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If a Pirate I Must Be...: The True Story of…

If a Pirate I Must Be...: The True Story of Black Bart, King of the… (original 2007; edition 2007)

by Richard Sanders

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1659112,381 (4.02)8
He drank tea instead of rum. He banned women and gambling on his ships. He never made his prisoners walk the plank, instead inviting them into his cabin for a friendly chat. And during the course of his extraordinary two-and-a-half-year career as a pirate captain, he captured four hundred prizes and brought trade in the eastern Caribbean to a standstill. In If a Pirate I Must Be..., Richard Sanders tells the larger-than-life story of Bartholomew Roberts, aka Black Bart. Born in a rural town, Roberts rose from third mate on a slave ship to pirate captain in a matter of months. Before long, his combination of audaciousness and cunning won him fame and fortune from the fisheries of Newfoundland to the slave ports of West Africa. Sanders brings to life a fascinating world of theater and ritual, where men (a third of whom were black) lived a close-knit, egalitarian life, democratically electing their officers and sharing their spoils. They were highly (if surreptitiously) popular with many merchants, with whom they struck incredibly lucrative deals. Yet with a fierce team of Royal Navy pirate hunters tracking his every move, Roberts' heyday would prove a brief one, and with his capture, the Golden Age of pirates would pass into the lore and legend of books and movies. Based on historical records, journals and letters from pirates under Roberts' command, and on writings by Roberts himself, If a Pirate I Must Be... is the true story of the greatest pirate ever to sail the Caribbean.… (more)
Title:If a Pirate I Must Be...: The True Story of Black Bart, King of the Caribbean Pirates
Authors:Richard Sanders
Info:Skyhorse Publishing (2007), Hardcover, 256 pages
Collections:Your library

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If a Pirate I Must Be...: The True Story of Bartholomew Roberts - King of the Caribbean by Richard Sanders (2007)


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Shiver me timbers! Thar be a book worth the read! Arrr!

I had only a small idea what to expect when I picked up If a Pirate I Must Be: The True Story of Black Bart, "King of the Caribbean Pirates" by Richard Sanders. A selection for my book club (known as the Manly Book Club by its members, but more on that another time), it had been described as containing some surprising insights into pirates that weren't commonly known. And this was true: I learned a lot about the men who sailed the seas of the early 18th century.

What's more, I found If a Pirate I Must Be an entertaining, page-turning, and well-written history. Sanders' history of Bartholomew "Black Bart" Roberts feels authentic, well-researched, and accurate. He relies on histories and accounts written at the time, including the journals of victims of the pirates, letters between colonial authorities writing to their masters in England beseeching them for relief from the marauders, and other documents of the period, including court testimony of pirates captured and tried.

Black Bart himself did not start out as a pirate, but his story mirrors that of many of the time. An aging sailor on a slaver ship, he was pressed into service when his slave ship was captured by pirates off of the coast of West Africa. Because of his experience as a seaman, he was a prize that an enterprising pirate crew could not pass up--and yet, his story is not unique. Pirates would frequently capture ships and force some number of the captured crew into their own, though often it was unnecessary. Slavers treated their own sailors more poorly than the slaves, because the slaves were worth more. Meanwhile, pirates would appear from over the horizon, capture and board the ship dressed in better clothing, and promise an equal share of gold and rum to any who joined their number. Their government was democratic, and even the captain was elected from among their number, losing his spot at just the vote of the men if they felt he was not guiding them to victory.

And yet, Bart did not go willingly. It would take some time before he would adopt his new place among the pirates, but not long before he was at their head. He would go on to rob the Portuguese treasure fleet off the shores of Brazil, lose all of it to deserters back in the Caribbean (where he would be near-marooned by his crew), and rebuild it all again to become one of the most prolific and successful of pirates of the era.

A few observations, then:

- Piracy, and pirates, looks a lot more like the depictions of Disney and Johnny Depp's "Pirates of the Caribbean" than I would have expected, even down to pirates' sexual ambiguity. Indeed, Sanders history depicts Black Bart as being almost chaste compared to the rest of his crew, though he appears to have developed an extremely close relationship with one of the sailors/passengers of a ship that he captured, the only thing that appears to reflect a romantic relationship that he formed during his reign.

- No one lived long. Whether they died from disease, malnutrition, battle, or any of the myriad of other causes, people were dying fast. Sanders mentions the especially high mortality rate in West Africa, noting that an English doctor had moved his family to a fort to serve a British slaving company there and within just a few months the entire family of six was dead from disease. This appears to be a common scenario of the time.

- In addition to democracy, pirates were incredibly egalitarian and rule based. They drafted and signed articles for each crew to govern their enterprise. Rules included not bringing women on board, each member receiving an equal share of loot (the captain getting a double and the quartermaster and surgeon a share and half), and, on Black Bart's ships, no gambling.

- Punch. These men drank as much, or more, as you've seen depicted in the movies. In fact, [SPOILER ALERT] Bart's fall finally came when he split his crew to pursue what they thought they were pursuing a ship carrying sugar, necessary for making rum.

- The golden age of piracy, extending from about 1715 to 1725, was brief and seems to have been largely due to economic forces around the end of the Spanish - British War that ended directly before. At the end of hostilities, large numbers of men were released from service in the British Navy, and with nowhere else to go, and, no other training or experience, many turned to piracy.

- A lot of the piracy seems to be as much "wink wink nod nod" with merchants working in cahoots with pirates as it was pirates capturing unsuspecting ships. In fact, few appeared to actually have fought back against the pirates. Rather, most seemed to roll over as soon as Black Bart flew out the skull and cross-bones (and yes, they did fly some version of this...several versions, actually).

If a Pirate I Must Be: The True Story of Black Bart, "King of the Caribbean Pirates" is a fun, fascinating, and interesting story. It's an age lost to history, full of pirates distinctly different from those who capture tankers off the coast of East Africa today, probably built out of the economic and historic factors of the age. Sanders has caught the flavor of the era with a history that is enjoyable and gripping to the very end of Black Bart's ignoble end.

( )
  publiusdb | Jan 12, 2016 |
Wonderfully written. ( )
  sweetzombieducky | Nov 28, 2015 |
A perfectly serviceable biography of Bartholomew "Black Bart" Roberts. Didn't knock my socks off, and some of the design elements didn't work for my taste, but it's well written and if you like this sort of thing, it may do just fine. ( )
  JBD1 | Dec 2, 2014 |
This was a very good, interesting, useful book. I took it on my Caribbean cruise to read, and it was an easy read, and even helped me with my own pirate novel! It is a little dry in places, but I gave it 5 starts to try to pull the average up because it deserves more than 4. ( )
  ozgurksahin | Mar 27, 2014 |
An informative read, giving a lot of details about both Bartholomew Roberts and piracy in general during the 'Golden Age of Piracy'. ( )
  BruceCoulson | Mar 11, 2014 |
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In an honest service there is thin commons, low wages, and hard labour; in this, plenty and satiety, pleasure and ease, liberty and power. No, a merry life and a short one shall be my motto. - Bartholomew Roberts
For Louis and Charlie, my own pirates
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The morning of 6 June 1719 found Bartholomew Roberts still an honest sailor - a slaver rather than a pirate.
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Skyhorse Publishing

2 editions of this book were published by Skyhorse Publishing.

Editions: 1602390193, 1602396248

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