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6 real pirates of the Caribbean

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Bartholomew Roberts, aka Black Bart
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Bartholomew Roberts, aka Black Bart

Black Bart is often referred to as one of the most successful pirates. He was certainly an incredibly profitable pirate, reportedly taking more than 200 ships and treasure worth tens of millions by today’s standards, but the term “successful” becomes rather debatable as his career lasted only two-and-a-half years before coming to a violent end.

Born in southern Wales in the early 1680s, Roberts first appears in the history books as the third mate aboard a British slave ship. In 1719, pirate Howell Davis took the ship and Roberts then became forced labor aboard. Roberts took to pirate life, and when Davis was killed during an attack, Roberts was elected captain. Roberts’ first act as captain was to brutally avenge the death of Davis.

Roberts was stylish and vain with a penchant for fine, brightly colored clothing and exquisite jewels. Descriptions of Roberts no doubt have had an impact on how pirates are portrayed in Hollywood. Historical accounts report that Roberts wore scarlet britches, a waist sash and overcoat. A tri-cornered hat was his hallmark as was a diamond-encrusted cross, which he wore on an ostentatious gold chain.

As the cross indicates, Roberts was an oddly pious man. He held religious services aboard the ship and never attacked on the Sabbath. He also prohibited the consumption of alcohol on board, as well as gambling and fornication. Those who were loyal to Roberts were fiercely so, but historians believe as much as one-third of his crew were forced pirates. To prevent desertions, Roberts avoided hospitable ports and would often remain at sea for long periods of time. Roberts’ success as a pirate is reported to have brought transatlantic shipping almost to a standstill.

In February 1722, Roberts was duped by a British warship under the command of Chaloner Ogle. Raising the French colors, Ogle managed to deceive Roberts, defeat his ship and kill its master in two exchanges.

Roberts’ despondent crew weighted his body and cast him overboard fulfilling a promise not to allow him to be captured either in life or death. The trials held for the remainder of his crew are some of the most well-known in British history.

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