Bartholomew Roberts, A prize for the plundering

Black Bart, A prize for the plundering. (page 2)

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.

Continued on page 3, A stolen sloop to Barbados...

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