Copyright 2001, David Stapleton
Talk about aliases, this pirate had them by the arm load, John Avery, Long Ben, Benjamin Bridgeman, are the ones I have run across so far. By all accounts Every was the most highly renowned pirate of his time. Books and plays were written about his life (or what many supposed it to be in their romanticized way). Yet for all his celebrity and the uncertainty some accounts, most sources say that he died in poverty.
The first accounts of Henry Every, the 'arch pirate' was born in the west of England near Plymouth in Devonshire. His early life seems to have been spent at sea on a variety of merchantmen. Differing accounts place him as a Royal Navy tar at the bombardment of the pirate base in Algiers in 1671, as a buccaneer on the Spanish Main, as a logwood freighter captain in the Bay of Campeachy, as a pirate in 1691 and 1692 under Captain 'Red Hand' Nicholls and definitely as a truly underhanded slaver employed by the Governor of Bermuda along the African Guinea coast. In June of 1694 he was first mate aboard a private ship of 46 guns being outfitted by some Bristol merchant to harass French shipping in New Spain at the behest of the Spanish government. The ship's name seems to have been the Charles II (or the Duke by other accounts); its captain was a notorious drunk. One evening as the captain, Captain Gibson, lay sleeping off his latest bout with rum, Every and several confederates slipped out of the Spanish port of La Coruna and set sail with the purpose of pursuing a career of piracy.
Every and crew set sail for Madagascar with the intent to make their fortunes at the expense of others. Along the way they plundered three British ships off the Cape Verde Islands, captured a French privateer near the island of Johanna along with loot taken from the Moors. It was here at Johanna that Every wrote his famous letter.
To All English Commanders.
Arriving off the Arabian coast, and joined by 5 other pirate vessels (including 4 from the American colonies) the small fleet ran across one of the Great Mogul's ships, the Gang-i-Sawai and its escort the Fateh Mohamed. The Fateh Mohamed put up little fight and yielded about 50,000. The Gang-i-Sawai sailed with only one escort as it was a vast 62 gun ship carrying 400-500 musketeers and 600 passengers. A variety of luck helped Every as one of the Gang-i-Sawai's guns exploded on the first salvo, followed shortly by one of Every's guns snapping the great ship's mainmast. Through lack of leadership or the fierceness of the pirates, the Indian ship surrendered after a two hour pitched battle on its deck. The pirates proceeded to brutalize and rape the passengers.
The treasure aboard the ship was the stuff of pirate dreams, 500,000 pieces of silver and gold, jewels, a saddle set with rubies meant as a gift for the Great Mogul. When the pirates finished plundering the ships they set the adrift, but without the surviving women. The Indian ships eventually made their way to Surat, but the fate of the women is unknown, most likely they were thrown overboard or put ashore at Reunion, where the pirates put in to share out the plunder. Estimates of the treasure put the value at between 325,000 and 600,000, of which each pirate's share was more than 1,000 (Every got two shares as captain).
Every's fleet split up at this point with Every's band heading eventually to St. Thomas to further fatten their purses by selling off some of the various cargo. At the Bahamas, the pirates showered the governor with gifts and bribes to the tune of some 7,000, even going so far as to gift him with the Fancy. Unfortunately, the attack on the Gang-i-Sawai had settled badly with the Great Mogul and he cut off all trade with the East India Company until they made reparations and put a 500 bounty on all of Every's band. The result being that they were not welcome in the West Indies or any of the British colonies.
Purchasing a small sloop the remaining crew and Every (who now changed his name to Benjamin Bridgeman) made their way back to Ireland. All told 24 of the crew were arrested of which six were hanged. Every slipped away, and it is told that he tried to sell off his share of the treasure, mostly in diamonds, only to be cheated by the merchants he was dealing with. The result being that he was soon reduced to begging for food and dying with out the price of a coffin.
Whether he died poor or rich it is certain that the taking of the Gang-i-Sawai and Every's resulting celebrity inspired not a few to turn to the life of piracy. Likewise, it caused the East India Company to crack down on the pirates around the world. If the war of the Spanish Succession had not resparked the craft of privateering the Golden Age of Piracy might have ended earlier.
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