Black Caesar: The Enslaved African Chief Who Became a Notorious Pirate in the 18th Century

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

In the early 18th century, Black Caesar was a chieftain in West Africa, leading his people with pride and strength. However, his fate took a dark turn when he and about twenty of his warriors were deceived by a cunning slave trader. The story goes that the trader used a watch as bait, promising additional treasures too valuable to bring ashore, in order to entice Caesar and his warriors onto his ship. Once on board, the soon-to-be slaves were given food, while being enticed with silks and jewels. While they were distracted, the ship began to set sail and by the time Black Caesar realized it, it was already too late.

Despite their attempts to resist, the enslaved Africans were overpowered by well-armed crew members. The promise of valuable treasures turned into a treacherous journey across the Atlantic.

As the ship sailed off the coast of Florida, fate intervened in the form of a violent hurricane. The ship was caught in the midst of the storm’s fury, resulting in its destruction and the tragic loss of almost everyone on board. Amidst the chaos, Black Caesar and one crew member, managed to find a lifeboat filled with ammunition and supplies. This lifeboat would become their lifeline and the starting point of their friendship and piratical journey.

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

Using the lifeboat, Black Caesar and his new friend devised a clever strategy to continue their survival. They posed as shipwrecked sailors in distress, luring passing ships that stopped to offer assistance. Once the unsuspecting vessels drew near, the duo revealed their hidden guns and demanded supplies and ammunition. Threatening to sink the ship if their demands were not met, they used intimidation to acquire what they needed. This cunning ruse allowed them to amass treasure over time.

However, the partnership was not destined to last. A woman seized from a ship became the source of conflict between Black Caesar and his friend. Their rivalry escalated into a fatal duel, resulting in the death of the friend who had stood by Caesar’s side during their arduous journey. With his friend gone, Black Caesar continued his piratical activities with a newfound fervor, expanding his crew and launching attacks on ships at sea.

Black Caesar’s knowledge of coastal inlets and mangrove islands became instrumental in evading capture. Utilizing these geographical features, he managed to escape pursuit and build a reputation as a formidable pirate. As he plundered ships on the open sea, his notoriety grew, and his name struck fear into the hearts of sailors and merchants.

In the early 18th century, Black Caesar’s story intersected with that of another infamous pirate—Blackbeard. Joining Blackbeard’s crew, Caesar rose to the position of lieutenant on the flagship Queen Anne’s Revenge. Together, they conducted raids on American ships in the Mid-Atlantic, leaving a trail of chaos and treasure in their wake.

However, all adventures come to an end, and Black Caesar’s story was no exception. After Blackbeard’s death in a battle with Lieutenant Robert Maynard at Ocracoke Island, Caesar was one of the few pirates to survive. He was captured and brought to trial in Williamsburg, Virginia, where he was found guilty of piracy and hanged.

Uzonna Anele
Uzonna Anele
Anele is a web developer and a Pan-Africanist who believes bad leadership is the only thing keeping Africa from taking its rightful place in the modern world.


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