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Saturday, September 08, 2018

Birth of a Pirate - Bartholomew Roberts!

Harbour of Trepassey (1896) - Image extracted from page 694 of North Atlantic Directory. The physical geography and meteorology of the North Atlantic …, by ROSSER, William Henry. Original held and digitized by the British Library.
The London, England general public had learned of a brand new pirate in the Weekly Journal of London on October 15, 1720. This "active, brisk man" pirate had been the third mate of Princess Galley, captained by Abraham Plumb and owned by Richard Harris in partnership with Humphrey Morice, built in 1715. The newspaper told his name as "Thomas Roberts." We know him better as Bartholomew Roberts...

This article was first printed on the American side of the Atlantic "pond" in Boston News-Letter of August 20, 1720. Illustrating the wide connection of the Atlantic World, Capt. Plumb left England December 23, 1718, purchased his slave cargo on the coast of West Africa at Sierra Leone, was captured there by Howell Davis, plundered circa May 1719, traded for more slaves at Anomabu on the Gold Coast, and finally delivered human cargo to Kingston, Jamaica by December of 1719. The article then appeared eight months later, in America's first newspaper, Boston News-Letter, of Boston, Massachusetts. England finally learned about this piracy even later, in October 1720! The connection was wide, but also very slow!

Still, Capt. Plumb had lost "Thomas" Roberts to the pirate Howell Davis, who gave him his own sloop (as he had also done for Walter Kennedy at Sierra Leone) to pirate along the Guinea Coast as they made their way east from Sierra Leone. Capt. François Negré of Le Lesable was captured by Kennedy and these same pirates and narrated the journey from Sierra Leone River all across the Gold Coast by his captors.

Their eastward course showed them battling a vessel near Cape Appolonia on 19th June [dates in 18th-century Roman Gregorian calendar (10 days difference from the English Julian), so therefore the date for the English at the time would be 9 June] (meanwhile, “Pevas” or Davis’ consort “Pierre Roberd [Thomas, later, "Bartholomew" Roberts] of Jamaica” took Capt. Montigne, on the 20th of June [J: 10th Jun]. Roberts then took l’Anne de Sables, Capt. Francois Moreau, on the way to the forts at Cape Coast and Anomabo by the 6th of July [J: 26 Jun]. The pirates made Cap de Trois Pointes (Cape of Three Points), and Judah or Whydah by 21st of July [J: 11 Jul]. Davis, Roberts, and Kennedy were trailing three other pirates by about a month.

Portion of Thomas Grant deposition on his capture by Roberts in Experiment, 27 July 1719 near Cape Lopez off the southwest coast of Africa. It names the vessel as "Royal Rover" and the pirate as "Bartholomew Roberts."

Negre reported that Davis’ men were in search of Le Victorieux “who had evaded the pirates [Jeremiah Cocklyn, Olivier LeVasseur, Richard Taylor, et al from Sailing East], to give them this second” chance to supply Davis with free human cargo, “without paying the country's fees”! Late that July, Howell Davis would be killed at Principe Island by the Portuguese who did not long fall for his ruse as government officials. Roberts then took his command and the details of this adventure appeared in the Boston News-Letter which I present here for you.

This exciting new detail, including information from French depositions like those shown above, appears in a new book, Sailing East: West-Indian Pirates in Madagascar, coming out this month! 

Find further details at
Author's Bookstore
Author's  page

While the book is not specifically concerned with the Bartholomew Roberts, there appear coincident events with Jeremiah Cocklyn, Olivier LeVasseur de la Buse, Richard Taylor, Edward England, and Edward Congdon, the particular subjects involved. This Boston News-Letter article tends to fill in the gaps on the "Dred Pirate" Bartholomew Roberts... to borrow a cinematic phrase. The article also contains many of the literary elements used by controversial Jacobite newspaper publisher Nathaniel Mist, writing as "Charles Johnson" to create his A General History of the Pyrates in 1724. 

