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The elusive Henry Every


In 1695 Henry Every, a thirty-six-year-old master mariner from the south coast of Devon, led one of the most powerful pirate crews in history on a short but spectacularly successful cruise in the Red Sea.

Their capture of the Grand Moghul’s ship the Gang-i-Sawai was one of the most successful crimes ever committed, and while it made the fortune of Every’s pirates, it plunged the nascent British Empire into turmoil.

Were it not for the capture of the Gang-i-Sawai the world might never have remembered Henry Every: as it is his name ranks alongside those of Bartholomew Roberts and Jack Rackham in the annals of piracy. Even so, in modern times his fame has been eclipsed by men like Captain William Kidd and the notorious Blackbeard, despite their comparative lack of success, and in spite of the fact that both those men were probably inspired in part by Henry Every – though in very different ways.

In his own time though, Henry Every was the most famous pirate of them all. Had such a term existed in the 1690s he would undoubtedly have been ‘Public Enemy Number One’, top of the ‘Most Wanted’ list. Within a generation or so of his capture of the Gang-i-Sawai theatregoers watched his story played out on the stage in The Successful Pirate, and alehouse patrons thumped their tankards and jugs on the tables in time with whichever of the several ballads about Every and his men was popular that week. Printers set their plates to turn out sensationalised accounts of Every’s life and career. Readers with more ghoulish appetites might already have read the printed account of the trial of six of Every’s crew. In 1724 a semi-accurate account of Every’s piracy formed the first chapter of London’s new best-seller A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates, by Captain Charles Johnson.

But it was not just the public at large who took note of Every’s successes. The government and the powerful East India Co. both had an interest in Every’s apprehension. The capture of the Gang-i-Sawai, and the reports of the atrocities which followed, threatened to split asunder the already delicate relationship between the East India Co. and the Great Moghul of India, Aurangzeb. Without the Moghul’s support the East India Co. would have been forced from the sub-continent, irreparably damaging the world’s largest empire before it had blossomed. Every earned the moniker ‘arch-pirate’ for his success, and the government in Whitehall offered a reward of £500 for his capture, an unprecedented amount for a pirate.

The manhunt which followed took place over four continents, and was certainly the largest of the seventeenth century. Every agent of the law in Britain was on the lookout for Every and his men. Throughout the colonies of North America and the Caribbean they were chased. Ships calling at Madagascar sought news of the pirates there, and in India and the Red Sea area the Moghul’s authorities and the East India Co. were on the hunt.

But in spite of the immense efforts, not to mention the very attractive reward on offer, only a handful of Every’s men were arrested, and most of those were allowed to go free. Every himself disappeared with his double share of the loot and was never captured.

This last fact is what really sets Henry Every apart from his contemporaries. Almost all of the most famous pirates of the so-called ‘golden age of piracy’ (roughly 1690-1730) met sticky ends. Many were captured and executed like Captain Kidd; others, like Bartholomew Roberts and Blackbeard, were killed in battle with the Royal Navy; some died alone, marooned on a desert island or murdered by their mutinous crew. The pirate captains of this era who survived to accept a pardon or live out their days on a lush tropical island were few and far between, and not one of them was as successful as Henry Every. Of all the pirates who make up the subject matter of that 1724 publication of the General History, Every is the only one who lived to enjoy his wealth.

Extracted from King of the Pirates: The Swashbuckling Life of Henry Every by E T Fox

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