Black Caesar: The African Chief Who Was Captured by Slavers and Became a Pirate
Black Caesar was a notorious pirate who lived between the 17 th and 18 th centuries. Originally from West Africa, Black Caesar was captured and sold into slavery. The ship he was in, however, sank off the coast of Florida but Black Caesar survived, and began his career in piracy, eventually rising to notoriety. Eventually, Black Caesar’s reign of terror came to an end in 1718, when he was convicted for piracy and executed.
While black pirates were not unusual, many of their names have been lost to history. One of those still remembered today is Black Caesar. According to legend, Black Caesar was a West African chief prior to becoming a pirate. He is said to have been tall, strong, and intelligent. During that time, the European colonists in the New World needed African slaves to work on their plantations, which provided impetus to the slave trade.
Black Caesar is Kidnaped by Slave Traders
The story goes that Black Caesar had been targeted by slavers but managed to escape their grasp several times. In the end, however, it was deception that brought about his capture. A captain managed to catch the African chief’s attention with a gold watch and promising greater treasures. He 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 thus 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 subdued by the ship’s crew.
Black Caesar and his men are captured by slave traders. (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 longboat filled with ammunitions and supplies and escaped.
Black Caesar Starts His Life as a Pirate
Black Caesar and the sailor now turned to a life of piracy. Their modus operandi was to pose as shipwrecked sailors, and to hail passing vessels for help. Once they were on board a ship, they would drop their disguise, rob the ship, and take the loot back to their hideout. This went on for several years and the two men were able to amass a great fortune.
Black Caesar and his friend, the sailor, turn to a life of piracy. (Noah Scalin / CC BY-SA 2.0)
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 recruited some ships and men with the loot he had gained, which allowed him to raid ships in open water. Legend has it that Black Caesar had his pirate loot buried somewhere in Elliott Key.
Black Caesar Joins Blackbeard’s Crew
Most sources claim that Black Caesar eventually joined the crew of another infamous pirate, Blackbeard. Apparently, he was made lieutenant of Blackbeard’s flagship, Queen Anne’s Revenge. In 1718, Blackbeard was killed by Lieutenant Robert Maynard of the Royal Navy. Black Caesar was one of the few pirates who survived that battle. He was captured and brought to trial in Williamsburg, Virginia. He was found guilty of piracy and hanged.
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Black Caesar joined Blackbeard’s crew. (Jappalang / Pubic Domain)
Interestingly, Cindy Vallar points out that the Black Caesar who was part of Blackbeard’s crew was in fact not the same man as the Black Caesar who operated in the Florida Keys. Vallar notes that the former was actually a slave owned by a Tobias Knight of North Carolina before he became a pirate. Thus, it is possible that there were two Black Caesars and that their stories were conflated, in which case the ultimate fate of the Florida Keys Black Caesar is perhaps lost to history.
Top image: Black Caesar was a pirate off the coast of Florida between the 17 th and 18 th centuries. Source: grandfailure / Adobe Stock
By Wu Mingren
Beatty, R. 2013. Black Caesar the Pirate Part of Notorious Florida History. [Online] Available at: http://www.sfltimes.com/uncategorized/black-caesar-the-pirate-part-of-notorious-florida-history
Crime Museum, LLC. 2017. Black Caesar. [Online] Available at: https://www.crimemuseum.org/crime-library/international-crimes/black-caesar/
Lyons, D. C. 2019. The Legend of Black Caesar still haunts the Florida Keys. [Online] Available at: https://www.floridarambler.com/historic-florida-getaways/pirate-black-caesar-florida-keys/
Petruzzello, M. 2019. Black Pirates and the Tale of Black Caesar. [Online] Available at: https://www.britannica.com/story/black-pirates-and-the-tale-of-black-caesar
Vallar, C. 2019. Black Pirates. [Online] Available at: http://www.cindyvallar.com/blackpirates.html