There is no shortage of famous names associated with the Golden Age of Piracy. Captain Kidd, Blackbeard, Henry Morgan or Jack Rackham hold such levels of fame, they have become household names, legends with largely fictional tales still told of their lives at sea. There is, however, one man who managed to outdo them all. His largest, most audacious crime is one of the most successful pirate raids in history and one that nearly brought down one of the richest, most powerful empires the world has ever known. Captain Henry Every, the pirate that shook the colonies from the Red Sea to the Caribbean and then disappeared without a trace.
Farooqi, Naim R. (1988) Moguls, Ottomans, and Pilgrims: Protecting the Routes to Mecca in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. The International history Review, Vol. 10, No. 2 (May 1988), pp 198-220. Taylor & Francis Ltd. Oxfordshire, UK.
Johnson, Captain Charles (1724) A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates. UK
Johnson, Captain Charles (1732) History and Lives of the Most Notorious Pirates and their Crews. UKFox, E.T. (2008) King of the Pirates: The Swashbuckling Life of Henry Every. The History Press, UK.
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The Pirate Life of Henry Every
There is no shortage of famous names associated with the Golden Age of Piracy. Captain Kidd, Blackbeard, Henry Morgan or Jack Rackham hold such levels of fame, they have become household names, legends with largely fictional tales still told of their lives at sea. There is, however, one man who managed to outdo them all. His largest, most audacious crime is one of the most successful pirate raids in history and one that nearly brought down one of the richest, most powerful empires the world has ever known. Captain Henry Every, the pirate that shook the colonies from the Red Sea to the Caribbean and then disappeared without a trace. This is Dark Histories, where the facts are worse than fiction.
The Golden Age of Piracy
In the history of Piracy, by its broadest definition, the mid 17th to mid 18th Century has become known as The Golden Age. Though debate exists with the term on a fine level, generally speaking, the near 100 year period saw piracy thrive on a scale unseen before or since. It was a time that saw pirates as so ubiquitous with the ocean as to be near inseparable. An age of Colonial Empires with a citizenry that held a wealth of naval experiences whilst vast wealth shipped across the oceans from far flung outposts. Fractured warfare pitched rifts between countries, justifying attacks and a collective of cash-strapped, corrupt governments and colonial governors were unscrupulous in their efforts to turn profits and localised power to themselves. Almost all modern fiction on pirates is derived from the Golden Age of piracy, themes of Jolly Rodgers, peg-legs, buried treasure and adventure are all in part or in full extracted from the history of the Golden Age, amped up, magnified and romanticised. It was also an age that saw some of the most famous names in piracy sail the seas, plying their trade in tyranny. Captain Kidd, whose legendary buried treasure has driven a thousand fictional pirate adventures sailed at the turn of the 18th Century, Edward Teach, commonly known as Blackbeard, commanded a crew of over 300 men aboard his ship the Queen Annes Revenge, relying largely on his larger than life image to strike fear into his prey. Both men have played a significant role in crafting the image of the archetypal pirate in modern folklore and fiction, but both, as was so common at the time, wound up dead as a direct consequence of their piracy. In fact, with all the talk of gold, pieces of eight and buried treasure that one finds tied to stories of piracy, surprisingly, very few famous pirates actually got to enjoy any level of their stolen wealth for any length of time. With the various East India companies unwilling to allow piracy to jeopardise their trading relationships and nations’ empires threatened by the damage caused by piracy, searches for pirates were thorough and the punishment harsh. For a great many, surviving a sea battle with the authorities was only the beginning of the end. If captured rather than killed, they were slapped in jail to await a trial that almost inevitably led to public execution. Hangings were brutal, using shortened ropes to ensure the slow strangulation of the prisoner and once dead, their bodies were often left in place as grim warnings for those that might consider piracy an attractive course. Of all the pirates that sailed during the Golden Age, one of the most audacious was Captain Henry Every. The crimes committed by Every and his crew overshadow even the most sensational fictional accounts, more unusual than the size of the crime, however, was the fact that Every got away.
Born in the small town of Newton Ferrers, in Devon on the South West coast of England in 1659, Henry Every grew up surrounded by tales of the sea. 7 miles from Plymouth, one of the largest trade centres in the British Isles, the 16th Century had seen a boom to the area as it played a central role in the British expansion into the New World. It’s cobbled streets thrived with bustling butter, poultry, meat, fish, corn and yarn markets, whilst its deep-water dock trafficked ships bound for Ireland, America and the Caribbean. Newton Ferrers might have seemed like another world in comparison. A tranquil fishing village perched on the banks of Newton Creek connecting it to the Atlantic via the River Yealm, with a population of less than 500, most of the days population would have had a deep, inescapable connection with it’s bustling neighbour.
Little is known of Everys early life, but it seems highly likely that from his young teens, he would have worked on the water, either aboard a fishing or merchant ship. In 1689, aged 29 years old, he joined the Navy as a Midshipman aboard the HMS Rupert. Whilst not officially seen as trainee officers, in the 17th Century, midshipmen had to have had considerable skill and experience and were required to have all the capabilities of a full fledged officer, with a lesser degree of responsibility. Despite their official role, they were, in effect, men of lower birth with aspirations of the officer class that the Navy could train and draft into positions of command, rather than relying solely on the noble classes. Expected to work on the ship using their experience with rigging sails, keeping watch and supervising a ships armaments, they also needed to learn navigation, seamanship and command duties.
