Wednesday, December 11, 2019

The ‘Lure’ of the Pirate Life

Posted by: Ruth A Casie

"In an honest service there is thin commons, low wages, and hard labor; in this, plenty and satiety, pleasure and ease, liberty and power; and who would not balance creditor on this side, when all the hazard that is run for it, at worst, is only a sour look or two at choking. No, a merry life and a short one, shall be my motto."  ~ The Words of Bartholomew "Black Bart" Roberts

Bartholomew Roberts was born in Wales and is considered the most successful pirate that lived during the Golden Age of Piracy which spanned from 1650 to 1722. He invoked terror and invincibility to all who crossed his path. Even his death shook the world. "The Blackest Day" marks his death, February 10, 1722 and the end of piracy's Golden Age.

Why did he or anyone for that matter become a pirate? The largest source of information is from court records although a review of personal memoirs and letters also provide valuable information.

During the early 17th century records indicate that almost three-quarters of a pirate ship crew was made up of seasoned seamen who previously served on merchant ships, warships, and even privateers.

According to historian David Cordingly Caribbean crews were made up of 35% English, 25% colonial Americans, 20% from the West Indies (Jamaica and Barbados primarily), 10% Scottish and 8% Welsh. The remaining 2% were from Sweden, Holland, France and Spain.
But, back to Bartholomew Roberts. What motivated him to become a pirate?

The Princess, the merchant ship on which Roberts crewed was boarded by Welsh pirate Howell Davis. Captain Davis gave The Princess’ crew few options. Sign on or die by outright execution or abandoned on a desert island. Roberts signed the charter.

Some sailors made a ‘career move’ from privateering to pirate. A privateer was an individual with a government commission who owned or officered an armed ship authorized to capture enemy merchant ships. In other words, a sanctioned pirate. War ‘encouraged’ people to become privateers, but once peace returned the privateers found themselves unemployed. These people had few ways of making a living. Privateering/Pirating was the life they knew and the financial benefits were still attractive. As a pirate all they pilfered they shared among themselves. Although the consequences were dire, execution, for them the alternative was dying of starvation, becoming a beggar, or a thief on land.

Bartholomew Roberts went off to sail when he was thirteen-years-old. He was 27 when he signed on with Captain Davis. Six weeks after he joined the crew, Captain Davis was ambushed and killed. Bartholomew Roberts had impressed his pirate mates. They took a vote for the Davis’ replacement and named him the new captain.

Reluctant to be a pirate, Roberts embraced his new position. It is believed that Roberts felt if he must be a pirate, it was better "being a commander than a common man." His first order was to attack the town where Davis had been killed, to avenge his former captain.

Pirates plundered ships and villages for their gold, silver, and jewels, but that wasn’t all. They also took clothing to barter and to wear. They kept those items that suited them either to wear at sea or as finery to wear ashore. There are records of pirates going to the gallows wearing velvet jackets, taffeta breeches, silk shirts and stockings.

Pirate captains were no different. They often dressed as a successful merchant, giving him the appearance of a gentleman.  Black Bart, as Bartholomew Roberts was now called, was the fashion leader of elegance among pirate captains. According to his crew he “dressed in a rich crimson damask waistcoat and breeches, a red feather in his hat, a gold chain round his neck, with a diamond cross hanging from it.”

Unfortunately, Black Bart’s fancy clothes did not make him invincible. He was killed in a broadside attack of grapeshot fired from the Royal Navy ship cannons tore out his throat. Obeying his standing order, his men threw his body overboard.

The greatest pirate of his generation, it’s estimated that over his three-year career, Black Bart took some 400 ships. He is not as famous as some of his contemporaries, Blackbeard, Stede Bonnet, or Charles Vane, but he was a much better pirate.

There were many reasons why Black Bart was successful, his personal charisma and leadership, his daring and ruthlessness and his ability to coordinate small fleets to maximum effect. Merchants feared him and his men to the extent that commerce came to a halt. Merchant vessels did not venture out of port when Black Bart and his men were about. He must have secretly been one of the Pirates of Britannia!

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Deception and family honor are at stake – so is her heart.

Wesley Reynolds will do anything to avenge his family’s banishment from Dundhragon Castle even throw in with the notorious pirate, MacAlpin. His plan, ruin Lord Ewan’s trading network. He has a more devious plan for his father’s ‘best friend,’ the man who abandoned them at the eleventh hour. He’ll ruin the man’s most precious jewel, his daughter Darla. Wesley’s so close to ruining the trade network and succeeding he can almost taste it, but revenge is not nearly as sweet as Darla’s kisses.
Darla Maxwell, beloved by her parents has no prospects of marriage. Her father and Lord Ewan search to find her the right husband. Darla’s special gifts are frightening to many. She has visions that often come true. The murky image of a man haunts her, she’s sure it’s Lord Ewan’s soon-to-be son-in-law, but the vision morphs when she meets Wesley. The meaning couldn’t be any clearer to her, her destiny lies with Wesley.
When revelations surface indicating Wesley has been deceived and his revenge misplaced. Will he find the truth of what really happened to his family in time to stop the pirates? Will Darla ever forgive him? Will he ever forgive himself?

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Who is your favorite pirate, Captain Blood, Captain Jack Sparrow, Long John Silver, Captain Hook (from the TV series) or anyone else? I’ve set anchor at or better yet, drop me a line at

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