When you talk about the pirates of the 18th century, during the golden age of piracy, it’s likely that names like Blackbeard, Jack Rackham and Anne Bonnie come to mind but in actuality none of these famous criminals were anywhere near as successful as the Welsh pirate Bartholomew Roberts, better known as ‘Black Bart’. In fact, during his short-lived career he captured more than two hundred ships, that’s more than everyone one of his pirate contemporaries combined. He became so notorious at the time that his passing (and defeat) marked the end of the golden age of piracy, forever marking a warning for anyone who may try to terrorise the seven seas again.
Bart was actually born to the name John Roberts some time around the 1680s in a small village named Little Newcastle in Pembrokeshire, South Wales. Like many men of the time he earned his living by working on the seas, and was an honest sailor for over 30 years. All that changed however in the year 1719, at the time he was working as a second mate a slave ship, a ship that was captured by pirates off of the West Coast of Africa. Roberts decided to join these pirates and changed his name to Bartholomew Roberts so nobody would know who he was. As an experienced mariner he was quickly elevated amongst the ranks and upon the death of the Captain, Howell Davis, he was elected as the new leader.
As previously stated, Bart claimed hundreds of ships during his brief tenure, naturally many that were incredibly noteworthy. Perhaps one of his most memorable ventures was the capture of a Portuguese treasure ship at the Brazilian port of Bahia (which is now Salvador), by todays standards the cargo was worth millions. However though, in classic pirate fashion, the prize crew sailed away with the ship whilst Bart was out ship hunting and the treasure was lost forever. Bart was not deterred by this though, after he combed the shores of the Caribbean and the Americas rebuilding his fortune.
As with any good pirate tale Black Bart’s end with bang, several in fact as canons raged and tore through ships and sailors. Captain Chaloner Ogle first lured out a part of Bart’s fleet, they hadn’t seen his ship, the frigate HMS Swallow, before and assuming it was slave ship gave chase. Once they’d left sight of land the Swallow captured the pirate ship and returned to Wydah where Bart was stationed.
On arrival Bart sailed out to meet him and on 10th February 1722 the two fought a battle to the end. It appeared that the two ships were matched in size and with number of guns however the crew of the Swallow were better trained and had the edge over Bart’s. The battle was put to an end when Ogle fired a round of grapeshot that cut through the men of the pirate ship, including none other than Black Bart. After the battle 77 African members of Bart’s crew were sold back into slavery and 52 European pirates were hung, further warning others, if the death of this notorious Welshman wasn’t enough to put a stop to piracy, the mass hangings certainly were.