The Newgate Calendar - Supplement 3

The Newgate Calendar - CAPTAIN ROBERTS



            Bartholomew Roberts was trained to a seafaring life. Among other voyages which he made during the time that he lawfully procured his maintenance, he sailed for the Guinea coast, where he was taken by the pirate Davis. He was at first very averse to that mode of life, and would certainly have deserted, had an opportunity occurred. It happened to him, however, as to many upon another element, that preferment calmed his conscience, and reconciled him to that which he formerly hated.

            Davis having fallen in the manner related, those who had assumed the title of Lords, assembled to deliberate concerning the choice of a new commander. There were several candidates, who, by their services, had risen to eminence among their brethren, and each of them thought himself qualified to bear rule. One addressed the assembled Lords, saying, "that the good of the whole and the maintaining of order, demanded a head, but that the proper authority was deposited in the community at large; so that, if one should be elected who did not act and govern for the general good, he could be deposed, and another one substituted in his place."

            "We are the original," said he, "of this claim; and, should a captain be so saucy as to exceed prescription at any time, why, down with him! It will be a caution, after he is dead, to his successors, of what fatal consequence any kind of assuming may be. However, it is my advice, while we are sober, to pitch upon a man of courage, and skilled in navigation—one who, by his prudence and bravery, seems best able to defend this commonwealth, and ward us from the dangers and tempests of an unstable element, and the fatal consequences of anarchy; and such a one I take Roberts to be—a fellow in all respects worthy of your esteem and favour."

            This speech was applauded by all but Lord Simson, who had himself strong expectations of obtaining the highest command. He at last, in a surly tone, said he did not regard whom they chose as a commander, provided he was not a Papist; for he had conceived a mortal hatred to them, because his father had been a sufferer in Monmouth's rebellion.

            Thus, though Roberts had only been a few weeks among them, yet his election was confirmed by the Lords and Commons. He, with the best face he could, accepted of the dignity, saying, "that since he had dipped his hands in muddy water, and must be a pirate, it was better being a commander than a private man." The government being settled, and other officers chosen in the room of those who had fallen with Davis, it was resolved not to leave this place without revenging his death. Accordingly, thirty men, under the command of one Kennedy, a bold and profligate fellow, landed, and, under cover of the fire of the ship, ascended the hill upon which the fort stood. They were no sooner discovered by the Portuguese, than they abandoned the fort, and took shelter in the town. The pirates then entered without opposition, set fire to the fort, and tumbled the guns into the sea.

            Not satisfied with this injury, some proposed to land and set the town in flames. Roberts, however, reminded them of the great danger to which this would inevitably expose them;—that there was a thick wood at the back of the town, where the inhabitants could hide themselves; and that, when their all was at stake, they would certainly make a bolder resistance; and that the burning or destroying a few houses would be a small return for their labour, and the loss that they might sustain. This prudent advice had the desired effect, and they contented themselves with lightening the French vessel, and battering down several houses of the town, to show their high displeasure.

            Roberts sailed southward, captured a Dutch Guineaman, and, having emptied her of everything they thought proper, they returned her to the commander. Two days after, they captured an English ship, and, as the men joined in pirating, they emptied and burnt the ship, then sailed for St. Thomas. Meeting with no prize, they sailed for Anamaboe, and there watered and repaired. Having again put to sea, a vote was taken, whether they should sail for the East Indies or for Brazil. The latter place was voted, and they arrived there in twenty-eight days. To show what a beneficial commerce might be carried on here by the West India merchants, a description of Brazil and the adjacent coast, written by an intelligent gentleman, may be given to our readers.


            Brazil, which signifies the holy cross, was discovered for the King of Portugal, by Alvarez Cabral, A. D. 1501; it extends almost from the equinoctial to twenty-eight degrees south. The air is temperate and cool, in comparison to the West Indies, from stronger breezes and an opener country, which gives less interruption to the winds.

            The northernmost part of it, stretching about one hundred and eighty leagues, is a fine, fertile country, and was taken from the Portuguese by the Dutch West India Company; but the conquerors, as is natural where there is little or no religion subsisting, made such heavy exactions on the Portuguese, and extended such cruelty to the natives, that prepared them both to unite in a voluntary revolt, facilitated by the Dutch mismanagement.