The Rupert was a third rate ship of the line, with a crew of 400 men. Third rate ships were the Navy’s answer to compromise, small enough to maintain speed and handling, whilst still large enough to carry large crews and batteries of over 60 guns. The captain of the Rupert was Francis Wheeler, a Naval officer with eleven years experience under his belt, a knight of the realm and veteran of several battles with pirates of the Northern coast of Africa.
Every had joined the Navy during a fairly tumultuous period, known as the Nine Years War. Fought between a European coalition of countries on one side, including England, The Dutch Republic, Spain, Savoy and Portugal versus the French on the other, it was global warfare on an unprecedented scale. In what was essentially a politically motivated move, William of Orange accepted an invitation to the throne of England in 1688, following King James II exile to Paris, forging a mutually beneficial, and purely Protestant, alliance between the English and the Dutch. Both countries feared the expansionist ambitions of Louis XIV of France who was busy extending his borders in order to consolidate an already leading position of power in Europe and strengthen France’s defensive capabilities. Louis had further ambitions on the Hapsburgs, a dynastic monarchy that ruled several territories throughout Europe and the Holy Roman Empire. In particular, he sought to install his son onto the throne of Spain. Ireland and Scotland were brought into the fray when King James attempted to cause an uprising against English rule and retake the crown. The war quickly spread across the seas, fought in French and English colonies in far flung outposts all across the New World.
Despite the global situation, it was a relatively gentle introduction to Navy life for Every, as he spent the first month of his service grounded whilst the Rupert was prepared for sea after spending the previous winter laid up for repairs. Once they had sailed, however, leaving Portsmouth on 19th April, it was only three months before Every was to gain his first promotion, on account of the discharging of the ships Mate Henry Washington due to illness. Every was promoted to Mate and saw both his level of responsibility and his Navy wages increase overnight. For an extra £1 per month, he was now expected to able to take over from the ships Sailing Master if needed, a position of considerable skill that answered only to the ships captain and the highest ranked warrant officer, expected to be able to navigate, manage a fight, give orders and punish those who ignored command. It was a considerable position for Every, however, the reality never quite lived up to the promise and the Rupert spent most of its days at sea asserting British control over the channel. In one its most exciting escapades, they chased a French envoy on the way to Ireland, attacking it briefly, but otherwise, Every spent his first year in relative peace.
In June 1690, just over a year from his joining, Every was taken aboard the second class ship of the line, the HMS Albemarie, which Captain Wheeler had recently been given control of. Upon his acceptance of command, Wheeler drafted 60 men from the Rupert, including Every, who joined the new crew as Masters Mate. If Everys first year had been slow, his second was to be a fair bit more exciting as British and French ships fought in the channel, the french threatening an invasion whilst the British dug in and attempted to stave them off as best they could. The British Navy was considerable in its strength, however, with its sprawling global interests, their manpower was spread much thinner than the French, who outnumbered the British in the Channel, despite its fleets being bolstered by the British alliance with the Dutch.
Things came to a head for Every and the Albemarie in the Battle of Beachy Head that saw the French win one of their most celebrated victories over the British and Dutch of the entire Nine Years War. The Albemarie fought in the battle as part of Red Squadron, bang in the centre of the Anglo-Dutch front line and one of 56 ships that made up the allied fleet in the Channel. The orders to defend the mainland and attack the French, who outnumbered the Anglo-Dutch alliance with 70 Ships of the Line, came to the English on the 9th July, after an initial four days of fleeing from the pursuing French Fleet off the coast of England, with the conclusive battle breaking out on the 10th. The battle did not fare well for the Allies, who suffered heavy losses and eventual defeat, with the eight hour battle ending up in a limping retreat to the Thames and the loss of control of the Channel. For Every and the Rupert, they had fared just as badly. The Rupert was badly damaged in the battle and lost its Captain, along with two Marine Captains and they were grounded for another month, before they were able to head back out to sea on 6th August. It was a short lived trip, however, as illness ravaged the ship and when 125 of the Albemaries crew were put ashore on the 23rd, suffering from sickness, the entire ship was laid up for the winter. It was something of an unspectacular end to Everys Navy career, who was discharged shortly after.
Upon his discharge, Henry Every slipped back into a level of anonymity. For three years between 1690 and 1693, small clues can piece together an obscured picture of his activities, but there exists no solid records and so some level of speculation becomes involved. Firstly, he married his wife, Dorothy Arther, a wig seller in St James Dukes Place on 11th September, 1690, but it appears soon after he was back at sea as the master of a slave trading ship running between Africa and Caribbean. In this business, Every is recorded with having traded cloth, knives, iron bars and spirits for slaves, as well as simply spiriting away natives from the shore, to trade in the colonies of the Caribbean. Though it’s undocumented, one can also speculate that he took on privateering commissions from colonial governors to supplement his income illegally trading slaves, a practice that was commonplace at the time, as governors of ailing colonies sought to boost their incomes from this legitimised form of piracy. Throughout this period, Every began using the name “Captain Long Ben” and became well known for his underhand tactics for acquiring slaves. At the time, the Royal African Company held a monopoly on the Atlantic Slave Trade and was a business heavily protected by the Navy, who ensured that no ne could purchase or transport slaves without a license. The business of illegal trading was extremely lucrative and it seems Every partook in such activities for several years. One officer of the Royal African Company, Thomas Phillips, later wrote of the situation he found in Africa whilst on a slave run,
“I have no where upon the coast met the negroes so shy as here, which makes me fancy they have had tricks play’d them by such blades as Long Ben, alias Every, who have seiz’d them and carry’d them away.”
