The Worst Pirate in History — The Forgotten Legend of Bartholomew Sharp
Perhaps one of the worst pirates to sail the high seas, Bartholomew Sharp certainly is not a legendary figure like Blackbeard, Bartholomew Roberts, or Captain Kidd. The fictional pirate Jack Sparrow, when accused of being the worst pirate ever heard of remarked, “But you have heard of me.” Unfortunately Bartholomew Sharp was so bad that his name is almost forgotten to history. In 1639 Sharp set off with a crew of pirates to Panama in search of Spanish treasure. Unlike most pirates who stalked the Caribbean, Sharp had the idea to raid the Pacific side of the Spanish Main. It is a wonder why he had this idea, most treasure fleets bound for Europe crossed through the Caribbean, only a few ships, mostly supply ships bound for the Philippines with some treasure ships bound for the Straits of Magellan could be found on the Pacific side. Regardless, Sharp and his men sailed to Panama, abandoned ship at the coast, then seized Spanish ships on the Pacific side of Panama.
Bartholomew Sharp and his crew raided several Spanish ships, but none had anything of value. After two years of slim pickings, his crew mutinied and replaced him as captain. Fortunately for him, his replacement only lasted three weeks before unexpectedly dying. Amazingly, the crew voted to restore Sharp as captain once again. However Sharps luck failed to pick up, that was until him and his crew came across a Spanish treasure galleon, which they captured after a short fight. However, rather than finding a rich haul of treasure, the ship was loaded with 700 bars of a dull grey metal which they thought was tin. Dejected and depressed, Sharp and his pirates decided to cut their losses and head home. They threw the bars overboard, saving a small portion to be cast into musket balls.
Sharp and his men rounded South America and returned to the Caribbean. When they arrived they learned of two pieces of very bad news. First, Sharp had assumed that because England was enemies with Spain, he would be recognized as a privateer by English authorities. However the English were not at war with Spain at the time, and arrest warrants had been issued in Sharp’s name for piracy. Secondly, the men had run out of lead to cast musket balls, and had dug into the stock of “tin bars” captured from the Spanish galleon earlier. It was then discovered that the tin bars were not tin at all, but in fact were silver. The unfortunate pirates had dumped a fortune worth 150,000 English Pounds (millions today) into the deep blue sea. Bummer.
When Sharp tried to make harbor at Barbados, he found a Royal Navy frigate waiting for him. He then made for Antigua, but authorities there barred him from entry. Eventually Sharp and his men were captured and arrested, then hauled into court in chains. In a rare stroke of luck for Sharp, him and his men were acquitted due to lack of evidence, either that or the jury felt bad for him. After avoid the hangman’s noose and gibbet, Sharp settled down on the Danish Island of St. Thomas. A man who could not lead a successful life as a pirate, Sharp was also a man who could not lead a successful life as a regular citizen. He died in a debtors prison in 1702.