Black Bart, The jackpot, again! (page 5)
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.
Continued on page 6, Ogle scores first success..