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Black Caesar: The African Chief Who Escaped a Slave Ship and Became a Notorious Pirate

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Black Caesar was a chieftain in West Africa until he was tricked and lured onto a slave ship. By chance, the slave ship was struck by a hurricane, and Black Caesar was among the only ones to escape alive. Stranded at sea, he began his career in piracy, eventually rising to notoriety.

Black Caesar: The African Chief Who Escaped a Slave Ship And Became A Notorious Pirate
Black Caesar

While black pirates were not unusual, many of their names have been lost to history. One of those still remembered today is Black Caesar.

Widely known for his “huge size, immense strength and keen intelligence,” he evaded capture from many different slave traders. Caesar was finally captured when he and twenty of his warriors were lured onto a ship by a slave trader. Showing him a watch, the trader promised to show him and his warriors more objects, which were “too heavy and too numerous to bring on shore” if they came aboard his ship.

The slave trader succeeded in luring Black Caesar and his men onto his slave ship. Once on board, the soon-to-be slaves were given food, while being enticed with silks, jewels, and music. While they were distracted, the ship began to set sail and by the time Black Caesar realized it, it was already too late. Although the Africans fought back they were were driven back by the well-armed sailors using swords and pistols.

Black Caesar and his friend, the sailor, turn to a life of piracy. ( Noah Scalin / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Thus, began Black Caesar’s forced voyage across the Atlantic to the New World. During the journey, Black Caesar refused to eat or drink. He would have died had it not been for a kind sailor who fed him his meals and the two became friends. The ship ran into a hurricane while off the coast of Florida, and the ship sank, killing almost everyone on board. The only two survivors were Black Caesar and the sailor, who got into a life boat filled with ammunitions and supplies and escaped.

They soon began using the lifeboat to lure passing ships which stopped to give assistance. While posing as shipwrecked sailors, they would sail out to the vessel offering to take them aboard. Once they were close to the vessel, they brought out their guns and demanded supplies and ammunition, threatening to sink the ship if they were refused.

He and the sailor continued this ploy for a number of years and amassed a sizable amount of treasure which was buried on Elliott Key. However, Black Caesar had a falling out with his partner, resulting in the death of the latter. The conflict was caused by a woman they had seized from a ship. Both men wanted the woman for himself and a duel ensued, during which Black Caesar killed his friend.

Black Caesar continued his piratical activities and before long he began taking on more pirates over time and soon was able to attack ships on the open sea.

He and his crew were often able to avoid capture by running into Caesar Creek and other inlets between Elliot and Old Rhodes Key and onto the mangrove islands.

During the early 18th century, Black Caesar eventually joined the crew of another infamous pirate, Blackbeard and was made lieutenant of Blackbeard’s flagship, Queen Anne’s Revenge, together they raided American ships in the Mid-Atlantic.

In 1718, after Blackbeard’s death battling with Lieutenant Robert Maynard at Ocracoke Island. Black Caesar was one of the few pirates who survived that battle. He was captured and brought to trial in Williamsburg, Virginia where he was found guilty of piracy and hanged.


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