Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
P.O. Box 425, Keller, TX 76244-0425
By Cindy Vallar
Some estimate that nearly 5,000 pirates hunted prey between 1715 and 1726. Of that number, about twenty-five to thirty percent came from the cimarrons, black slaves who ran from their Spanish masters. Other blacks joined after pirates attacked slave ships. For example, when Sam Bellamy and his fellow pirates seized a "Guinea ship," twenty-five blacks went on the account. Stede Bonnet's crew also included former slaves and freeman, and of the eighty sea rovers who followed John Lewis were numbered at least forty blacks from English colonies. Francis Sprigg's cook was black and entrusted with dividing the spoils equally for the crew.
Not all black pirates were known by name. For example, thirty men escaped enslavement on Saint Thomas and went on the account in August 1699. A mulatto amongst Stede Bonnet's crew had a confrontation with a white sailor who refused to sign the articles of agreement. After cursing the man, the black pirate wondered "why I did not go to the pump and work among the rest, and told me that was my Business and that I should be used as a Negroe." (Kinkor, 199) Captain Bonnet overheard the exchange and concurred with the pirate -- a man was either a sea rover or a slave, regardless of his color or status.
In his article "Black Men under the Black Flag," maritime historian Ken Kinkor includes a chart listing various pirate captains and how many blacks were members of their crews.
- Samuel Bellamy (1717) – more than 27 out of 180 men
- Edward England (1718) – less than 50 out of 180 men
- Edward Lowther (1724) – 9 out of 23 men
- Blackbeard (1717) – 60 out of 100; (1718) – 5 out 14
- Oliver La Bouche (1719) – 32 out of 64 menThese five pirate crews are but a small sampling of those listed, and they indicate these men were active members of the crew. Sometimes, they were the most fearsome and most trusted of the pirates, the men who boarded prizes first. They did not, however, always receive the same punishment as other pirates when captured. Whereas their comrades often went to the gallows, black pirates were often returned to the men who owned them, or they were sold into slavery. This was the fate of John Julian, a Miskito Indian, after he survived the wrecking of The Whydah Galley. Rather than try him for piracy, he became the property of John Quincy of Braintree.
The most successful pirate of the Golden Age of Piracy, Bartholomew “Black Bart” Roberts, included eighty-eight blacks amongst his crew of 368 in 1721. A year later, there were seventy blacks among 267 pirates. These men didn’t do menial work, either. They received shares in any treasure taken and voted with the rest of the crew whenever a decision had to be made. A mulatto, who had served aboard the Royal Rover, was hanged for piracy with six others in 1720. One of his mates requested a bottle of wine and drank after declaring, “Damnation to the governor and confusion to the Colony.” The others concurred then all were executed and hung in chains as a lesson to others. Two years later, however, the seventy black pirates captured after Bartholomew Roberts’ demise in 1722 were given to the Royal African Company, who promptly enslaved them.
The black pirate most written about is Black Caesar. Legend identifies him as a tall African chief with great strength and keen intelligence. A conniving captain lured him and his warriors aboard a slaver with greater treasures than the gold watch that fascinated Caesar. Once on board, the captain and his men plied the Africans with food while enticing them with musical instruments, jewels, silk scarves, and furs. With his focus on these unusual treasures, Caesar failed to notice that the slaver put to sea. Upon learning the truth, he and his men fought the ship's crew, but the slavers eventually subdued the Africans.
During his confinement, Caesar refused to eat or drink. One sailor showed Caesar kindness, and the two eventually became friends. When the slaver wrecked on the reefs off Florida, the sailor freed Caesar, and the two escaped in a long boat loaded with supplies and ammunition. They left the others to die.
Caesar and his friend decided to attack passing ships. Whenever one was spotted, they rowed the long boat near the vessel and pretended to be shipwrecked sailors. Once aboard their victim, they seized control and took their treasure ashore. Eventually, they buried a large cache of booty somewhere on Elliott Key, or so legend says.
One day Caesar’s friend brought a beautiful woman to their island. The two men argued, and Caesar slew his friend and took the woman for himself. Alone, he continued his piratical raids until he acquired a number of ships and men. They attacked passing ships, then escaped into the coves and inlets where their prey could not pursue them.
Another Caesar, who became a pirate sometime in the early 1700s, joined forces with Blackbeard. Prior to that he was a slave owned by Tobias Knight of North Carolina. In November 1718, Lieutenant Robert Maynard of the Royal Navy and his men attacked Blackbeard near Ocracoke Island. Under his captain’s orders, Caesar stood in the powder room with a lit match. If the navy succeeded in subduing the pirates, he was to blow up the ship. He was about to do just that when two prisoners, whom Blackbeard had stowed below during the fight, stopped Caesar. He was taken to Virginia and convicted of piracy. Whether he actually danced the hempen jig in Williamsburg is unknown; some accounts say he was pardoned. Caesar was the only one of the five black pirates – James Black, Thomas Gates, Richard Stiles, and James White being the others – arrested who refused to give evidence against his comrades.
