Captain Henry Every
a.k.a. John Avery, Long Ben, Benjamin Bridgeman
& one of the Most Successful Pirates Ever
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 request 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.
Let this satisfy that I was riding here at this instant in the Fancy,
man-of-war, formerly the Charles of the Spanish expedition who departed
from La Coruna 7th May 1694, being then and now a ship of 46 guns, 150
men, and bound to seek our fortunes. I have never yet wronged any
English or Dutch, or ever intend 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
[ship's flag] up in a 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,
At Johanna, 18th February 1695
- Henry Every
There are 160 odd French armed men at Mohilla who waits the opportunity
of getting any ship, take care of yourselves.
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 them 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 give him 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 some say he retired from piracy a wealthy man living in a life
of luxury. It is also 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 without the price of a coffin. Whether he died rich or
poor it is certain that the taking of the Gang-i-Sawai and Every's
resulting celebrity inspired quite a few to turn to a life of piracy.
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