            There are only three principal towns of trade on the Brazil coast—St. Salvadore, St. Sebastian, and Pernambuco. St. Salvadore, in the Bahia los todos Santos, is an archbishopric and seat of the viceroy, the chief port of trade for importation, whore most of the gold from the mines is lodged, and whence the fleets for Europe generally depart.

            The seas about it abound with whale-fish, which, in the season, they catch in great numbers; the flesh is salted up, generally to be the victualling of their slave-ships, and the train reserved for exportation, at thirty and thirty-five millrays a pipe.

            Rio Janeiro, or the town of St. Sebastian, is the southernmost of the Portuguese ports, and the worst provided with necessaries; but commodious for a settlement, because nigh the mine, and convenient to supervise the slaves, who, as we have been told, do usually allow their master a dollar per diem, and have the overplus of their work to themselves. The gold from hence is esteemed the best, it being of a copperish colour; and they have a mint to run it into coin, both here and at Bahia—the moidores of either having the initial letters of each place upon them.

            Pernambuco, though mentioned last, is the second in dignity—a large and populous town, and has its rise from the ruins of Olinda, or the Handsome, a city of a far more pleasant situation, six miles up the river, but not so commodious for traffic and commerce. Just above the town the river divides itself into two branches, not running directly into the sea, but to the southward; and, in the nook of the island made by that division, stands the governor's house, a square, plain building of Count Maurice's, with two towers, on which is only this date inscribed, Anno 1641. The avenues to it are very pleasant, through vistas of tall cocoa-nut trees.

            Over each branch of the river is a bridge; that leading to the country is all of timber, but the other to the town, consisting of twenty-six or twenty-eight arches, is half of stone, and made by the Dutch, who, in their time, had little shops and gaming-houses on each side, for recreation.

            The pavements, also, of the town are in some places of broad tiles, the remaining fragments of their conquest. The town has the outer branch of the river behind it, and the harbour before it; jutting into which latter are close quays, for the weighing and receiving of customage on merchandise, and for the meeting and conferring of merchants and traders. The houses are strong built, but homely latticed, like those of Lisbon, for the admission of air, without closets, and, what is worse, without hearths, which makes their cookery consist all in frying and stewing upon stoves; and that they do till the flesh becomes tender enough to shake it to pieces, when one knife is thought sufficient to serve a table of half a score.

            The greatest inconvenience of Pernambuco is, that there is not one public-house in it; so that strangers are obliged to hire any ordinary one they can get, at a guinea a month; and others, who come to transact affairs of importance, must come recommended, if it were only for the sake of privacy.

            The market is well stocked, beef being at five farthings per pound, a sheep or a goat at nine shillings, a turkey at four shillings, and very large fowls at two shillings a-piece. These may be procured much cheaper, by hiring a man to fetch them out of the country. The dearest in its kind is water, which, being fetched in vessels from Olinda, will not be put on board in the road under two crusados a pipe.

            There are three monasteries, and about six churches, none of them rich or magnificent, unless one dedicated to St Antonio, the patron of their kingdom, which shines all over with exquisite pieces of paint and gold.

            The export of Brazil, besides gold, is chiefly sugars and tobacco; the latter are sent off in rolls of a quintal weight, kept continually moistened with molasses, which, with the soil it springs from, imparts a strong and peculiar scent, more sensible than the snuff made from it, which, though under prohibition of importing to Lisbon, sells here at two shillings per pound, as the tobacco does at about six millrays a roll. The finest of their sugar sells at eight shillings per roove, and a small ill-tasted rum, drawn from the dregs and molasses, at two testunes a gallon.

            Besides these, they send off great quantities of Brazil wood, and whale oil, with some gums and parrots; the latter are different from the African in colour and size; for, as they are blue and larger, these are green and smaller; and the females of them ever retain the wild note, and cannot be brought to talk.

            In lieu of this produce, the Portuguese, once every year, by their fleet from Lisbon, import all manner of European commodities; and whoever is unable to lay in store, or neglect supplying himself at that season, buys at a very advanced rate before the return of another.

