard they might be headed his way, he fitted two sloops ready to take action against him, taking a lead from the Barbadian governor mentioned earlier. Roberts was furious, all thoughts of becoming private citizens were thrown away as the crew voted to take action against Martinique, they saw this as an act of war. He had a new flag made picturing a man standing with a flaming sword. Under each foot a skull. Under the right skull the letters “ABH” and under the left “AMH”. Meaning, A Barbadian’s Head and A Martinican’s Head respectively.

At Martinique he first met a procession of traders. Using a rouse with his signal flags, he convinced them that he was there to trade and one by one as they came to he robbed and sank the lot Twenty ships in all. He did however save just one, so that prisoners could get ashore safely. Satisfied with his haul Roberts sailed south for Guadeloupe and found a quite hold up where they could prepare for another Trans Atlantic trip, back to Guinea.

It was during this stop over the seeds of his downfall were sown. Within his command was a Captain Antis who had no real axe to grind with Roberts other than he felt over shadowed by the man. Antis commanded a brigadine, the ‘Good Fortune’ and resented the fact that Roberts treated his ship as a supply to his own, the ’ Royal Fortune’. One day, a fight broke out leaving a crewman, one James Perry (an illiterate and particularly underhanded scoundrel) dead; run through by Roberts. Perry was close friends with Richard Jones an ordinary crewman who had been ashore at the time. On his return Jones, distraught at the death of his friend attacked and injured the captain.

As was their way, a court was assembled and with the possibility of a death sentence hanging over him Jones used Roberts own articles to plead his case. They voted to let him off with just two lashes from each crewman as punishment. But Jones was not finished. Before they set sail he met with Antis and together they plotted against Roberts. One night, close to the African coast, Antis slipped away taking over seventy men and what treasure Roberts had stored with him.

The crew of ‘The Royal Fortune’’ took this split badly though Roberts himself made light of the matter. We can assume he knew something was afoot and thought it a better outcome than an out and out mutiny. But of course it left his command short handed. Strength of force goes a long way in piracy. He cruised about Senegal for a few weeks, robbing passers by of meager but important pickings of both goods and provisions.

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The Jackpot, Again !

By the end of June 1721 they’d found a small settlement lead by one Jack Crackers, a notorious pirate now retired. Here they traded in like company and made good their vessels. Here he was told of two British men-o-war, ‘The Swallow’ and the ‘Weymouth’ that had visited just a month earlier with the intention of returning by the following Christmas. He was well aware of their firepower but felt safe since Christmas was half a year away.

Bart’s crew didn’t leave until that August, following the two British ships, the logic being that they’d find safety by staying a step behind them hence learning their movements. Inevitably, they raided every vessel that came their way but found no large hauls. They did however take and swap for a French built frigate, the ‘Onslow’. The ‘Onslow’ was renamed ‘The Royal Fortune” and visa versa. Many of its crew agreed to join with the pirates. They continued with some success, plundering those unlucky enough to sail their way as they went down the African coast.

ON ONE OCCASION AN ATTACK ON PORTO-NOVA IN WHYDAH (PRESENT-DAY BENIN, WEST AFRICA) THEY FOUND ELEVEN SHIPS, ALL WITH LITTLE MORE THAN CARETAKER CREWS ABOARD, THE REST WORKING ASHORE. ROBERTS HAD HIT THE JACKPOT AGAIN.

All the ships surrendered and either ransomed or plundered. Ransom meaning, their goods were not appropriate for pirating and would be sunk unless money was forthcoming. Given that they had made such little effort to defend themselves the captains requested Roberts give each a receipt for the goods stolen and ransom money so as to exonerate them at such time the ship owners learnt of the loss. Roberts obliged.