Whatever his activities during this period, Every seems to have returned to England by the winter of 1692-93, as he was preparing to embark on a new venture that would see him pop his head back above the parapet and quickly launch from obscurity to international fame.
The Spanish Expedition & Mutiny
In the winter of 1692, a group of London based merchants were putting together a scheme to enlist a fleet of ships which they would send to the Spanish territories of the West Indies in order to bolster the Spanish forces in the area and treasure hunt for sunken Spanish bullion ships. For the Spanish, the groups plan saw them benefitting from a cheap source of naval power, sorely needed at the time as protection against the French ships in the area. In pitching their plan to the English authorities, the investor group made sure to emphasise how this fleet could help reinvigorate the ailing English economy. Seeing the venture as a mutually benefitting operation, authorities on both sides agreed to the plan and signed off on the contracts. The group put together a fleet of four ships that would sail under Spanish colours, The James, The Dove, The Seventh Son and the Flagship, The Charles II, with Don Arturo O’Bourne, an Irish Catholic with vast experience sailing in the Spanish Navy was selected as the Admiral. Crews were assembled, with the expedition offering 100 tickets of exemption against being pressed into naval service as an incentive for men who would sign aboard. The tickets of exemption were seen as especially valuable at the time and the boats were quickly filled. The Charles II was captained by Captain John Strong, an experienced treasure hunter and the man credited with rediscovering the Falkland Islands and Henry Every was selected to be Chief Mate.
Setting sail from England on 10th August, 1693, problems did not take long to arise for the Fleet. Before they had even left English waters, Admiral O’Bourne was arrested under suspicion of treason. The Irish Catholic Jacobites, loyal to the exiled King James, had only been defeated a year prior and though they now swore allegiance to King William, suspicions still ran high. He was eventually released, however, and the ships finally broke from English territory a month later, in September. One of the fleets first ports of call was the Spanish town of Corruna, where the ships were due to dock in order to receive their official orders from Spanish officials. The journey there was laboured and arrived months overdue, however, as they anchored up in the harbour, it quickly became apparent that somewhere along the line, a failure of communication had taken place and upon their arrival, news broke that they would have to wait ashore for their passes to be prepared by the Spanish authorities. At the same time, the crew were acutely aware that they had not yet been paid. A dangerous mix brewed, as men sat in port with nothing to do but kill time and no money with which to do it. Discontent spread, protests were aired and several of the crew wound up in prison, only further aggravating the situation and stoking the feeling of anger that brewed beneath the surface and damaged the fleets morale. As if there wasn’t trouble enough for the expedition already, Captain john Strong died and was replaced by Charles Gibson, the commander of the James. When the passes and orders finally did come from the Spanish and the crew were ordered to sail, they struck back, threatening to strike and refusing to sail until they had been paid. Admiral O’Bourne wrote to the investors of the expedition, practically begging for financial assistance to pay the men, but his pleas fell on deaf ears, when he received the reply that they had no money to pay and the responsibility was squarely on the Spanish King. Despite O’Bourne writing to the investors with a probably degree of sympathy for his men, suspicion against the Irish Catholic rose further and this was not helped when he threatened to jail the Steward of the Charles II, when he asked to be released form his contract,m foregoing his pay. With the refusal, the men now saw themselves as prisoners and when rumbles of mutiny began to emerge around the crew, many readily agreed.
The mutiny could not take place without the aid of some of the officers, however willing the men, they were simply unable to properly sail and navigate the ship without a skilled officer at the helm and so, a group of would-be mutineers approached Henry Every, proposing he help them “carry away the ship”. Every must have been as frustrated by the situation as everyone else, since he quickly agreed and plans were whispered along the shore for the imminent capture of the Charles II and the crews triumphant escape.
The night of 7th May presented the first good opportunity for the Mutineers to make their move. Captain Gibson had fallen sick and retired to his cabin, whilst Admiral O’Bourne slept ashore in Corruna. That evening, whilst Henry Every dined in the Captains quarters, rowboats were sent around the four ships, collecting willing participants who were to make his new crew. Unfortunately, the clandestine operation faltered at early doors and though passwords and coded phrases were used by the deserters, news tore through the ships that a mutiny was at hand. What was initially planned as a quiet slipping away, under the cover of darkness, escalated into a scrabble, as Every took command of the Charles II and bolted for the harbour entrance, pursued by the canon fire of the three other ships they left behind. Spanish guns fired at the escaping ship, but in their confusion, all scattered into the sea and after a tense few minutes, the Charles’s II broke out to sea and sailed out of range of the flailing guns.
Once their safe getaway was ensured, Newly installed Captain Every went below deck to wake Gibson and inform him of his unfortunate position as exile, along with the other officers. All the ships crew were called above deck and those who did not wish to be a part of the mutiny, including the Master, Chapman, Boatswain, ships Barber, 3rd Mate and a handful of seamen, were loaded onto the ships pinnace, lowered to the sea and cast adrift, a pair of oars and a bucket to bail out water thrown in after them, in order that they could reach the shore safely. Every offered Gibson command of the vessel if he would stay behind, which he refused outright and so he too was put aboard the pinnace. The only member of crew forced to stay was the ships doctor, who initially made to leave, but was called back as an invaluable asset to the ship. As the pinnace slowly rowed ashore, the Charles II disappeared over the horizon, sailing off towards a new fate, quite different than originally planned.