            To transport passengers, slaves, or merchandise, from one settlement to another, or in fishing, they make use of bark logs, by the Brazilians called Jingadahs. They are made of four pieces of timber, the two outermost being the longest, pinned and fastened together, and sharpened at the ends: towards each extremity a stool is fixed, to sit on for paddling, or to hold by, when the agitation is more than ordinary; with these odd sort of engines, continually washed over by the water, do these people, with a little triangular sail, spritted about the middle of it, venture out of sight of land, and along the coasts for many leagues, in any sort of weather; and, if they overset with a squall, which is not uncommon, they swim, and presently turn it upright again.

            The natives are of the darkest copper colour, with thin hair, of a square make, and muscular; but not so well-looking as the woolly generation. They acquiesce patiently to the Portuguese government, who use them much more humanely and Christian-like than the Dutch did, and, by that means, have extended quietness and peace, as well as their possessions, three or four hundred miles into the country—a country abounding with fine pastures and numerous herds of cattle, and which yields a vast increase from everything that is sown. Hence they bring down to us parrots, small monkeys, armadillos, and sanguins; and we have been assured they have, in the inland parts, a serpent of a vast magnitude, called siboya—able, they say, to swallow a whole sheep; several have seen the skin of another species full six yards long; and therefore we think the story not improbable.

            The harbour of Pernambuco is perhaps singular: it is made of a ledge of rocks, half a cable's length from the main, and but little above the surface of the water, running at that equal distance and height several leagues towards Cape Augustine; a harbour running between them, capable of receiving ships of the greatest burden. The northernmost end of this wall of rock is higher than any part of the contiguous line; on this a little fort is built, commanding the passage either of boat or ship, as they come over the bar into the harbour. On the starboard side, or the side towards the main, after you have entered a little way, stands another fort, which is a pentagon, that would prove of small account, I imagine, against a few disciplined men; and yet, in these consist all their strength and security, either in the harbour or town. They have begun, indeed, a wall, since their removing from Olindo, designed to surround the latter; but the slow progress they make in raising it, leaves room to suspect it will be a long time in finishing.

            The road without is used by the Portuguese, when they are nigh sailing for Europe, and wait for the convoy, or are bound to Bahia; and by strangers, only when necessity compels them: the best of it is ten fathom water, near three miles W. N. W. from the town; nigher in it is foul, from the many anchors lost there by the Portuguese ships; and farther out, in about fourteen fathoms, it is corally and rocky. July is the worst and winter season of this coast, the trade-winds being then very strong and dead, bringing in a prodigious and unsafe swell into the road, intermixed every day with squalls, rain, and a hazy horizon, but at other times serener skies and sunshine.

            In these southern latitudes is a constellation, which, from , some resemblance to a Jerusalem cross, bears the name of Crosiers—the brightest of the hemisphere; and observations are taken by it as by the northern latitudes. What we mention this for, is to introduce the admirable phenomenon in these seas, of the Magellanic clouds, whose risings and settings are so regular, that, we have been assured, the same nocturnal observations are made by them as by the stars. These are two clouds, small and whitish, no larger in appearance than a man's hat, and are seen here in July, in 88 S. lat. about four in the morning: if their appearance should be said to be the reflection of light from some stellary bodies above them, yet the difficulty is not easily answered, how these, beyond others, become so durable and regular in their motions.

            Upon this coast our rovers cruised for about nine weeks, keeping generally out of sight of land, but without seeing a sail; which discouraged them so, that they determined to leave the station, and steer for the West Indies; and, in order thereto, they stood in to make the land for the taking of their departure; by which means they fell in, unexpectedly, with a fleet of forty-two sail of Portuguese ships, off the bay of los Todos Santos, with all their lading in for Lisbon; several of them of good force, who lay there waiting for two men-of-war of seventy guns each for their convoy, however, Roberts thought it should go hard with him but he would make up his market among them; and thereupon he mixed with the fleet, and kept his men hid till proper resolutions could be formed: that done, they came close up to one of the deepest, and ordered her to send the master on board quietly, threatening to give them no quarter, if any resistance or signal of distress was made. The Portuguese, being surprised at these threats, and the sudden flourish of cutlasses from the pirates, submitted without a word, and the captain came on board. Roberts saluted him after a friendly manner, telling him that they were gentlemen of fortune, and that their business with him was only to be informed which was the richest ship in that fleet; and, if he directed them right, he should be restored to his ship without molestation, otherwise, he must expect instant death.

