Captain Bartholomew Roberts, The Man
I, in my own way, tho’ not as Eloquently & Concisely as the Great One wouldst speaketh to ye, tho’ I feel he speaks thro’ me, shall try to convey the thoughts, reasons and principles that governed the man, known as Bartholomew Roberts.
Unfortunately, most people think of the good Captain as being a pirate, and he was, but the reasons for this piracy is what makes him different from withal. These reasons, which shall becomes clear, placed him in a class by himself, not only as the most successful pirate of All time, but a freer of slaves, and an iconoclastic insurrectionist, who sought to bring down the oppressors, striking deep into the very heart of the destructive force, in this case, the pockets of the arrogant class, the oppressors who reaped ALL of the rewards whilst sucking the life’s blood from them who toiled.
Captain Roberts, who before being taken upon the Rover by Captain Hywel Davies, was, like most people, just moving along tho’ life, almost unaware of his Mundane way of life, whilst just doing what we do today. Going to work, paying the bills; the usual day to day, boring existence.
Then, like a bolt out of the blue, his eyes were opened and he came to realize fully the Despotic relationship existing betwixt the Common man and his Oppressors, and did not like what he saw, being that of the Degenerate Aristocracy, who, possessing wealth and social position, use their high and mighty status to increase their own selves whilst trampling upon those, who, without recourse, reluctantly maintain them in their exalted rank. The main difference betwixt he & most others who felt thus, is that he set out to do something about it. A small revolution you might say, with a small, yet formidable army. He had one other very powerful drive which propelled him forward, the need to prove himself worthy of a captaincy; being overlooked for such a position merely because he was not a man of wealth or social standing. For this he wanted revenge, and demonstrated quite efficiently to those with the power to grant such placements, what a grave mistake they made.
Captain Roberts knew of these people well. Not being a poor man, his family owning land, but not being among the rich either. What we today would call the Middle Class. Dealing with some of them as a mariner, John Robert, by way of the ship’s masters, and other officers, as was he, holding the position of third mate aboard the Princess of London, was Forever bettering himself, but never being the sort to think of himself, as better. From this vantage point, it was easy for him to see the ways of those who did, and thought ill of them for their arrogance, but not being in the position to criticize, being that a sailing vessel is a dictatorship, and her Captain is an absolute monarch, having then, quite literally, the power of life and death, and though Merchant Captains wielded somewhat less power than a Naval Captain, could still strip a man, easily, of a lifetimes effort.
When you consider these factors you must, if trying to understand how he felt and why, while never forgetting the strong moral character of the man, which is the backbone of everything he did in life, never deviating from what he believed to be either correct or unjust; in fact his very career upon the high seas thrived because of his beliefs and these convictions, being incredibly strong, these are the things that made him the most successful pirate of all time. The fact that he was successful, most everyone who reads about him knows & comprehends, but the why is what most never venture to consider.
Captain Roberts was not a pirate for the purpose of personal gain in terms of money. His three ships were filled with 2 tons of Gold-Dust each, plus his own personal share. Any person, like the majority of pirates, or others who come into hordes of cash suddenly, tend to spend carelessly. The very existence of this overwhelming amount, more than suggests him to be of a much different ilk. His crew, from goodly reports, did spend time upon shore, living it up as they say, but never just spending all they had thinking easy come easy go. This was never a part of Captain Roberts philosophy. Our teetotaling sabbatarian was quite a different man, on a level so different from the rest that he shines like a beacon. His crew loved him, tho’ there were occasional problems, but was generally among the fresh men, who were new to both piracy, vigilantism & a captain whom they no doubt found most strange indeed. Who ever heard of a pirate that didn’t drink hard liquor & held church services. Never pressed men into his service, & was more interested in grain & cattle than he was in swag. Moreover he kept a ledger &, except in rare instances, clearly Paid for necessities, provisions, and services rendered. These were not the actions of what we think of when we hear the word pirate, nor did they in his time. Captain Roberts was unique.
What Captain Roberts lived for was justice, and his justice was rendered in the form of Vigilantism. The act of piracy afforded him the ability to serve justice in his own way, while providing an income to rig and provision his ships, and pay his men.
Look at his record. People are always asking why Captain Roberts hated the inhabitants of Barbados & Martinique. However, it should be made clear that ‘twas not the inhabitants, but the Governors thereof that he thought of as being despicable, especially Barbados’, Robert Lowther. And what of Saint Christophers, you ask. ‘Tis almost always overlooked. Perhaps because it didn’t decorate his flag. Nonetheless Captain Roberts attacked this place with a vengeance, but despite his wrath, this place did not hold for him the same meaning as did the others which earned his loathing. Captain Roberts was just following thro’ on what he said he would do should the Governor persist in his ill treatment of a man he considered to be innocent. Perhaps not so innocent, but certainly not a pirate. But then his hatred of Martinique is not in the same par as Barbados, but more or less thro’ association. As you befriend my enemy, you become my enemy. As for Saint Christophers, that was simple justice.