The next morning, 8th May 1694, Captain Every called all hands on deck to address the crew and enlighten them to his plans. Far from sailing back to England, Every had a much grander future laid out for them. They were to sail for the Indian Ocean, where they would begin a career of piracy. Each man aboard would receive an equal share of the loot, besides Every, who would receive two shares and the ship they sailed on was now renamed The Fancy. If any fo the crew had been expecting to return to England after the mutiny, they were now standing well and truly corrected. They set sail South, and docked at Cape Verde, off the NW tip of Africa, where they docked in Bonnavista and stocked up on salt for preserving stores and then on to the Isle of May, where they came across three English merchant ships, the Rebecca, The James and The Thomas. Here they opened their account, threatening all three with the ships guns, forcing them to surrender or risk being sunk where they stood. After their surrender, all the men of the three ships were brought on board the Fancy, taken below deck to be locked up and the merchant ships plundered for their supplies, along with an anchor and all of their linen. After 24 hours, the men were all then released to go back to their now empty ships, where they watched on for three days as Every sold their linen on the shore for double the going rate. Curiously, before they left, Every gave the three crews a share of 20 bullocks they had received as part payment for the cloth, along with forged bills. It is likely that the captains of the merchant vessels would have been aware that the bills were forged, however, they were in no position to quibble, so took them all the same. Of all three crews, nine men stayed behind aboard the Fancy and joined the crew voluntarily, before they left the harbour, moving on down the African coast. Along the way, they sailed under the English flag, signalling their friendly intentions with the slave traders in the area, however, when a boarding party of 12 men from a slave settlement did row out to meet the ship, they took them captive, stole 5lb of their gold dust and locked the men below deck as slaves. This it seems likely, was a move well practiced by Every in his old slave trading days, where he was known as a swindler. As they continued South to the equator, they docked in Principe, a small Danish settlement off the coast of what is today Equatorial Guinea. Here they got into a prolonged fight with two Danish ships that saw the Pirates lose one member of their crew to canon fire, before they suppressed the Danes, boarded their ships and plundered their cargo of over 40lbs of Elephant Ivory and Gold Dust, a significant number of arms, linen wool and perhaps most agreeable, 800 cases of Brandy. Whilst the Danish crew were rounded up and guarded by Everys men, news rolled out to them that one of the Danes had slipped away during the fighting with a chest full of gold. Every responded to this revelation by sending a messenger ashore with the news that the pirates would hang every single man unless he returned with his chest immediately. The messenger returned shortly after alongside the escapee, and then Every put the Danes ashore, though 14 volunteered to stay behind and join the pirates. The largest of the two Danish ships was set on fire, whilst the second was boarded by a prize crew and sailed away, leaving the stranded Danish ashore to watch as their only ship burned and the Fancy peeling off over the horizon with the other. It had been a good start to their new career in Piracy, but time had come for a brief respite and so the Fancy next boarded at the Island of Fernando Po, a former Portuguese sugar colony and Dutch centre of slave trade, just North of Principe, where they grounded the Fancy for repairs and full refit. Whilst it was out of the water, the accumulated legions of barnacles were scraped from the hull and the entire top decks of the Fancy, along with much of her decoration, were cut away, slimming her silhouette and making the ship considerably faster on the water and far easier to handle. With the Fancy emerging as a full fledged pirate vessel, the crew were finally ready to sail her to the East Indies as planned. Along the way, they captured a small Portuguese slaver near Cape Lopez, who they exchanged provisions with for clothing and silks before docking to buy wax and honey. Whilst at Cape Lopez, trouble arose for the first time aboard the captured Danish ship, so the crew were absorbed onto the Fancy and the ship sunk. Leaving behind their dead weight, they set sail once more, rounded the Cape of Good Hope, giving the busy port a wide berth through fear of capture and set their destination for the large island of Madagascar off the Eastern African coast.
In the late 17th Century, Madagascar was a centre for slave trading in the region and a common stopping off point for ships bound for trade in the East Indies. Both the English and the French had attempted to colonise the island but by Everys arrival, both had failed and the ports lay comfortably out of range of any European authorities. In later years, the North East island of Saints-Marie would become the center of rumours surrounding Henry Every and legends spewed up that spoke of an independent pirate republic that was based on the island, but for now, it was simply a quiet port, far away from the prying eyes of the various East India Companies and well protected from storms. Every and his crew stayed on the island for a month, purchasing cows for provisions, paying for them in powder and arms, before they set out once more for the Comoro Islands, North of Madagascar and East from the coast of Mozambique. They captured a cotton trade ship, which saw them newly furnished with reeks of cotton and 40 pieces of eight, before heading for the port of Johanna, however, when they arrived, they were forced to perform a hasty retreat when they spotted a trio of English Merchant ships, which left them short of water, a dangerous predicament so close to the equator. They further backtracked, returning to the Comoro Islands, to resupply, before returning at a later date, sinking a second cotton trade vessel on the way. This time, instead of the English Merchants, they met with a Pirate ship flying under French colours. The ship, which was far smaller than the Fancy quickly surrendered and the entire crew of 40 joined Every and his crew, bringing along all of their booty. The Fancy now held a formidable crew of 170 men, 104 of which were English, 52 French and 14 Danes. Before they left the vicinity, they sailed back to Johanna, where Every left a note with the natives and asked them to hand it over to the first English ship to come ashore.