Blacks became pirates for the same reasons as other men did, but they also sought the freedom often denied them elsewhere. W. Jeffrey Bolster wrote in Black Jacks, "No accurate numbers of black buccaneers exist, although the impression is that they were more numerous than the proportion of black sailors in commercial or naval service at the time." (Bolster, 13) It isn't known how many of the estimated 400 pirates hanged for their crimes between 1716 and 1726 were black, for the historical record fails to show this. Like their brethren who weren't given the chance to stand trial, but were sold into slavery, these pirates remain lost to history.
Meet Other Black Pirates
In 1731 Juan Andres (Andresote) was the leader of some runaway slaves and Indians. These villains plundered and murdered along the coast of Venezuela. Authorities assumed he had died when two years later the attacks ceased. In reality, he merely moved to the safety of Curacao before resuming his bloody assaults.
One hundred years after Black Caesar died, another man of mixed parentage adopted his name. Black Caesar (II) attacked ships off Florida’s east coast, but in 1828, President Andrew Jackson ordered the area be swept of pirates. Black Caesar (II) escaped to the west coast. One story says he was captured and burned to death, but there is no definitive record as to his fate.
Peter Cloise, a slave, became a pirate after Edward Davis took him from his owner in 1679. They became close companions and went on pirating expeditions in the Caribbean and along South America’s Pacific coast. After Davis’ ship put into Philadelphia in May 1688, Cloise was arrested. His fate remains unknown.
In late September 1720, Captain Nicholas de Concepcion and 140 pirates (Spaniards “and others of diverse Nations”) cruised the waters of Virginia and the Chesapeake Bay aboard a well-armed Spanish brigantine from Saint Augustine. Their first capture was a Philadelphia sloop named Mary, commanded by Captain Jacobs. She carried a cargo of bread and flour. Concepcion decided she would make an excellent consort to the pirate brigantine. Captain Sipkin was master of the pirates’ second capture. A prize crew was put aboard and the ship set sail for Saint Augustine. The pirates seized a pink, bound to Virginia from Barbados, in the Chesapeake Bay on 23 September. Her captain was a man named Spicer. Once again Concepcion sent a prize crew aboard the pink to sail her to Florida. Sometime later, Concepcion and his men took a Liverpool merchantman named Planter that was eventually retaken. During a search of her papers, her rescuers discovered a forged letter of marque from the Governor of Saint Augustine. It was dated after the war between England and Spain ended. Attempts were made to capture the pirates, but they escaped.
Little is known of Domingo Eucalla’s pirating career, but he and ten others were hanged in Kingston, Jamaica on 7 February 1823. Before he died, he gave a passionate speech and a prayer. He showed the most courage of the pirates awaiting death that day.
Diego Grillo, also known as “El Mulato,” was of mixed ancestry – African and Spanish. After escaping from Havana, Cuba, he went on the account. When Henry Morgan sacked Panama in January 1671, Grillo captained a ship mounting ten guns. He refused to accept the king’s pardon, preferring instead to remain a pirate. He and his men attacked Spanish ships from a fifteen-gun ship and sold the booty in Tortuga. Three ships were sent to capture him, but he defeated them all and slaughtered every sailor aboard who had been born in Spain. He eventually was captured in 1673 and hanged.
Francisco Farnondo captured 250,000 pieces of eight in a single incident. Afterward, he retired.
Although his true name has been lost, Old South, a mulatto, led the men who sailed aboard Good Fortune.
Hendrick Quintor, a mulatto born in Amsterdam, sailed aboard the Whydah. Before he went on the account, Quintor was a crewman on a Spanish brig. He was hanged in Boston.
Diego de los Reyes, a mulatto from Cuba, earned the nickname “Diego Lucifer.” He hunted during the 1630s and 1640s.
Abraham Samuel, the son of a Martinique planter and a black slave, went on the account under Captain John Hoar. After cruising the Caribbean, the John and Rebecca sailed for richer prey in the Indian Ocean. At some point Samuel’s fellow pirates elected him their quartermaster. After capturing a prize near Surrat, the sea rovers put in at St. Mary’s in February 1697. Unbeknownst to them, the Malagasy had rebelled against Adam Baldridge, the retired pirate who became the go-between for the pirates and New York merchants who bought their booty. Captain Hoar and a number of pirates died in the uprising, but Samuel and others escaped. They set sail for New York, but the ship sank after hitting a reef near Fort Dauphin, an abandoned French settlement.