Before I continue I ask you to take pause for a moment and reflect on what I have tried to convey, and during this time ask yourself these questions. 1) Are those with money and power above the law? Do they have the right to profit by the misery of others? Should a man who has no qualifications for a job have it given to him simply because he has social standing or influence? Do those with the power to condemn have the right to punish an innocent man for the acts of another? Captain Roberts didn’t think so. One case in point, in regards to those Naval & Merchant Captains I mentioned in passing, they did have the right, so empowered to them by the crown. Without conscience they could flog a man for the smallest of offences, e. g. An insult or act of defiance, or what could otherwise be called insubordination, could afford the offender 200 lashes, whipping him with such brutality that not a square inch of flesh remained on the man’s body. Does this put you in mind of Captain Bligh (yes, he is a real life person & the novel, Mutiny On The Bounty, was based on a true story. And if you thinking this to be an isolated incident, you’re VERY wrong! This was par for the course. And those who did managed to escape such punishments, and, as they say, keep their noses clean, and make advancement. . . Were they later, during peace time, awarded jobs at sea as was their trade. NO, they were not. They were left jobless, thousands of them. No way to keep bread in their own mouths, much less the means to feed a family. These men turned to piracy as a mode of survival. The men who did find work at sea, after either being severely punished or kept barely alive, forced to dine on weevil infested bread and rotten food stuffs, suffering with scurvy from the want of citrus fruits, or rickets for the want of vegetables, and for this, so-called "Honest Work" were paid the paltry sum of about 1 pound per month. ) Hordes of these men also turned to piracy; and who could blame them and those that loss the able-bodied seaman; they blamed them. The Rich Merchants who benefited from this suffering; they blamed them. Everyone who no longer reaped the benefits from those who endured great hardships in their behalf, just trying to keep body & soul together, they blamed them.
And now that I hope I have painted a picture well enough for the average person to, hopefully, be able to understand the times in which Captain Roberts lived, I will continue.
Early in his career as a ‘Gentleman of Fortune,’ Captain Roberts, not yet driven by his inner self, was attacked, without due cause, by two ships who were sent out to bring him down. This was following an incident whereby he literally did one of those Captains, Daniel Greaves, of the Bristol Galley, Phillipa, a good turn, taking only those provisions Captain Roberts’ crew desperately needed. In return, the Governor of Barbados, Robert Lowther, elevated Captain Rogers, of Bristol, who, known for his valour, was at Barbados at the time, to that of Commodore, and sent him out as Captain of the Summerset, both of these ships were refitted with extra cannon and men, all in an effort to bring down the pirate who was making a big splash, and Captain Rogers, wishing to further his own advancement, was determined to get him. At this time Captain Roberts was just starting out, fresh from returning from Brazil, losing the prize taken there & their ship the Rover to Walter Kennedy, an Irishmen & eight others, Captain Roberts & his crew, as a result, nearly perished, which is why his Articles were drawn, and why he forever refused any Irishmen to sign them. Upon the heels of this upheaval is when the Phillipa was plundered for provisions, water and necessities alone, before kindly allowing her to peacefully depart. During the chase by the determined Captain Rogers, Captain Roberts’ crew had to jettison the majority of all they had just acquired, and then some, dumping over the side more and more in order to out sail the attacking ships & get clear. This made Captain Roberts furious, and hence was born this hatred.
Sailing along he almost immediately, to provision and water the ship, put into Dominico where they met up with the 13 English Seaman who were put ashore, without cause, by French Guard de la Coste, belonging to Martinique. After attending to business and hearing their story, Captain Roberts and his crew decided, knowing these French were going to Trepassey, Newfoundland, decided to pay them a call and return to them the fine hospitalities the English were shown, and thus was born the Greatest Defender of the Faith that has ever drawn a breath. And in doing so, quite literally blew the hell out of Trepassey, sinking all the vessels in the harbour, be it ship or boat, further laying waste to the shore, thusly destroying their economy and means of retaliation in one fell swoop. But more than just this happened. The 22 ships together with the guns in the harbour were more than adequate to turn the Rover into toothpicks, but none of them fired a shot. Captain Roberts even announced his arrival vie messenger, giving them more than sufficient time to prepare. In fact, one Captain, Admiral Babidge, did in fact make his ship ready, but then, doing the unthinkable, leaving his colours flying, was one of the first to flee, together with some 1200 other cowardly curds when Captain Roberts entered the harbour. So outraged by this lack of courage, Captain Roberts lingered in this place for a fortnight, allowing his men a free rein within the town. As further punishment, as this was more than well deserved, he had Admiral Babidge tied to the main mast of his own ship and flogged for deserting his post. Despite his wounds, he was required, as were all the Captains in port, to dine with Captain Roberts aboard his ship.
