Black Barty

The life of the eighteenth century pirate was significantly different to the romanticised version portrayed in the movies. A ship that spent too long at sea was a smelly, damp, disease ridden vessel that needed constant work. Hulls required regular careening, where they were grounded and tipped to be cleaned below the waterline. The slightest wound could go gangrenous and become fatal. And shipmates were violent drunkards or forced men enlisted against their will from victim vessels.

On the other hand, a pirate ship was a surprisingly democratic place. Captains served at the whim of their crews and could be voted out at any time, particularly if they didn’t provide sufficient plunder or were considered unlucky. Booty was shared fairly. Captain, quartermaster and boatswain received extra shares and there were bonuses for being in a boarding but the rest was shared evenly. Given the appalling conditions endured by crews on commercial ships and indentured servants in the colonies it wasn’t surprising that many a forced man became a willing rapscallion.

Black Barty, subtitled The Real Pirate of the Caribbean, tells the tale of one pirate band and their most successful captain- Bartholemew Roberts. The welsh seaman was one of the enthusiastic converts after being forced and was voted captain within months of joining the crew. Roberts was more daring than most pirate captains, understanding that the greatest rewards were to be gained from the greatest risks. He took to raiding ports, catching several ships at a time rather than hoping to catch individuals on the high seas. Changing ships regularly, but usually renaming them some variant on Fortune his crew roamed from the Caribbean as far north as Newfoundland and across the Atlantic to Africa, where the Royal Navy finally caught up with him.

This is an interesting book let down by poor editing. Pull quotes are regularly wrongly formatted and far too many sentences had grammar errors or confused phrasing. If you can get past these, read it to find out details of the pirate’s life that Disney left out.