            He then pointed to one of forty guns, and a hundred and fifty men; and, though her strength was greatly superior to Roberts, yet he made towards her, taking the master of the captured vessel along with him. Coming along side of her, Roberts ordered the prisoner to ask, "How Seignior Captain did?" and to invite him on board, as he had a matter of importance to impart to him. He was answered, "that he would wait upon him presently." Roberts, however, observing more than ordinary bustle on board, at once concluded that they were discovered, and, pouring a broadside into her, they immediately boarded, grappled, and took her. She was a very rich prize, laden with sugar, skins, and tobacco, with four thousand moidores of gold, besides other valuable articles.

            In possession of so much riches, they were now solicitous to find a safe retreat to spend their time in mirth and wantonness. They determined upon a place called the Devil's Islands, upon the river Surinam, where they arrived in safety, and met with a kind reception from the governor and the inhabitants.

            In this river they seized a sloop, which informed them that she had sailed in company with a brigantine loaded with provisions. This was welcome intelligence, as their provisions were nearly exhausted. Deeming this too important business to trust to foreign hands, Roberts, with forty men in the sloop, gave chase to that sail. In the keenness of the moment, and trusting to his usual good fortune, Roberts supposed that he had only to take a short sail, in order to bring in the vessel with her cargo; but, to his sad disappointment, he pursued her during eight days; and, instead of gaining, was losing way. In these circumstances, he came to anchor, and sent off the boat to give intelligence of their distress to their companions.

            In their extremity of want, they took up part of the floor of the cabin, and patched up a sort of tray with rope-yarns, to puddle on shore to get a little water to preserve their lives. After their patience was almost exhausted, the boat returned; but, instead of bringing provisions, they brought the unpleasing information, that the lieutenant, one Kennedy, had run off with both the ships.

            The misfortune and misery of Roberts were greatly aggravated from reflecting upon his own imprudence and want of foresight, as well as from the baseness of Kennedy and his crew. Impelled by the necessity of his situation, he now began to reflect upon what means to employ for future support. Under the foolish supposition, that any laws, oaths, or regulations, could bind those who had bid open defiance to all divine and human laws, he proceeded to form a code of regulations, to maintain order and unity in his little commonwealth.

            But present necessity compelled them to action, and they, with their small sloop, sailed for the West Indies. They were not long before they captured two sloops, which supplied them with provisions, and a few days after a brigantine; and then proceeded to Barbados. When off that island they met a vessel of ten guns, richly laden, from Bristol; after plundering, and detaining her three days, they allowed her to prosecute her voyage. This vessel, however, informed the governor of what had befallen them, who sent a vessel of twenty guns and eighty men, in quest of the pirates.

            That vessel was commanded by one Rogers, who the second day of his cruise discovered Roberts. Ignorant of any vessel being sent after them, they made towards each other. Roberts gave him a gun; but instead of striking, the other returned a broadside, with three huzzas. A severe engagement ensued, and Roberts, being hard put to it, lightened his vessel and run off.

            Roberts then sailed for the island of Dominica, where he watered, and was supplied by the inhabitants with provisions, for which he gave them goods in return. Here he met with fifteen Englishmen, that had been left upon the island by a Frenchman, who had made a prize of their vessel; and they, entering into his service, proved a seasonable addition to his strength.

            Though they did not think this a proper place for cleaning, yet as this was absolutely necessary, they directed their course to the Granada islands for that purpose. This, however, had well-nigh proved fatal to them; for the governor of Martinique fitted out two sloops to go in quest of the pirates. They sailed to the above-mentioned place, cleaned with unusual dispatch, and just left that place the night before the sloops which were in pursuit of them arrived.