However, one ship, ‘The Porcupine’ was singled out. A slaver, fully laden and nearly ready to set sail but her commander, Captain Fletcher was on shore finishing his business when the pirates arrived. They sent word to him, demanding a ransom. Fletcher refused; Captain Roberts’ answer was to send boats to take the slave cargo to safety prior to burning the vessel. It was a disaster while one party set the ship alight the other tried to unshackle the slaves. Unfortunately, the latter had a little more difficulty and soon found themselves on a burning ship still struggling to free its poor occupants. The ship went up like a tinder box, the pirates fled in their long-boats but those slaves they’d managed to free could only escape the flames by jumping into the sea. Others below deck burned with the ship. To make matters worse these waters are shark infested; pirates and civilians alike witnessed a feeding frenzy as the sharks tore into the fleeing slaves.

What the Navy had to Say……

Naval accounts omit Roberts attempt to free the slaves before firing the ship, typically he was not given any benefit of the doubt but there are other witnesses. In addition to this, pirates had no truck with slavery as it went against their basic principals. They even had liberated slaves amongst their number equal to anyone aboard. In this respect we have to ask ourselves who were the real outlaws since every crown in Europe set their navy to protect the slave trade. Before leaving Porto-Nova Roberts gained some news hinting his position was known to the British men-o-war. After informing the crew of this they voted to head for their old haunt at Cape Lopez, their troop being ‘The Royal Fortune”, the’ Good Fortune’ and ‘The Ranger’.

Unbeknown to them, Cape Lopez would be their last stopover. While they had been abroad plundering, the British men-o-war ‘Swallow’ and ‘Weymouth ‘had been busy too. Though the two ships had their own share of trouble. Sickness on board reduced the crew in numbers and general health. This had a major impact on their performance, in-fact they could hardly function. At Cape Corso in Ghana they sought new crewmen, forcing them to sea as was the naval tradition in those days but it did not help. The ‘Weymouth’ was in pitiful condition. News came that Roberts had been sighted and ‘The Swallow’ was forced to leave the ‘Weymouth’ behind. Collecting intelligence from passing vessels Captain Ogle realised Roberts would probably try to escape back across the Atlantic and would have to lay up for a while to collect provisions and prepare for the journey. There were only a few places within reach of Porto-Nova where this was possible and aimed to check them all one by one.

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Captain Ogle Scores First Success

At dawn on the 5th of February the’ Swallow ‘came in sight of three ships at Cape Lopez and recognised them straight away.

According to the admiralty account, Ogle could not simply drive in an assault because a sand bank blocked his way so he had to steer out to sea for a while. The pirates misinterpreted this as fear, thinking this new comer had gone to run and typically gave chase with the captured French ship, re-named ‘The Ranger’.

Ogle’s lieutenant, a Mr. Sun played mouse to their cat, allowing them to gain then slipping away. ‘The Ranger’ commanded by James Skyrme, another Welsh pirate had no reason to think this was not just another fat merchantman on the run. Ogle intended to draw the ‘Rover’ away from the coast and their comrades. He had to get far enough away so that ‘The Swallow’s ‘guns, when eventually revealed, would not be heard ashore.

The rouse worked, by the time ”The Rover”’ was close enough to board she was too close to avoid a broadside. The battle ran for a day or so, apparently the navy always with the upper hand. It is said the pirates stood on deck mocking their foes, making gestures and shouting insults, all the while trying to get away. One volley blew Skyrme’s leg clean off and yet he refused to leave the deck and fought on his bloody stump!

Eventually the damage was too great and resignation was a credible option. Ogle sent a boat out to take their surrender. As it drew near an explosion was heard from the rear of the ‘Rover’. When inspected they found that some of the senior pirates had vowed not to be taken alive, gathered the little gun powder remaining and with a pistol shot from a yet another Welshman, John Morris, blew themselves up. As it happens, there was so little powder all they did was burn and injure each other. They were immediately interrogated. A man thought to be the ship boatswain, Roger Bull was asked why they had taken to suicide. He poured scorn on his captors complaining the worse thing was not the injury but that his best hat had been shot overboard in the blast. A naval surgeon offered treatment but was refused. Bull complained all day saying Roberts would have Olge’s guts for garters when he caught him. These outbursts earned him a lashing in spite of his burns. He was dead by the following morning.

