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The Pirate Code: Rules for Black Bart’s ship (1724)

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Captain Bartho. Roberts with two ships, Viz. the Royal Fortune and Ranger 1721
Captain Bartho. Roberts with two ships, Viz. the Royal Fortune and Ranger, takes Sail in Whydah Road on the Coast of Guiney, January 11th, 1721/2.
Captain Bartho. Roberts with two ships, Viz. the Royal Fortune and Ranger 1721
Captain Bartho. Roberts with two ships, Viz. the Royal Fortune and Ranger, takes Sail in Whydah Road on the Coast of Guiney, January 11th, 1721/2.

Even pirates have to play by the rules

Bartholomew Roberts, also known as Black Bart, was a notorious — and very successful — Welsh pirate who raided ships off North America, Central America and South America, as well as along West Africa. He was known to be active between 1719 and 1722.

Here are the “articles” (rules) that were in place aboard Captain Roberts’ pirate ships. They have been taken from Captain Charles Johnson’s book, A General History of the Pyrates, first published in 1724… a mere two years after Black Bart’s death. (It is thought that Charles Johnson was a pseudonym for Robinson Crusoe author Daniel Defoe.)


The articles for Captain Bartholomew Roberts’ ships

I. Every man has a vote in affairs of moment; has equal title to the fresh provisions, or strong liquors, at any time seized, and may use them at pleasure, unless a scarcity makes it necessary, for the good of all, to vote a retrenchment.

II. Every man to be called fairly in turn, by list, on board of prizes because, (over and above their proper share) they were on these occasions allowed a shift of clothes: but if they defrauded the company to the value of a dollar in plate, jewels, or money, marooning was their punishment. If the robbery was only betwixt one another, they contented themselves with slitting the ears and nose of him that was guilty, and set him on shore, not in an uninhabited place, but somewhere, where he was sure to encounter hardships.

III. No person to game at cards or dice for money.

IV. The lights and candles to be put out at eight o’clock at night: if any of the crew, after that hour still remained inclined for drinking, they were to do it on the open deck.

V. To keep their piece, pistols, and cutlass clean and fit for service.

VI. No boy or woman to be allowed amongst them. If any man were to be found seducing any of the latter sex, and carried her to sea, disguised, he was to suffer death.

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VII. To desert the ship or their quarters in battle, was punished with death or marooning.

VIII. No striking one another on board, but every man’s quarrels to be ended on shore, at sword and pistol.

IX. No man to talk of breaking up their way of living, till each had shared one thousand pounds. If in order to this, any man should lose a limb, or become a cripple in their service, he was to have eight hundred dollars, out of the public stock, and for lesser hurts, proportionately.

X. The Captain and Quartermaster to receive two shares of a prize: the master, boatswain, and gunner, one share and a half, and other officers one and quarter.

XI. The musicians to have rest on the Sabbath Day, but the other six days and nights, none without special favor.

MORE: Exploding the myths of Captain Kidd (1909)


A General History of the Pyrates, by Capt. Charles Johnson

From Their First Rise and Settlement in the Island of Providence, to the Present Time. With the remarkable Actions and Adventures of two Female Pyrates Mary Read and Anne Bonny

A General History of the Pyrates - 1724

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