By the by, this episode by the French was only part of Captain Roberts reasons for hating Martinique as he did. ‘Twas not until, for the purpose of his destruction, joining forces with Barbados, an island belonging to another country no less, an aspect which only served to fuel his loathing, that these two Governors earned placement upon his flag.
Very rarely did Captain Roberts seize a ship. Most encountered were plundered and let go, and on those occasions when he fancied a particular ship he generally traded one of his vessels for it, tho’ not always, sometimes he simply took it, but there were very definite reasons for this. Though Captain Roberts was partial to Frigates, no particular design was favoured when choosing a ship. What mattered was the ship itself, that she was yare (sailed exceptionally well). Only when Captain Roberts was confronted by extreme arrogance did he lose his forbearance and burn ships out of hand, forever repaying the ship masters he knew, and the new ones encountered should they display a high and mighty attitude.
When the French Governor of Martinique & British Governor of Barbados ganged up on him, he was fit to be tied, and when the opportunity presented itself he hung the Governor of Martinique from the yard arm of his own ship, the Onslow, which Captain Roberts then kept for himself, naming her Royall Fortune, his fourth Royall Fortune. But so many others he let go, for it was not ships or gold he was after, or lives either, taking as few as possible, using scare tactics instead of violence making for both minimum loss of life while also enhancing his reputation, always dressing his finest when going into battle, presenting a bold demeanour coupled with outlandish style and flare. The very act of his musicians playing loudly, beating drums and sounding trumpets, was enough to frighten the majority, and he banked on this very aspect, flagrantly sailing in to their harbour like he was a God, or the Devil himself. But he was neither. Merely a very intelligent man, possessing uncommon valour and a flare for the dramatic, and his certitude crew, followed him right into the lions den and invariably came away victorious. This action by his crew is called faith; faith in yourself and in your Captain. This was another reason for Captain Roberts’ success. He himself was a master seaman and he trained his crew well. Even when drunk, they were 10 fold of any other, going up against seemingly impossible odds. It was not until they were without their Captain that they lost. The Great Ranger made a good fight of it for more than two & one half hours before she called for quarters. Do you not know and believe in your heart that out there in the open sea, that if Captain Roberts had been aboard the Great Ranger the outcome would have been just the opposite. Well I’d be surprised if you don’t. Not to say it’s a given, heavens no. Captain Roberts was never cocky, just a determined warrior. Never losing his head or reasoning power. Making sure everyone was at their station doing what needed to be done. Like the Cox’n, giving the orders while overseeing all, only on a much larger scale.
I have heard or read others, in their narrow mindedness, blame Captain Roberts for the weather and current, as if sailing a vessel was as easy as driving a car in a parking lot. They should try it sometime, out there when mother nature unleashes her fury with a force 10 wind and the swells being 30 plus feet, as if it has to be that nasty to wreak havoc upon a ship. Talk about a grand time, you do the best you can to sail, and with much of your canvas furled, there’s little to use in making your course as you find yourself at the mercy of the wind and current. Just surviving the conditions at all is the mark of superior seamanship, and of course luck. One day you should, just to add to you own knowledge, look up the number of ships lost at sea do to storms. The figure is staggering.
When Captain Roberts entered Ouidah Road, aka Whydah Road, he did not know what he would find, but when he came across a dozen ships dealing in the slave trade, and this was the last of these episodes, not the first, did Captain Roberts turn his face like everyone else and not give a damn, saying they’re Negroes, like the majority of the Caucasians did then. No he did not. Captain Roberts had many Negroes aboard his vessels. To him they were men. Captain Roberts was not the least bit prejudice, judging each man as an individual. When it came to his crew, all that mattered to him was their ability, they had to be the crème de la crème. Anyone who did not measure up to his very high standards were sent off with another ship, or put ashore in a favourable place of their own choosing, and even given a paper, should they so desire, stating that they were not a pirate by choice, but forced. Captain Roberts own version of an insurance policy so the man, not meeting his specs would not be punished.
Some of his Articles, tho’ seemingly harsh, were not to restrict freedoms, but rather to maintain order. His reasoning for not wanting women aboard should be obvious. Not only would a woman be a distraction, and no matter how innocent her actions were, her very presence could instil disharmony within the crew. There was also the little matter of the lack of privacy. Ships of the period, and for years after, were not being designed for co-habitation.
It’s amazing that the average reader misses these little facts, but I am sure it’s because they are not written in a way that catches the readers interest and thusly implanting it into their mind. I believe that this is why his Memoirs have been written in the manner that I have set them down.
So to sum up; Just who was this man, this Captain Bartholomew Roberts?
In Short, He was a highly proficient navigator and master seaman. A man with conscience, compassion and conviction, possessing uncommon valour. A great leader of men who choose to free from oppression those he could using the only methods that were available to him.
It’s very important to me, that those who seek the knowledge of his life understand him. That is what I have tried to set forth. I hope I have succeeded.
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