“To all English commanders, let this satisfy that I was riding here at this instant in the ship Fancy, man-of-war, formerly the Charles of the Spanish Expedition who departed from Corunna the 7th May 1694 being (and am now) in a ship of 46 guns, 150 men, and bound to seek our fortunes. I have never yet wronged any English or Dutch, nor ever intend to whilst I am commander. Wherefore as I commonly speak with all ships, I desire whoever comes to the perusal of this to take this signal, that if you, or any whom you may inform, are desirous to know what we are at a distance, then make your ancient up in ball or bundle and hoist him at the mizzen peak, the mizzen being furled. I shall answer with the same and never molest you, for my men are hungry, stout, and resolute, and should they exceed my desire I cannot help myself. As yet an Englishman’s friend, Henry Every.”
The letter, curious as it was, given Everys previous treatment of the English merchants on the Isle of May, was picked up by East India Company ship and delivered to Bombay, whilst Every sailed to the Red Sea, in Somalia, they stopped off to trade however, were rejected by the natives, so the crew burnt the town to the ground and left it in ruins. The Fancy curled over the horizon as ash drifted in the sea air, en-route to its primary hunting grounds, one of the richest stretches of ocean in the world and on a direct path with a destiny that would write them into history forever.
In the 17th Century, the Red Sea was home to the richest trade routes in the world. Spices, silks, textiles, pottery, jewels and precious minerals traded from Jeddah, one of the largest ports in the East all across Europe and the New World colonies. Separated from the Gulf of Aden by the Bab-Al-Mandab strait, or the “Gate of Tears” and colloquially known as “The Babs”, situated between the Eastern tip of Ethiopia and the Southern tip of Yemen, the twenty mile wide strip of ocean was a hotbed for pirates, who took advantage of the geography to savage effect, earning the region a solid reputation as a danger spot for any who wished to trade with the East. The strait, which was already perilously narrow, was further separated by the Island of Purim, known as Bobs Key, which settled in the water 2 miles from the Arabian shore and 16 miles from the African. The larger 16 mile gap was even more divided by another seven, small islands known as the Seven Brothers. The unique layout forced any ships that passed through to pass close by any coastlines or ships that may have been lying in wait. Pirate ships would stalk through the islands, ambushing slow, unexpecting ships for years and many of the most famous pirates to have sailed made their names pillaging the routes through the Babs on a routine basis.
Immediately upon there arrival in the strait, the Fancy came upon a group of two more Pirate ships with the same idea, The Dolphin, that had sailed out of Delaware and The Portsmouth Adventure, from Rhode Island. The two ships were far smaller than the Fancy and seeing their plans scatter as the dominating ship approached, instead they sought out an alliance with Every. The alliance would have advantages for Every also, though the ships were much smaller, they would be able to sail in much shallower waters than the Fancy, useful around the Seven Brothers and so a meeting was set up and the three captains agreed to join forces. Soon after, they met with a further three American ships flying English colours. All three were privateers, commissioned in New York and Rhose Island to attack French vessels in the Caribbean and Bermuda, though as soon as they turned out to sea, had decided to turn pirate instead. The six captains held a second meeting and decided to form an even larger alliance, with Every granted Admiralty of the Fleet, given the fact the Fancy was still the largest ship by some margin. The six captains agreed to fight together and share any loot on a share and share alike basis, contracts were written and Henry Every found himself in charge of a fleet of six ships strong with a total crew of over 400 men and the combined firepower of 82 guns. With a force so strong, very little could stand in the way of the Pirates and even the largest East India Company ships would think twice at approaching the rebel fleet. A formidable force needed a big target and it wasn’t long before plans were being drawn up for exactly that.
Hajj, commonly known as the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca is an annual pilgrimage for followers of the Islamic faith to Mecca, in modern day Saudi Arabia. Given that it is seen as a mandatory religious duty, traditionally the pilgrimage has seen floods of people travel to Mecca from all corners of the globe, numbering in the millions. Dating back to the time of Abraham, the date changes from year to year, in 1694, it just so happened to be right on the horizon. The port of Jeddah was the busiest in the area and aside from a bustling trade hub, acted as the central gathering point for those pilgrims who travelled to Mecca via the Red Sea, which meant that vast quantities of ships were due to run right underneath the noses of the pirates any day now. Along with the pilgrimage, the route offered various trade opportunities to those who travelled with both their personal riches as well as Considerable goods, meaning the ships were laden with treasures and textiles belonging to, or meant as gifts to, some of the richest people in the world. Given that all the pilgrims were headed in the same direction, at the same time, it only made sense for the pilgrims to travel together and ships sailed in a large convoy in order to ensure safety in numbers. The convoy that sailed through the Red Sea was then further swollen by the merchants, who would tack on seeking one of the easiest passages they’d ever take through the pass. In regular years, the numbers would have meant a whole lot more, but now, with a fleet of 6 ships at his command, Every had a surprise waiting.