After the death of her husband, the chief’s wife ruled the Malagasy. One day she saw the shipwrecked men bathing in the ocean and noticed strange markings on Samuel’s body. They were the same markings her own child had had, but she hadn’t seen her son in many years. His father, a Frenchman, had taken the child with him when he fled Madagascar in 1674. The woman declared Samuel her long-lost son and made him chief of the Malagasy.
With the assistance of his fellow shipwrecked pirates, some of whom became his bodyguards, and the Malagasy, Samuel traded with slavers and pirates alike. Fort Dauphin became popular it rivaled St. Mary's as a trading center. In November 1699, Samuel assessed an American slaver £100 for a trading license. The following year, Captain Littleton, a member of the English Royal Navy, invited Samuel and two of his wives to dine with him aboard his ship. Littleton reported Samuel was much loved by the Malagasy.
In September 1699, a pirate named Evan Jones raided an American slave ship in the port. He gave the ship to Samuel, who sold it to four other pirates for 1,100 pieces of eight. He signed the document detailing the purchase and added "King of Fort Dauphin, Tollannare, Farrawe, Ganquest, and Founzahíra." News of the attack and sale, and Samuel's participation in it, spread and ships ceased to visit the port. When a Dutch slaver anchored there in December 1706, Abraham Samuel was gone and the new chief declined to discuss his fate.
Stewart, a mulatto, and three whites seized the Amity off the coast of Virginia in 1785. They swore to “Perform on a Cruce [cruise] In Defense of Our Selves and Against all Other Nation and Nations.” If any one of them broke these articles, they agreed the guilty party would “Be Put to Death or any Punishment that the Rest shal think they Justley Deserv.” (Bolster, 16)
Hendrick van der Heul served as quartermaster aboard Captain Kidd’s vessel.
[Note added 26 July 2014: After a discussion with Dr. Harald E. L. Prins, University Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and University Distinguished Teaching Scholar at Kansas State University, I concur with him that Hendrick van der Heul was not a black pirate, but one with black hair and dark brown eyes. I included him in this list based on two references in the sources below. The primary document, reprinted in J. F. Jameson's Privateering and Piracy in the Colonial Period (1923) from John Gardiner's narrative (17 July 1699), refers to van der Heul as "a little black man," but in this particular instance "black" most likely is a translation of the Dutch zwart (black).
Even today, the Dutch often describe men of black hair and dark brown eyes as being zwart, much like people sometimes refer to Irish with dark features, who may be descendants of Spaniards, as "Black Irish." (This descriptor stems from the person's physical features being different from the norm found among these people.) Dr. Prins pointed out that if one reads Gardiner's narrative, a distinction is made elsewhere in the document whenever referring to people having different skin color ("Negro"). In reviewing the narrative, I found this to be true. Based on this and the ancestral information below, van der Heul does not belong in this list.
Born on 14 May 1676, in New Amsterdam and baptized in the Dutch Reformed Church, Hendrick van der Heul was the son of two Dutch colonists. His father, Abraham Jansen van der Heul, had been born in 1636 in the province of South Holland, while his mother, Tryntjen Kip, was born a few years before that in Amsterdam. Hendrick eventually Marritje Meyer, with whom he had five children. I thank Dr. Prins for bringing this information to my attention.]
For more information, I suggest these resources:
Bolster, W. Jeffrey. Black Jacks. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard, 1998.
Burl, Audrey. Black Barty. Thrupp, England: Sutton, 2006.
Cohn, Michael, and Michael K. H. Platzer. Black Men of the Sea. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1978.
Gosse, Philip. The Pirates’ Who’s Who. Glorieta, New Mexico: Rio Grande Press, 1924.
Kinkor, Kenneth J. “Black Men Under the Black Flag” in Bandits at Sea: A Pirates Reader. New York: New York University, 2001. (pages 195-210).
Konstam, Angus. Blackbeard. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, 2006.
Marley, David F. Pirates and Privateers of the Americas. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-Clio, 1994.
McCarthy, Kevin M. Twenty Florida Pirates. Sarasota, Florida: Pineapple Press, 1994.
Pirates: Terror on the High Seas – from the Caribbean to the South China Sea. Atlanta: Turner Publishing, 1996.
Rediker, Marcus. Villains of All Nations. Boston: Beacon Press, 2004.
Rogozinski, Jan. Honor Among Thieves. Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania: Stackpole, 2000.
Rogozinski, Jan. Pirates! New York: Facts on File, 1995.
Selinger, Gail. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Pirates. New York: Alpha Books, 2006.
Shomette, Donald G. Pirates on the Chesapeake. Centreville, Maryland: Tidewater, 1985.
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