Also, the entire piratical career of Roberts is much too detailed for a single blog article - he captured hundreds of vessels! Suffice it to say that, when Bartholomew Roberts took command of Howell Davis' vessel, then 32-gun Royal Rover, he sailed her south along the Angolan Coast where he took Experiment, then to Brazil with this prize and King James, took a Portuguese man-of-war, Sagrada Familia, then to Cayenne in modern French Guiana and there took a sloop of Rhode Island, Princess, Capt. Edward Cane, sailed her along the northern coast of South America, and renamed her Good Fortune, and endured apparent mutiny from Walter Kennedy. Roberts was then deposed by Thomas Anstis, who then sailed Good Fortune to the Leeward Islands and Barbados. He there dallied, fought with their forces, including Somerset Galley, Capt. Owen Rogers, and Phillipa, Capt. Daniel Graves. HMS Milford, HMS Shark, and HMS Rose were normally stationed in these islands, but also there were HMS Squirrel and HMS Rye, who were not normally stationed there, but just happened to be at Barbados when Anstis arrived in Good Fortune! The French were heavily preyed upon by the pirates, and also launched their own l'Atalanta, Capt. de Caffaro. Under the inexperienced Anstis, the Royal Navy warships weren't even necessary to take them, for Good Fortune was badly damaged by the Barbadian forces. After careening at Grenada, and nursing her wounds, Bartholomew Roberts was vindicated and reinstated as captain. On 25th of September, he took them far north to Trepassey, at the French colonies of Newfoundland - narrowly missing the French frigate l'Atalante which had come to Grenada in search of them. This article begins there...but also takes a flashback to their disastrous visit to Barbados:

Date: Thursday, August 22, 1720  
Paper: Boston News-Letter (Boston, Massachusetts)  
Issue: 858  
Page: 2  

I have removed the italics (except in ship names), separated phrases into smaller sections for easier consumption. Wherever relevant, I have added visuals, relevant documents, and commentary in red. Dashes "----" separate paragraphs in the original article:

Boston, On Monday last the 15th Currant arrived here the Ship Samuel, about eleven Weeks from London, and ten from Lands end, Capt. Samuel Carry Commander, who in his Voyage hither on the 13th of July [1720] past, in the Latitude of 44 about 30 or 40 Leagues to the Eastward of the Banks of New-foundland, was accosted and taken by two Pirates, viz. A Ship of 26 Guns [Good Fortune], and a Sloop of ten, both Commanded by Capt. Thomas Roberts, having on board about a hundred Men, all English: The dismal Account whereof follows:

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 every ones 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, tote 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 a board their Ship, instead of Tossing them into the Hould again they threw them over board into the Sea;

The usual method they had to open Chests was by shooting a brace of Bullets with a Pistol into the Key-hole to force them open:

The pirates carryed 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 Blaspemimg 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 Superior power or force, which they could not master, they would immediately put fire with one of their Pistols to their Powder, and all go merrily to Hell together!

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.

They forced and took away with them Capt. Carry's Mate, and his Seamen, viz. Henry Gilespie, Hugh Minneus, both North Britons, Michael Le Couter, a Jersey Man, and Abraham, a Kentish Man, could not learn his Sir-name, the Captains Book being carryed away, (except one Row born in Dublin which they would not take because born in Ireland:) holding a Pistol with a brace of Bullets to each of their breasts to go with them, or be presently shot down, telling them that at present they wanted none of their Service;

but when they came to any Action, they should have liberty to Fight and Defend the Ship as they did, or else immediately to be shot, that they should not tell tales. [origin of the phrase: "Dead Men tell no tales?"]

They had on board the Pirate near 20 Tuns of Brandy, However the Pirates made themselves very merry aboard of Capt. Carry's Ship with some Hampers of fine Wines that were either presents, or sent to some Gentlemen in Boston;

it seems they would would not wait to unty them and pull out the Corks with Skrews, but each man took his bottle and with his Cutlash cut off the Neck and put it to their Mouths and drank it out.

Whilst the Pirates were disputing whither to sink or burn Capt. Carry's Ship they spy'd a Sail that same evening and so let him go free.


And at Midnight they came up with the same, which was a Snow from Bristol Capt. Bowls Master, bound for Boston, of whom they made a Prize, and serv'd him as they did Capt. Carry, unloaded his Vessel & forced all his Men, designing to carry the Snow with them to make her a Hulk to Carreen their Ship with.

[took also Capt. Marston of Ireland, Bristol vessel from Virginia to Bristol (BNL, 29 Aug 1720); (noted in Boston Gazette as “John Roberts”) took briganteen Essex of Boston, Capt. Robert Peat and mate William Barnett (both testified in Boston 7 Oct 1720)]

Article takes a flashback ...