Thinking the ships due any day, the six ships of Everys fleet lay in ambush and waited for the sight of the convoy to peel over the horizon. And waited. After six weeks of waiting and still no sight of the convoy materialised, the pirates began to get antsy. If the ships had sailed past them int eh night somehow, they would have missed their pay check, a fate they could scarce allow to happen with such a large crew relying on their shares for their future. The captains agreed to set up a pinnacle and gather intelligence in the local port of Mocha, lying 35 miles North West up the coast. When the pinnace rowed into view of the port, they small landing crew captured 2 men aboard a merchant vessel and under threat of death, were duly informed that a convoy of 25 ships was due to leave Mocha imminently. The Pinnace returned with the news and the pirates dug in to wait with renewed confidence. After six more days and still no show, however, they really became worried. The convoy should have been headed for the port of Surat, right past the pirates, but they had seen nothing. They captured a small coastal raiding ship in order to gather further intelligence only to find out that the convoy, tipped off to the pirates presence, had slipped past them under a heavy night time fog. The pirates dropped their sales and immediately sprung forward to give chase, the group would have to hit them before they docked in Surat or the plan would fall to pieces. As they tore up the coast, the inefficiencies of the fleet came heavily into play and quickly the Dolphin fell behind. With no time to waste slowing down, the crew were absorbed onto the Fancy and the ship was set ablaze and left to burn. The Pearl was the next ship to slow, but with no room left aboard the Fancy, she was put into tow by the larger ship and dragged up the coast, towards their prey. On the 3rd September, news came from the crows nest that a ship was sighted on the horizon. It was a small merchant class ship and most definitely a member of the pilgrim convoy. Catching up with it, the fleet fired warning shots into the sea around it. Stubborn or stupid, the ship fired back and so the pirate fleet let rip, tearing the masts asunder with their cannon fire. Once disabled, they drew up alongside the boat, named the Fateh Muhammed and boarded. It had been a small vessel, but as a first strike at the convoy, it reaped a great reward for the pirates. The trader had belonged to one of the wealthiest Indian traders of the day and the crew relieved it of over £50,000 worth of pieces of eight and gold Chaquins. Unable to waste time plundering the vessel, it was put into tow and boarded by a small prize crew who searched below the decks for hidden treasure whilst the fleet continued up the coast on the trail of the pilgrim convoy. For the pirates, however, bad news came from the captured traders of the Fateh Muhammed. The foremost ships of the convoy had already reached Surat. Fortunately, there were still slower ships, who had been left dragging and who were actually now behind the pirates, including the convoys flagship, a 700 ton ship of the line armed with 60 guns, crewed by 200 men and full to the brim with over 500 soldiers and 600 passengers. It was precisely the ambitious prize the pirates had been waiting for. The pirates once again weighed anchor and lay in wait, ready to ambush their prize.
Aurangzeb was the sixth Mughal Emperor, ruler of the Moghul Empire and ione fo the richest, most powerful men in the East, if not the entire world. During his reign, the Moghul Empire had expanded to encompass almost the entire Indian subcontinent, with an estimated population of over 158 million subjects. His fleet of ships was vast and right at the top was the Gang-I-Sawai, a flagship that was the pride of the Moghul naval firepower. In 1694, the Gang-I-Sawai was headed to Jeddah carrying some of the richest, most powerful noblemen, along with their families, of the Moghul empire on their way to Mecca. They had slipped behind the main convoy somewhat, but confident of the firepower, the Captain, Ibrahim Kahn, felt at ease as they cruised down the coast of the Red Sea. That was, at least, until he heard the boom of canon shot in the distance and the splash of warning fire scatter into the sea around the ship. Up ahead everyone on board sighted five ships, lying in wait, guns pointed in their direction. Kahn was about to meet Henry Every and the pirate fleet were hungry.
As their warning shots dotted the water around the Gang-I-Sawai, Every approached the grande ship head on. The fleet had already come up with a plan, whereby the fancy would draw the fire from the front, spearheading the attack, whilst the smaller ships of the fleet would flank in at speed, allowing them to board once they were in range. The fancy loaded and ripped her guns, aiming for the masts of the gang-I-Sawai in order to disable the behemoth, hoping to leave it hopelessly stranded in the water, however the small ships were not all pulling their weight and the Portsmouth Adventure was lagging behind in the fight, frozen by the sheer size of the target. The Fancy, who had intended to stay at range quickly found itself being pulled side by side to the broadsides of their target, both ships firing their guns at one another. It was, perhaps sheer luck, or perhaps just the fact that the pirates were more experienced seamen than those aboard the Gang-I-Sawai, but as the main masts of the Indian ship shattered unde the canon fire of the Fancy, their own shots flew into the water, flying right over the top of the pirates. As the Fancy and the Pearl drew into boarding range, Captain Ibrahim Kahn decided eh had seen enough and disappeared beneath deck, effectively ending any concerted effort at defense and as the pirates poured onto the deck, smoke pouring above their heads from the small arms fire, a bloody battle between the two crews was all that remained for the pirates to grasp victory. The fighting was prolonged and the battle bloody. With so many crew and guards on board, the toll on the pirates was heavy. After the fighting was over and the Moghul ship surrendered to Every and his men, only 180 of the 290 members of crew that boarded her were left standing. For those that had survived, however, the prize was greater than they ever imagined, even whilst they fantasised, holed up on the coastline of the Red Sea waiting for weeks for the convoy to come into sight. The ship was duly plundered of all its gold, jewellery, gems and precious trade goods, including a ruby encrusted saddle made as a gift for Aurangzeb, the Moghul Emperor himself. Throughout the plunder, the crew tortured passengers for their possessions and the women were raped in some of the ugliest scenes the Red Sea was surely to have witnessed. Once the battered ship had been stripped bare, command was returned to Ibrahim Kahn, and the pirates retreated back to their ships, sailing off with their stores stuffed to the rafters with booty. Two days later, the Gang-I-Sawai limped into port at Surat, the sight of which sent a seismic blow through both the Indian and English population, who had already heard rumblings of the attack and were already feeling the brunt of the local resentment against them.