            They next sailed for Newfoundland, and entered the harbour of Trepassi, with their black colours flying, drums beating, and trumpets sounding. In that harbour there were no less than twenty-two ships, which the men abandoned upon the sight of the pirates. It is impossible to describe the injury which they did at this place, by burning or sinking the ships, destroying the plantations, and pillaging the houses. Power, in the hands of mean and ignorant men, renders them wanton, insolent, and cruel. They are literally like madmen, who cast firebrands, arrows, and death, and say, "Are not we in sport?"

            Roberts saved a Bristol galley from his depredations in the harbour, which he fitted and manned for his own service. Upon the banks he met ten sail of French ships, and destroyed them all, except one of twenty-six guns, which he seized and carried off, and called her the Fortune. Then giving the Bristol galley to the Frenchman, they sailed in quest of new adventures, and soon took several prizes, and from them increased the number of their own hands. The Samuel, one of these, was a very rich vessel, having some respectable passengers on board, who were roughly used, and threatened with death, if they did not deliver up their money and their goods. They stripped the vessel of every article, either necessary for their vessel or themselves, to the amount of eight or nine thousand pounds. They then deliberated whether to sink or burn the Samuel; but in the mean time they discovered a sail; so they left the empty Samuel, and gave the other chase. At midnight they overtook her, and she proved to be the Snow from Bristol; and, because of his country, they used the master in a cruel and barbarous manner. Two days after, they took the Little York of Virginia, the Love of Liverpool, both of which they plundered and sent off. In three days they captured other three vessels, removing the goods out of them, sinking one, and sending off the other two.

            They next sailed for the West Indies, but provisions growing short, they sailed to St. Christopher's, when, being denied provisions by the governor, they fired on the town, and burnt two ships in the roads. They then repaired to the island of St. Bartholomew, where the governor supplied them with every necessary, and caressed them in the kindest manner. Fatigued with indulgence, and having taken in a large stock of everything necessary, they unanimously voted to hasten to the coast of Guinea. In their way they took a Frenchman; and, as she was fitter for the pirate service than their own, they informed the captain, that, as "a fair exchange was no robbery," they would exchange sloops with him; accordingly, having shifted their men, they set sail. They, however, by a mistake, going out of the track of the trade-winds, were under the necessity of returning to the West Indies.

            They now directed their course to Surinam, but they had not sufficient water for the voyage. They were soon reduced to a mouthful of water in the day; their numbers daily diminished by thirst and famine, and the few who survived were reduced to the greatest weakness. They at last had not one drop of water or any other liquid, when, to their inexpressible joy, they anchored in seven fathoms of water. This tended to revive decayed nature, and to inspire them with new vigour, though as yet they had received no relief. In the morning they discovered land, but at such a distance that their hopes were greatly damped. The boat was, however, sent off, and at night returned with plenty of that salubrious and necessary element. But this remarkable deliverance produced no reformation in the manners of those unfeeling and obdurate men.

            They steered their course from that place to Barbados, and in their way met with a vessel which supplied them with all necessaries. Not long after, they captured a brigantine, the mate of which joined their association. Having from these two obtained a large supply, they changed their course and watered at Tobago. Informed that there were two vessels sent in pursuit of them, they went to return their compliments to the governor of Martinique for this kindness.

            It is the custom of the Dutch interlopers, when they approach this island to trade with the inhabitants, to hoist their jacks. Roberts knew the signal, and did so likewise. They, supposing that a good market was near, strove who could first reached Roberts. Determined to do them all possible mischief, he destroyed them one by one, as they came into his power. He only reserved one ship to send the men on shore, and burnt the remainder, to the number of twenty.

            Roberts and his crew were so fortunate as to capture several vessels, and to render their liquor so plenty, that it was esteemed a crime not to be continually drunk. One man, remarkable, for his sobriety, along with other two, took an opportunity to set off, without taking a formal leave of their friends. But a dispatch being sent after them, they were brought back, and in a formal manner tried and sentenced; but one of them was saved by the humorous interference of one of the judges, whose speech was truly worthy of a pirate; while the other two suffered the punishment of death.

