As part of my ten-week placement at The National Archives for my MA in Public History at St Mary’s University, Twickenham, I searched for a topic that would make a compelling blog post.
This topic has come in the form of the unusual story of a relatively unknown pirate. Indeed, his story is unique in terms of piracy of the early 18th century and gives budding researchers, such as myself, a good introduction as to how one might locate, explore and revive a story that has long been buried at The National Archives.
The early life of Bridstock Weaver is mostly unknown, but we can assume that he was one of many who saw opportunity in the increasing trade that flowed between Britain and its colonies. Weaver was, at the time of his capture, the first mate of the trading vessel Mary and Martha of Bristol. Reportedly at anchor off the island of St Christopher, Weaver recounts seeing an approaching vessel under English colours. Investigating via a long boat, Weaver approached the vessel and was set upon by a group of pirates. 1
The ship with which Weaver had the unfortunate encounter was the Royal Fortune, one of many in Bartholomew Roberts’ growing fleet. Roberts was the infamous and arguably most successful pirate of the ‘Golden Age’ of piracy, at least in terms of vessels captured: some credit him with over 400 captured. 2
Realising the true nature of the ship too late, Weaver and the others found themselves with pistols pointed at them. Forced aboard and with pistols ‘aimed at their breasts’ they were forced to sign the pirate’s articles. Otherwise known as the pirate code, this was a set of laws to which pirates must adhere. There were slightly different versions but the core themes were the same.
The Mary and Martha, still unaware of the true nature of the Royal Fortune, was set upon, plundered, burnt and left adrift with the remaining crew taken prisoner. The Royal Fortune then disappeared to an undisclosed safe harbour in the West Indies. 3 Continue reading »