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Sunday, April 09, 2017

Dictionary of Pyrate Biography - in the Works!

Roberts, Thomasserved as third mate of a Guinea-man or slave ship out of London, Capt. Plummer, and taken by a pirate – he thus became a pirate himself and was voted Captain in Nov 1718; in Rhode Island-built sloop with briganteen pirate consort, near Barbados – fought with governor’s forces: Capt. Rogers, in 20-gun galley and Capt. Graves in a sloop, which wounded his sloop and ran off the briganteen, Jan 1720; Roberts then sailed to Granada to careen, and in spring of 1720, with 45 men, came to Newfoundland, first to Ferryland, ca. 14 Jun 1720; into harbor of Trepassey, a small fishing community located in Trepassey Bay on the south eastern corner of the Avalon Peninsula of Newfoundland and Labrador - Roberts ran the narrow harbor with 22 sails and 250 Shallops with flag of “Death’s Head and Cutlash,” 1,200 men fleeing all ships to the shore – pirates burned all ships but a Bristol Galley, Capt. Capleston, which they kept – nine or ten sail of Frenchmen which Roberts burned except a 26-gun Frenchman, to whom Roberts traded his galley, 21 Jun 1720; in the latitude of 44 degrees, about 30-40 leagues east of Newfoundland, in command of two pirate vessels, one ship of 26 guns and a sloop of 10 guns, with about 100 English men, took ship Samuel of London, Capt. Samuel Carry, 13 July 1720; captured a snow from Bristol, Capt. Bowls, and forced his crew as they did with Capt. Carry, 14 July 1720; designed for Western and Canary Islands and southward to “Island of New Providence, possest by Negroe’s, in South Latitude 17 [more like 25] which they say is the Pirates General Rendezvous, where they have a Fortification and a great Magazine of Powder, &c. where they intend to spend their Money with the Portuguize Negro Women.”[1]
Guineaman or Slave Ship, similar to Blackbeard's Queen Anne's Revenge
Excerpt from Boston News-Letter, 22 Aug 1720, account about Carry’s vessel:

The first thing the Pirates did, was to strip both Passengers and Seamen of all their Money and Cloths which they had on board, with a loaded Pistol held to everyone’s breast ready to shoot him down, who did not immediately give an account of both, and resign them up. The next thing they did was, with madness and rage to tare up the Hatches, enter the Hould like a parcel of Furies, where with Axes, Cutlashes, &c, they cut, tore and broke open Trunks, Boxes, Cases, and Bales, and when any of the goods came upon Deck which they did not like to carry with them aboard their Ship, instead of Tossing them into the Hould again they threw them ober board into the Sea; The usual method they had to open Chests was by thooting a brace of Bullets with a Pistol into the Key hole to force them open: The Pirates carried away from Capt. Carry’s Ship aboard their own 40 barrels of Powder, two great Guns, his Cables, &c. and to the value of about nine or ten Thousand Pounds Sterling worth of the Choicest Goods he had on board. There was nothing heard among the Pirates all the while, but Cursing, Swearing, Dam’ing and Blaspheming to the greatest degree imaginable, and often saying they would not go to Hope point in the River of Thames to be hung up in Gibbets a Sundrying as Kidd & Bradish’s Company did, for if it should chance that they should be Attacked by any Superiour power or force, which they could not master, they would immediately put fire with one of their Pistols to their Powder, and go all merrily to Hell together! [And, in utter defiance of the king’s authority:] They often ridicul’d and made a mock at King GEORGE’s Acts of Grace with an Oath, that they had not got Money enough, but when they had, if he then did grant them one, after they sent him word, they would thank him for it.[2]

Excerpt from American Weekly Mercury, 22 Sep 1720:

… a small Sloop of 12 Guns and 160 Men, Entered Trepassy on Tuesday the 21st Instant, and made himself Master of the said Harbour, and all the Ships there, being 22 Saill, and 250 Shallops. He made the Masters all Prisoners, and beat some of them heartily for their Cowardice in not making any Resistance… The Captain was never on shoar himself but 40 or 50 of his Men go on shoar at a time, and gets all Hands Drunk, along with such Fishermen as remains in the Harbour. He fires his Evening and Morning Gun at which last all the Masters are to go on Board to receive their Orders for the Day, one was that no House, Chest, or Locker, &c., should be locked while he remains there, under Pain of severe punishment… on Saturday last the 25th… they saw a great smoak in the Harbour, which they believed was occasioned by the burning of the Ships, which the Pirats had threatened to set on Fire, &c.[3]
Image extracted from page 694 of North Atlantic Directory. The physical geography and meteorology of the North Atlantic …, by ROSSER, William Henry (1869). Original held and digitised by the British Library.

Thomas Roberts seems incredibly fortunate, if surreal. He is an example of the more "piratish" of the New England pirates of the Golden Age, and is clearly a different type of pirate from the earlier gentlemen like Thache, Jennings, Ashworth, and other wealthy men of Jamaica and Bermuda. There is also the hint of continued use of New Providence Island by Roberts and other pirates two years after Woodes Rogers had supposedly run them off... assuming that the pirates had not referred to a new rendezvous just south of Jamaica - equal in latitude to Roatan Island or Martinique - a place filled with exotic ladies of the evening and, no doubt, other expensive distractions on which to spend their ill-gotten gains! America was a pirate abode - a virtual Disneyland for these wild English outcasts... 
This entry on Thomas Roberts is an example of one of the entries in Dictionary of Pyrate Biography, derived from primary source references to pirates and the celebrities effected by them. This volume is the first and includes the years 1713-1720, or from the end of Queen Anne's War to two years after the death of Edward "Blackbeard" Thache. 

Essentially, during this period, American piracy had gone from the idea of revolution to outright rebellion or wild abandon. 

The earliest pirates from the Caribbean fished the eleven Spanish wrecks of 1715 on the Florida coast and found a glorious opportunity in this to finance their separation from a differentiating British Empire. The time, however, was not right... they had quit early thanks to lack of desire to defy their government and the king's generous pardon or Act of Grace, a chance to start over with a clean slate. By 1720, however, the idea of revolt had caught on with many pirates of the less-restrained or poorer sort, from New England and the Bahamas, a place of utter destitution. The study of primary sources alone make this clearer than reading the biases of many pirate writers, especially the polemical Charles Johnson, who was merely trying to seek his own brand of literary treasure. Johnson never mentioned Thomas Roberts, by the way.
Look for this book to be published in late 2017. Been pushed up to 2020 - 1/19/2020.

[1] Boston News-Letter, 22 Aug 1720, 2; American Weekly Mercury, 22 Sep 1720, 3.
[2] Boston News-Letter, 22 Aug 1720, 2.
[3] American Weekly Mercury, 22 Sep 1720, 3.


"Quest for Blackbeard" is now available in ebook format and can be found on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other online booksellers, including Apple iTunes.

Quest is already previewable on Google Books.

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