            When necessity again compelled them, they renewed their cruising; and, dissatisfied with capturing vessels which only afforded them a temporary supply, they directed their course to the Guinea coast, to forage for gold. Intoxication rendered them unruly, and the brigantine at last embraced the cover of night to abandon the commodore. Unconcerned at the loss of his companion, Roberts pursued his voyage. He fell in with two French ships, the one of ten guns and sixty-five men, and the other of sixteen guns and seventy-five men. These dastards no sooner beheld the black flag than they surrendered. With these they went into Sierra Leone, constituting one of them a consort, by the name of the Ranger, and the other a store-ship. That port being frequented by the greater part of the traders to that quarter, they remained here six weeks, enjoying themselves in all the splendour and luxury of a piratical life.

            After this they renewed their voyage; and, having captured a vessel, the greater part of the men united their fortunes with the pirates. On board of one of the ships was a clergyman, whom some of them proposed taking along with them, for no other reason than that they had not a chaplain on board. They endeavoured to gain his consent, and assured him that he should want for nothing, and his only work would be, to make punch, and say prayers. But, depraved as these men were, they did not choose to constrain him to go. They displayed their civility farther, by permitting him to carry along with him whatever he called his own. After several cruises, they now went into a convenient harbour at Old Calabar, where they cleaned, refitted, divided their booty, and for a considerable time caroused, to banish care and sober reflection.

            According to their usual custom, the time of festivity and mirth was prolonged until the want of means recalled them to reason and exertion. Leaving this port, they cruised from place to place with varied success; but in all their captures, either burning, sinking, or devoting their prizes to their own use, according to the whim of the moment. The Swallow and another man-of-war being sent out expressly to pursue and take Roberts and his fleet, he had frequent and certain intelligence of their destination; but having so often escaped their vigilance, he became rather too secure and fearless. It happened, however, that while he lay off Cape Lopez, the Swallow had information of his being in that place, and made towards them. Upon the appearance of a sail, one of Roberts' ships was sent to chase and take her. The pilot of the Swallow seeing her coming, manoeuvred his vessel so well, that though he fled at her approach, in order to draw her out of the reach of her associates, yet he at his own time allowed her to overtake the man-of-war.

            Upon her coming up to the Swallow, the pirate hoisted the black flag, and fired upon her; but-how greatly were her crew astonished, when they saw that they had to contend with a man-of-war; and, seeing that all resistance was vain, they cried out for quarter, which was granted, and they were made prisoners.

            Convinced that Roberts would tarry in his station, in the hope of his ship returning with the prize after which she had been sent, they made towards him. As she approached, it was discovered who was about to pay them an unwelcome visit. Roberts inquired at one of his men, who had once sailed on board of her, how she sailed, in order to ascertain the best way of flying from her, should it be necessary. He then dressed himself in the most elegant manner, with his pistols suspended over his shoulders, and a gold chain about his neck. The Swallow attacked him with determined bravery; and he resisting with equal courage, a desperate and bloody engagement ensued. Roberts at last fell, and, by his own directions, he was immediately thrown over-board. The officers and men being deprived of their commander, lost courage, and in a short time cried for quarter.

            This extraordinary man, and daring pirate, was tall, of a dark complexion, about forty years of age, and born in Pembrokeshire. His parents were honest and respectable, and his natural activity, courage, and invention, were superior to his education. At a very early period, he, in drinking, would imprecate vengeance upon "the head of him who ever lived to wear an halter." He went willingly into the pirate service, and served three years as a second man. It was not for want of employment, but from a roving, wild, and boisterous turn of mind. It was his usual declaration, that, "In an honest service, there is commonly low wages and hard labour; in this plenty, 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!" But it was one favourable trait in his character, that he never forced any man into the pirate service.

            The prisoners were strictly guarded while on board, and, being conveyed to Cape Corso Castle, they underwent a long and solemn trial. The generality of them remained daring and impenitent for some time; but when they found themselves confined within a castle, and their fate drawing near, they changed their course, and became serious, penitent, and fervent in their devotions. Though the judges found no small difficulty in explaining the law, and different acts of parliament, yet the facts were so numerous and flagrant, that were proved against them, that there was no difficulty of bringing in a verdict of guilty.

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