Thursday, August 20, 2009

People: Raise a Cup (Of Tea That Is)

My husband and I have this friend named Dave. We both worked with him back in the day and he came to our wedding during the late Jurassic period. My husband still works with Dave, in fact, and I always remember him as a really cool guy. He loves Warren Zevon, who was a pirate in his own right, and he used to drive this really awesome, old school orange BMW. Dave's last name is Roberts. I'm gonna go ahead and speculate that he and today's pirate are somehow related.

Bartholomew Roberts was born John Roberts in Wales around 1683. In 1719 he was sailing as Second Lieutenant aboard a merchant bound for West Africa when his ship was captured by the pirate Howell Davis. Roberts was either pressed into service with Davis or he signed on voluntarily. Either way he sailed aboard Davis' Rover for only a short time before the Captain was ambushed and shot by Portuguese officials. Roberts was swiftly elected Rover's Captain and he gathered a small fleet, returned to the port where Davis had been killed and torched the settlement in an act of angry vengeance.

Still pissed as all hell, Roberts led his little pirate fleet to the Bay of Bahia in Brazil where he took 42 treasure ships by surprise and managed to sail back to West Africa with goods and specie worth well over 100,000 British pounds. On top of that, Roberts took the 40 gun frigate of a Brazilian vice-admiral and a huge golden cross set with emeralds and diamonds which had been intended for the King of Portugal. The former he made his flagship and renamed Royal Fortune. The later he hung from his neck by a gold chain and there it remained for the duration of his life. Time to party, mates!

But see, here's the thing about our boy Black Bart. He was handsome, tall and always dressed in the height of fashion but he was a tea only kinda guy and the sort of Captain that maintained naval style discipline. So party meant, what? Earl Gray instead of the usual green tea and y'all can stay up till 11:30? I don't know.

Success was in the cards for Roberts. He continued to raid shipping off Africa's coast and, when that got old, he sailed back to the Caribbean and took what he wanted there. He plundered off the Carolinas, New England and even Newfoundland and he was never short of crew members. Guys waited in line to get on board with Roberts. Even a portion of his wealth was enormous to most sailors. Roberts only formidable foe at this time was the weather. He was caught in a storm in the Atlantic trying to return to Africa in 1720 and had to head back to the Caribbean. Many hands were lost to thirst when the water barrels went dry before land was sighted.

Undeterred, Roberts set up shop on the Island of St. Lucia in the Caribbean and he became such a pain in the local government's backsides that the French Governor of Martinique and the English Governor of Barbados - enemies in any other situation - agreed to combine forces to stop Roberts depredations. Unfortunately, Black Bart got wind of their little plot and he had a new Jolly Roger done up for the occasion. As shown here, the flag pictured Rogers
standing on two skulls. The letters beneath each human head stand for
"A Barbadian's Head" and "A Martiniquian's Head". Get the drift, Governors? Shortly after raising his new war cry, Roberts captured the 52 gun frigate carrying the Governor of Martinique back home from France. Oops. Bart hung the Governor, tortured the crew and took the frigate as his 2.0 version of the Royal Fortune.

By 1722, the Crowns of Europe were in a lather about Roberts and Royal Navy ships were dispatched to take care of the pirate once and for all. HMS Swallow and HMS Weymouth (sometimes the British kinda sucked at naming their ships) set out to take care of the trouble. In February, Captain Chaloner Ogle (um, the British weren't always good at naming their sons either) aboard Swallow engaged Royal Fortune's companion Great Ranger and captured her in short order. He then took off after Roberts.

At this point, Roberts' uncanny good luck finally gave out. Ogle caught Royal Fortune and swept past her, firing a hellish broadside loaded with murderous grapeshot. Men were mowed down like grass. Among them was Bartholomew Roberts. He died of injuries to his neck and chest and his remaining crew quickly tossed him overboard so that his body could not be displayed by the British. Royal Fortune's Captain was welcomed by the sea in a bright scarlet coat, still wearing his gold and diamond cross.

Roberts was arguably the most successful pirate in history. It is documented that he took some 400 ships in his short, three year career and certainly the wealth he stole was incalculable. Maybe that teetotaling does pay off... Nah. Had to be the name. You can't do better than Black Bart Roberts.


Timmy! said...

So the key to being a successful pirate is to have a cool name? Well it certainly can't hurt (and it makes you easier to remember, I guess). Important piratical tip... Thanks, Pauline!

Pauline said...

Ahoy Timmy! I'm just speculating but cool names seem to help a lot.