For a long time, the East India Company had been bearing the brunt of the blame for Piracy in the Red Sea. Whether justified or not, pirates were often assumed to be English, either because they were, or because they sailed under English covers as a ruse. Oftentimes, people saw the pirates colluding with the company in the least and as partners at worst. In wake of the attack by Every on the Gang-I-Sawai, the atmosphere in Surat had turned very dangerous for the English indeed. Within days the English population was rounded up and herded into the East India Compound. Surrounded by high stone walls, the companies headquarters were visited by the Indian Military Commander, along with his troops who demanded entry onto the premises, they were there, they told the president, to protect the English citizenry from the large mob that was gathering, baying for blood. The English argued the case that they had nothing to do with the Pirate attack, sure to push the point that even if Every was an Englishman, the king could not be held responsible for all that were born in the country, despite their eventual path. It was a line that may have flown better, if it wasn’t for the stories that began drifting around the port that some of Everys crew were known to have been former employees of the company and of the treatment metered out by the pirates on the women, elderly and children aboard the taken ship. The troops who had entered the English compound spied the opportune moment to turn and promptly clapped everyone in chains, boarded the windows and took away all writing materials. Each man in the compound was guarded by a handful of troops and the English became prisoners in their own headquarters. Whilst the crowd outside called for capital punishment to be metered out, an English ship slipped out of the harbour with the help of a Dutch vessel who stocked them with supplies once far enough out to sea for no one on land to see. The ship sailed for Bombay and Sir John Gayer, the president of the East India Company of the port wrote to the Moghul emperor, apologising for the actions of the pirates and arguing his case that they had nothing to do with the attack. As orders came to the Indian Army to march into Bombay, seize the assets of the East India Company and expel the British from India entirely, diplomacy worked in the background, assisted by a few handy bribes to grease the wheels. After 9 months of incarceration and the near ending of the East India Company, the situation was finally tempered in June of 1695, when the prisoners were released under condition that East India Company ships be immediately sent out to hunt the pirates and that the company would swear to protect the Pilgrim Fleet with its own ships in future years. Henry Everys plunder of the Gang-I-Sawai had very nearly ushered in the end of the East India Companies ambitions and put rest to the British Empire, before it had even begun. Throughout all the carnage of the aftermath, however, the pirate himself had all but disappeared.
The legend of Henry Every
The final value of the loot taken by Henry Every and his crew during the plunder of the pilgrim fleet has only ever been estimated using figures taken from sources who had an undeniable bias towards extremes. On the low end, the value was estimated to be around £350,000, whilst the high estimates placed it at nearly £700,000. Even if the pirates only made away with the estimated low end, this was a time when the average wage for a working seaman in the Navy was £6 per year and the plunder had been a near uncountable fortune. Whilst the English on shore in Surat found themselves holed up in the companies compound, Every was busy fleeing across the ocean aboard the Fancy, its vast new wealth stored in chests sealed by three seals. The fleet had dispersed immediately after the raid, but not before the crew of the pearl tried to pull one over the Fancy by trading their share fo the loot with an equivalent share in silver. As it turned out, the Pearl had shaved the gold coins of their own share, hoping that Every wouldn’t notice. The pirate did notice, however, and the crew of the Fancy was promptly alerted, leading to the Pearl handing back all the traded silver at gunpoint. Every arranged to give the disgraced ship 2000 pieces of eight in order to buy provisions and abandoned them, sailing off towards the Bahamas.
In the late 17th Century, the Caribbean was jam full of ailing colonial outposts with governors more than willing to turn to corruption in order to keep their faltering economies afloat and line their own pockets. Every was more than aware fo this fact and as such, set his sights on the Bahamas due to its distance from the British seat of power in the Caribbean. The pirate fleet docked in Bourbon along the way, where the loot from the Red Sea raid was divided up between the crew members and the fleet scattered. The French crew member of the Fancy disembarked, preferring the destination of French Guinea over the Bahamas, alongside most of the Dutch and a handful of English. Many of the early leavers actually settled in bourbon, purchasing land and growing old, managing plantations. Some even went on to become respected and well regarded members of the local population. In April 1696, the Fancy drew up in the Caribbean offering a bribe to the Governor of the Bahamas of 20 pieces of eight and 2 pieces of gold for each man aboard allowed to slip anonymously onto land. The Fancy and “all that was in her”, including a large quantity of small arms, all the ships guns and 50 tons of Elephant Ivory, was also thrown into the bargain, a deal which the governor was more than happy to strike, aside from the monetary injection for the colony, the influx of manpower from the disembarking crew was an added benefit for the governor. Once on shore, the crew scattered to the wind right across all corners of the globe. Some fled to North America, others returned home to England and many dispersed into various colonies, paying local governors for their silence and protection. In total twenty four members of the Fancy’s crew were arrested, though only six made it to trial, five of whom were promptly found guilty for mutiny aboard the Charles II and hanged for their crimes. In October 1696, John Sparks, James Lewis, William May, Edward Forseith and William Bishop were strung up for public execution, using a shortened rope, ensuring a slow, suffocating death as was the custom for those found guilty of piracy. Their bodies were left to hang between the tide lines of the dock and the seawater washed over them for three full days before they were cut down and thrown into a common grave. In 1698, an “Act of Grace” was proposed that pardoned all pirates of their crimes, this, it was hoped, would put a slow end to piracy, as the men came to see the possibilities of a new, less stressful life on land. Only two pirates were exempted from the pardon, Captain Kidd and Captain Henry Every. Still, the exemption didn’t appear to matter much, as no one it seemed, could catch the elusive Captain.