A Single Broadside

Ogle returned to Cape Lopez some five days after the original sighting. Robert’s flagship, ‘The Royal Fortune’ was still there at anchor with the ‘Little Rover’ and another, ‘The Neptune”. According to the admiralty ‘The Royal Fortune” made a break for open water passing ‘The Swallow’ allowing Ogle to get off a broadside as she went by. A short running battle began with a single broadside from ‘The Swallow’ and saw Roberts fatally injured with grapeshot wound to his throat. They claim the crew threw his body over-board before surrendering. Bartholomew Robert’s body was not recovered. The crew were transported to Cape Corso Castle and executed. Case closed.

However, eyewitnesses report some strange things happened that February morning at Cape Lopez. To begin with, the pirates had excellent intelligence on the ‘Swallow,’ one of her crewmen had deserted, joining ‘The Royal Fortune” so they had insider knowledge of how well she performed and they could identify her. The pirates knew they were much faster and could easily have out run her.

On the morning of the 10th, after first sighting ‘The Swallow ‘the pirates had over an hour to effect an escape but Roberts seemed unbothered. Rather, he sat eating his breakfast of Salamungrundy (pickled fish), thus allowing ‘The Swallow’ to get so close that an engagement was inevitable. Then, once underway the pirates did not rig ‘The Royal Fortune” to run even though they knew they were out-gunned so a speedy get-away was their best option.

That’s not all, there were some very unusual things reported on board ‘The Royal Fortune” that morning. Bart didn’t breakfast alone, he had a guest, one Captain Hill, master of ‘The Neptune’. Strangely ‘The Neptune’ was not detained and searched by Ogle who allowed her to get clean away.

Fifty Ounces of Gold Dust

Pirates would often dress with some verve but on this particular day Bart was flamboyant even by their standards. He was dressed in crimson top to bottom and wore a gold chain with a diamond studded cross. He also had a large red feather in his hat, could he be more visible?

Bartholomew Roberts probably did not die that morning, later reports infer he engineered the whole sham after the fiasco at Porto-Nova. He’s known to tell the crew he wished out of piracy but the opportunity to safely extricate himself never presented itself. He did love the way of life, being master of his own destiny but of course it came at a price. He despised the crew for their cruelty and the constant struggle to keep them in check.

Using his relationship with the governor of Guinea, Bart organised protection for himself (remember the The cross of King João, it was given to the governor!) by delivering his crew to Ogle. Sending ‘The Ranger’ out alone to take on a man-o-war simply divided the crew. ‘The Neptune’ had not just come by; she was on a mission, there to whisk Roberts away. According to the Naval account, the report of his death was given by a helmsman named Stephenson. He claimed he saw Roberts fall, saw his wounds, and together with some other crewmen killed in action, threw the body over-board.

There was indeed a body thrown over the side but it was not Bartholomew Roberts. Black Bart had escaped with Captain Hill, rowing to ‘The Neptune’ disguised as an ordinary crewman. They’d dressed a body in his crimson finery and left it with Stephenson in the stateroom. When the time was right, in the confusion of that first broadside from,’ ‘The Swallow’ Stephenson threw it overboard and rushed on-deck to pass-off the story. It worked perfectly. Stephenson was detained but later released. Captain Hill arrived in Barbados some time later, delivering fifty ounces of gold dust to the governor there, payment of sorts for safe passage of his anonymous passenger who went on to Florida, never to be seen again. Nothing more was heard of Captain Hill. Captain Ogle however returned home to a hero’s welcome. His hefty reward included a knighthood, career advancement (eventually becoming Admiral of the Fleet) and a country manor at Kirkley Hall in the north of England where his descendants remained until 1922.

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