Roberts, Bartholomew (DNB00)

ROBERTS, BARTHOLOMEW (1682?–1722), pirate, a native of Pembrokeshire, was about 1718 second mate of the merchant ship Princess, which was captured and plundered by pirates at Anamaboe on the Guinea coast. Having made several rich prizes, the pirates restored the Princess to her captain and allowed her to depart, detaining, however, the larger part of her crew. Among those who remained with them Roberts quickly distinguished himself by his activity and courage, so that when, after he had been with the pirates only six weeks, their captain, Howel Davis, was killed in a fray at Prince's Island, Roberts was by general consent elected to the vacant command. After attempting, with small success, to revenge Davis's death, the pirates crossed over to the coast of Brazil, and off Bahia fell in with a fleet of merchant ships under the escort of two men-of-war. By a happy mixture of ingenuity and boldness Roberts made himself master of the ship which was pointed out to him as the richest in the fleet, and succeeded in carrying her off. She proved to have a most valuable cargo as well as a large quantity of gold and precious stones; and the pirates, taking her to Surinam, were able to drive a brisk trade and indulge in wild debauchery. There Roberts left them for a while, and in a small sloop went out to look for an American ship laden with stores such as he needed. He failed in meeting her, and was set by the current far to leeward of his port, which he was unable to regain; and a fortnight later learned that the lieutenant whom he had left in charge at Surinam had played him false, and with the whole ship's company had gone off with the ship and the prize.

Roberts, left nearly destitute, sailed for Barbados, picking up some small prizes on the way, and recruiting his numbers. Near Barbados he was met by a couple of vessels which the governor had fitted out to apprehend him; and, after beating them off, went to Dominica, where he was joined by a number of New England men, smugglers apparently, whose vessel had been seized by a Martinique garde de la côte. He thus found himself sufficiently strong to go in quest of further adventures. At Newfoundland they did an enormous amount of damage, burning or sinking some thirty of the fishing vessels and capturing a French ship, mounting twenty-six guns, to which they turned over. Out of their prizes they obtained many recruits, and were a formidable force when they returned to the West Indies. There they cruised for some months, till, finding booty becoming scarce, they crossed over to the coast of Africa. They made several rich prizes there, and among them a large frigate-built ship belonging to the Royal African Company. Of this Roberts took command, mounted forty guns on board her, and named her the Royal Fortune. Most of her men joined the pirates, and the cruise continued with marked success till, on 5 Feb. 1721–2, the two ships were found under Cape Lopez by Captain Chaloner Ogle [q. v.] of the Swallow, who successively captured the Royal Fortune's consort and the Royal Fortune herself. Roberts was killed in the action; many of his companions were afterwards hanged, and the coast was for the time clear.

Roberts is described as a tall dark man of about forty, of good natural parts, and of reckless courage. In a society devoted to drunkenness, he seems to have been comparatively temperate, and, though living by plunder, to have been comparatively humane.

[General History of the most notorious Pirates, by Charles Johnson, a work in which strict accuracy is not to be looked for, though the Life of Roberts appears to be substantially correct. The story of Roberts's death, of the capture of the Royal Fortune and the punishment of her crew, was officially told by Ogle in his reports to the admiralty. There is nothing in Roberts's career to connect him with Scott's Cleveland in the ‘Pirate,’ but the names of Cleveland's associates are taken from those who accompanied Roberts.]

J. K. L.