Upon their scattering, Henry Every himself boarded an English ship named the Sea Flower bound for Ireland. On the 17th July, 1696 a warrant for his arrest was issued, along with a reward for £500, an unprecedented sum, but despite a global manhunt and a throng of unscrupulous contacts, all with the he ability to turn Kings Evidence against the captain in order to gain pardon from the King for their part in the pirate raids, Every had all but disappeared.
Rumours of Everys where about swirled through the streets of London, filtered throughout the country and over time, made their way out to the colonies, but as time passed and no sign of the Pirate captain appeared, rumours turned to fables and fables to legends. Fictional accounts of his life sprung up and plays were published depicting him as a pirate king, ruling over an independent republic. This might sound far fetched now, but at the time, people actually claimed to be residents of the republic and pirates even claimed themselves to be ambassadors for the fictional nation. Peter the Great, the Tsar of Russia even sought out Everys kingdom in order to ally with the pirates and bolster his own naval presence. As romantic as the idea may be, it was nothing but a fiction and in reality, no one had heard of Every since his arrival in Ireland. At least no one that talked. Some said they had travelled with the pirate in Ireland on their way back to England, when he left the group, telling them he was headed for Scotland, however, whether or not he ever did set foot in the North is anyone’s guess. He may have just as likely been feeding a yarn to the crew, aware that they may at any time shop him to the authorities for their own benefit.
In 1732, an edition of the pamphlet entitled “History and Lives of the Most Notorious Pirates and their Crews” detailed Everys life and though it was dotted with inaccuracies and fiction, it did also include elements of truth. The pamphlet suggested that Every had returned to his home county of Devon under a pseudonym and lived out his days in Biddeford. He had been wealthy and possessed a large sum of diamonds, however in a deal to trade them on the black market, a middle man promising to sell the diamonds instead disappeared into the night, leaving Every to crushing poverty. If this account is to be believed, Henry Every died a pauper on the 16th June, 1728 and was buried without even a coffin.
The only glimmer of hard evidence came when a witness had a curious meeting with a woman that every had taken up with aboard the Sea Flower on the Journey from the Bahamas to Ireland. Unable to return to his wife in London, Every found a new love with one Mrs Adams, the wife of a crew member of the Fancy. When the witness saw her boarding a stagecoach in St Albans, he stopped to ask her where she was headed, to which she replied, “I’m off to meet Captain Bridgman”, a pseudonym that Every was known to have used at differing times throughout his life. Sadly, there exists no other information of where Captain Bridgman may have been, nor what direction the stagecoach was headed and so, the reality stands, that Captain Henry Every, after pulling off one of the largest and most audacious pirate raids in history, nearly crippling the British Empire in the progress and evading a global manhunt, with a fantastic bounty placed on his head, had simply vanished.
Come all you brave Boys, whose Courage is bold,
Will you venture with me, I’ll glut you with Gold?
Make haste unto Corona, a Ship you will find,
That’s called the Fancy, will pleasure your mind.
Captain Every is in her, and calls her his own;
He will box her about, Boys, before he has done:
French, Spaniard and Portuguese, the Heathen likewise,
He has made a War with them until that he dies.
Her Model’s like Wax, and she sails like the Wind,
She is rigged and fitted and curiously trimm’d,
And all things convenient has for his design;
God bless his poor Fancy, she’s bound for the Mine.
Farewel, fair Plimouth, and Cat-down be damn’d,
I once was Part-owner of most of that Land;
But as I am disown’d, so I’ll abdicate
My Person from England to attend on my Fate.
Then away from this Climate and temperate Zone,
To one that’s more torrid, you’ll hear I am gone,
With an hundred and fifty brave Sparks of this Age,
Who are fully resolved their Foes to engage.
These Northern Parts are not thrifty for me,
I’ll rise the Anterhise, that some Men shall see
I am not afraid to let the World know,
That to the South-Seas and to Persia I’ll go.
Our Names shall be blazed and spread in the Sky,
And many brave Places I hope to descry,
Where never a French man e’er yet has been,
Nor any proud Dutch man can say he has seen.
My Commission is large, and I made it my self,
And the Capston shall stretch it full larger by half;
It was dated in Corona, believe it, my Friend,
From the Year Ninety three, unto the World’s end.
I Honour St. George, and his Colours I were,
Good Quarters I give, but no Nation I spare,
The World must assist me with what I do want,
I’ll give them my Bill, when my Money is scant.
Now this I do say and solemnly swear,
He that strikes to St. George the better shall fare;
But he that refuses, shall sudenly spy
Strange Colours abroad of my Fancy to fly.
Four Chiviligies of Gold in a bloody Field,
Environ’d with green, now this is my Shield;
Yet call out for Quarter, before you do see
A bloody Flag out, which our Decree,
No Quarters to give, no Quarters to take,
We save nothing living, alas ’tis too late;
For we are now sworn by the Bread and the Wine,
More serious we are than any Divine.
Now this is the Course I intend for to steer;
My false-hearted Nation, to you I declare,
I have done thee no wrong, thou must me forgive,
The Sword shall maintain me as long as I live.