Who is Black Bart?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Black Bart was one of the most successful pirates active during the Golden Age of Piracy, capturing over 400 ships all over the Atlantic Ocean in his brief and brutal career. Although Black Bart is not as well known as some other pirates from the same era, such as Blackbeard, his skills as a captain and pirate were quite formidable, and many pirate characters in film and fiction are based on Black Bart, who was known as Bartholomew Roberts during his lifetime.

In 1722, Black Bart was killed in battle off the coast of West Africa.
In 1722, Black Bart was killed in battle off the coast of West Africa.

Bartholomew Roberts was born in Wales in 1682 as John Roberts; “Bartholomew” is likely an alias taken at some point during his sailing career. John Roberts first took to the sea at the age of 13, and little is known about his career as a legitimate sailor, except for the fact that he was sailing as the third mate on a slave ship in 1719 when he was pressed into service on a pirate ship. Pressing valuable members of the crew of captured ships was a common practice among pirates, and Roberts was apparently a very accomplished navigator.

John 'Bartholomew' Roberts, known as the pirate 'Black Bart', was an accomplished navigator.
John 'Bartholomew' Roberts, known as the pirate 'Black Bart', was an accomplished navigator.

Within six months of being pressed into service, Roberts had been elected captain, and he embarked on a reign of terror which didn't end until 1722, when he was killed in battle off the coast of West Africa. As captain, Black Bart proved to be decisive, savage, and ruthless, keeping firm order among the members of his crew and being totally unafraid of going after ships of all sizes for their precious cargoes.

The total value of the treasure captured by Black Bart is not known, because much of it was never recovered, but it is estimated to be in the high billions. He operated in the Caribbean, an area rich in potential plunder thanks to heavily-loaded Spanish and Portuguese treasure ships, and he also worked off the coast of New England and Newfoundland, and off the coast of Africa.

Black Bart's character was rather curious. Although he was ruthless, he also imposed strong moral rules on members of his crew; by signing the ship's articles, pirates agreed to refrain from bringing women on board, for example, and they were also not permitted to play cards or fight on board ship. Black Bart himself was a teetotaler, preferring tea to coffee, and also a bit of a dandy, preferring to dress in clothing more befitted to a gentleman than a pirate.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@medicchristy: I thought I would add a couple more of his articles, as they are very interesting.

Article III. None shall game for money either with dice or cards.

Article IV. The lights and candles should be out at eight at night, and if any of the crew desire to drink after that hour they shall sit upon the open deck without lights.

Article V. Each man shall keep his piece, cutlass and pistols at all times clean and ready for action.


@medicchristy: Black Bart’s articles were actually very fair ways of living. He seemed to be a very fair man. There are eleven articles in all. I will list a couple of them for you.

Article I. Every man shall have an equal vote in affairs of moment. He shall have an equal title to the fresh provisions or strong liquors at any time seized, and shall use them at pleasure unless a scarcity may make it necessary for the common good that a retrenchment may be voted.

Article II. Every man shall be called fairly in turn by the list on board of prizes, because over and above their proper share, they are allowed a shift of clothes. But if they defraud the company to the value of even one dollar in plate, jewels or money, they shall be marooned. If any man rob another, he shall have his nose and ears slit, and be put ashore where he shall be sure to encounter hardships.


Does anyone know how many articles Black Bart had and maybe what some of them were?

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