I’ve written before about pirates – and posted a short video-slideshow thingy on Vimeo about them. I’m fascinated by piracy, and by the history of Execution Dock in Wapping and its association with piracy. For anyone wanting to know about about this area of history, I’d heartily recommend the Museum of London Docklands‘ exhibition (complete with gibbet); but here’s another fascinating piece of history on Twitter today:
'Dead…dead…dead' Original 18thC pirate death warrant. pic.twitter.com/U1uMt9qIUc
— Dr Sam Willis (@shipwreck_sam) November 30, 2015
Naval and maritime historian Sam Willis posted this 18th century death warrant – dated 5 April 1722 – that condemns eight men to be ‘hanged by the neck till you are Dead, Dead, Dead’.
These men were Bartholomew Roberts‘ crew members. Roberts (1682-1722) was a Welsh pirate who, after his death, became known as Black Bart.
Roberts died in a battle between two ships – HMS Swallow and the pirates’ ship, the Royal Fortune. His men were still drunk from an earlier victory over the Neptune ship, and may not have been much help to the Welshman. Whilst stood on deck, he was killed by grapeshot, and thrown overboard by his crew – Bart had wanted to be buried at sea.
As a result of the battle, 54 men were condemned to death – two were reprieved, but the other 52 were hanged. One crew member, John Philips (not the pirate John Phillips, who was hanged in Boston two years later), had tried to blow the pirates’ ship up by lighting the magazine with a match, but was prevented by two other men.
The warrant pictured was signed at Cape Coast Castle, a Swedish-built castle in Ghana. It was a commercial fort, which became capital of British possessions on the Gold Coast in the late 17th century. However, it was also a ‘slave castle, used for slave trading. Of the men captured by the Royal Navy after Black Bart’s death, 65 were black and sold into slavery.
However, the death of the ‘unbeatable’ Black Bart was seen as the beginning of the end of the Golden Age of Piracy. Although pirates continued to be hanged, it could be argued that none captured the imagination in quite the same way as Black Bart.
Sam Willis’s new series, Britain’s Outlaws: Highwaymen, Pirates and Rogues, continues on BBC Four tonight.