Again, by way of introduction: Roberts took command of Royal Rover on African Coast with quartermaster Walter Kennedy, took Experiment near Cape Lopez, and then left for the coast of Brazil - took two Portuguese vessels at Ferdnando de Noronha, Brazil – made pirate of one – went to “Bay of All Saints” and cruised two weeks – two Indians gave Roberts intel of a Portuguese fleet about to sail  - proceeded to Pernambuco to meet them (port of Recife) – captured Sagrada Familia, the 40-gun Vice-Admiral of the 48-ship Portuguese fleet; then to Surinam where they took a sloop of Rhode Island, Princess, Capt. Edward Cane – took this  sloop to Cayenne in modern French Guiana and renamed her Good Fortune – Capt. Thomas Anstis named her master, (excerpted from the upcoming book, Dictionary of Pyrate Biography)... Roberts lost Royal Rover, Experiment, and Walter Kennedy, he was degraded from command by Anstis, who then led Good Fortune into a nest of firepower in the Leeward Islands and Barbados... then, the article picks up from Barbados: 

The said Roberts [commanded by Anstis] in the abovesaid Sloop, Rhode-Island built, with a Briganteen Consort Pirate, was some time in January last in the Latitude of Barbadoes, near the Island, where they took and endeavoured to take several Vessels [took Benjamin, Capt. Hays near Barbados (AWM, 7 Apr 1720), Jan 1720]

but the Governour hearing of it, fitted out one Capt. [Owen] Rogers of Bristol, in a fine Gally, a Ship of about 20 Guns, and a Sloop [Phillipa], Capt. [Daniel] Graves Commander;

Capt. Rogers killed and wounded several of Robert's [at the time, Anstis'] Men, and made a great hole in his Sloop, which his Carpenter with very great Difficulty (hundreds of Bullets flying round him) stopt, and finding Capt. Rogers too strong for him, tho' Graves did nothing, which if had, he must of necessity been taken, he therefore run for it, as also did his Consort Briganteen, which he never saw nor heard of since.


From Barbadoes, Roberts [having resumed command] went to an Island called Granada to the Leeward of Barbadoes, where he carreen'd his Sloop, and from thence this Spring, with 45 Men he came to Newfoundland [a voyage of about 2,500 miles], into the Harbour of Trepassi, towards the latter end of June last, with Drums beating, Trumpets sounding, and other Instruments of Musick, English Colours flying, their Pirate Flagg at the Topmast-Head, with Death's Head and Cutlash, and there being 22 sail in that Harbour, upon sight of the Pirate [Good Fortune], the Men all fled on Shore, and left their Vessels, which they possess'd themselves off - burnt, sunk, and destroyed all of them [actually not true; just one ship was burnt and no one was killed], excepting one British Gally [Capt. Capleston; taken 21 Jun 1720], which they designed to be their best Pirate Ship, if a better did not present:

After they did all the mischief they could in that Harbour, they came on upon the Banks, where they met nine or ten sail of Frenchmen, one of whom is the Pirate Ship of 26 Guns [renamed Royal Fortune] abovesaid, taken from a Frenchman [wrong], unto whom Roberts the Pirate gave the Bristol Gally, but sunk and destroyed all the other French Vessels, taking first out what Guns were fit for his own Ship, and all the other valuable Goods.

The New Pirate "General Rendevous?"
St. Helena

A View of the Town and Island of Saint Helena in the Atlantic Ocean belonging to the British East India Company, engraving, c. 1790. The Dutch Republic formally claimed Saint Helena in 1633, although there is no evidence that they ever occupied, colonized, or fortified it. By 1651, the Dutch had mainly abandoned the island in favour of their colony at the Cape of Good Hope. A census in 1723 recorded 1,110 people, including 610 slaves.

Roberts the Pirate designed from Newfoundland to range thro' the Western and Canary Islands, and so to the Southward [briefly paying another visit to Sierra Leone*], to the Island of New Providence [not the Bahamas in 25 degrees North latitude - perhaps St. Helena (about 16 degrees South latitude), also referred to in a French deposition (Le Solide, Capt. Patterson) as the pirate's new place of rendevous by pirates Jeremiah Cocklyn and Olivier LeVasseur, two of the subjects of Sailing East], possest by Negroe's, in South Latitude 17 which they say is the place of 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 Portuguese Negro Women. [Richard Sanders, Roberts' biographer, believes this was a fantasy, but St. Helena was mentioned by other pirates as well.. who knows what history may be found on that island!]

* “Roberts having three ships under his command, put into Sierra Leone for fresh water, and finding a trading vessel in the Bay of France [Frenchman’s Bay], took her thence and carried her into another near the Cape, which is very deep and has a long narrow entry. This the author in his survey has called Pirate’s Bay, because when Roberts had rifled that ship he set fire to her; and part of her bottom was to be seen at low water when Mr. Smith was there. The next day Roberts sent up a boat well armed to Governor Plunkett desiring to know if he could spare him any gold dust or powder and ball. Plunkett sent word he had no gold to spare, but that as to powder and ball he had some at his service if he would take the trouble to come for it. Roberts, considering this reply, anchored with his ships the next flood before Bunce Island, and a smart engagement followed between him and the Governor for several hours together, till Plunkett, having fired away all his ammunition, fled in his boat to a small island called Tombo. But, being overtaken by the pirates, was brought back again to Bunce Island, where Roberts swore heartily at him for his Irish impudence in daring to resist him. Plunkett, finding the bad company he had gotten into, fell acursing and swearing faster than Roberts, which raised much laughter amongst the pirates, who bid Roberts hold his tongue, for that he had no share at all in the palaver [court of judicature] with Plunkett. However, it is said that by mere dint of swearing Old Plunkett saved his life. When Roberts had rifled the warehouses, he went aboard and sailed out of the river next ebb, leaving Plunkett again in possession of the fort, which the pirates had much damaged." [T. N. Goddard, Hand Book Of Sierra Leone (Edinburgh: Riverside Press, n.d.), 17-18.]

Roberts the Pirate says, that there is a French Pirate on the North Coast of America, who gives no Quarter to any Nation, and if he met him, he would give him none. The Pirates seems much enraged at Bristol Men, for Capt. Rogers sake, whom they hate as they do the Spaniards.


Roberts returns to the Windward Islands

Daily Post (London), 3 Dec 1720

[Royal Fortune and Good Fortune seen by a French vessel careening on Carriacou Island, north of Grenada [Mesnier, 5 Oct 1720 & Feuquieres, 8 Oct 1720], bef. 25 Sep 1720; pirates left Carriacou (and passed 40-gun Atalante, Capt. Caffaro, coming south from Martinique), 25 Sep 1720; then Royal Fortune (with sloop Good Fortune in command of a French man named “Montanie”) sailed to Black Star at St. Christopher’s Island - blockaded Basseterre Road, St. Christophers (St, Kitts), 27-28 Sep 1720; here, pirates burned a vessel (Mary and Martha of Bristol, master Thomas Wilcox) out of which Bridstock Weaver was chief mate; Weaver et al were forced on Royal Fortune (Jones called her “New Providence”); 4-5 days after, Thomas Jones says they decided to run away with another Good Fortune [formerly a brigantine of Rhode Island – Weaver called her “Fortune”, master Norton; timing disputed with Weaver, see 18 Apr 1721]... (excerpted from the upcoming book, Dictionary of Pyrate Biography)

An eyewitness carried thousands of miles!

Deposition of Moyse Renos, (Moses Reynolds, or Renault,) of Dartmouth, Mariner. St. Christophers, 26th Sept., 1720. Was taken by a pirate sloop when on a fishing voyage on the Banks of Newfoundland in a pink belonging to William Cane of St. Johns. Within five or six days they took four or five prizes amongst them a vessell of Bristoll one Thomas Commander who formerly used to trade to Barbados they intended to use him ill but he giving them an account that a ship and sloop was fitted out of Barbados to pursue them (for they had been in the Royall Rover in these seas) and that it was reported at Barbados they had sunk the said pyrates, they in their merriments hereon returned him his ship and dismissed him but took two or three of his men by force who made their escape afterwards. Thence they went to Trepassi, and found in the harbour 22 sail of English bankers and fishers, of these they took one and in 10 days fitted her out with 18 guns for their own use oblidgeing the crews of all the ships to work and of the severall crews five or six took on willingly with them etc. They forced three or four more but only took provisions and left all the rest of the vessells there except one they burnt etc. They next took 5 or 6 sail of French bankers, among them the ship [Royal Fortune] they are now in, putting the Frenchmen on board the ship they took at Trepassi, for they would not force or permit any of any nation to be with them only English etc. Corroborates preceding. Signed, Moyse Renos. Endorsed as preceding.

"Thomas," or "Bartholomew" Roberts's trial at Cape Coast Castle on the west coast of Africa in 1722 was one of the largest hauls of pirates in the "War on Piracy" conducted by the Admiralty. Get all the details in Dictionary of Pyrate Biography for release in 2019! There are over 25 primary source depositions and reports available for the time here revealed on this pirate!


My thanks to Dr. Jacques Gasser, author of :

Dictionnaire des flibustiers des Caraïbes

for his late 17th-century tales of the "Flying Gang of Toruga," or French buccaneers of the Caribbean!

Dr. Gasser was instrumental in my acquisition of these French depositions from l'Amiraute de Nantes.