A handful of coins unearthed from a fruit orchard in the US state of Rhode Island and other random corners of New England may help solve one of the oldest unsolved cases on the planet.
The villain of this story: a murderous English pirate who became the world’s most wanted criminal after looting a ship carrying Muslim pilgrims to India from Mecca, then eluding capture by posing as a slave trader.
Jim Bailey, an amateur historian and metal detectorist, found the first intact 17th century Arab coin in a meadow in Middletown.
That ancient pocket change, the oldest ever found in North America, could explain how the pirate captain Henry every He disappeared.
On September 7, 1695, the pirate ship Fancy, commanded by Every, ambushed and captured the Ganj-i-Sawai, a royal ship owned by the Indian emperor Aurangzeb, then one of the most powerful men in the world. On board were not only devotees returning from their pilgrimage, but also tens of millions of dollars in gold and silver.
What followed was one of the most lucrative and heinous robberies of all time.
Historical accounts say that his gang tortured and killed the men aboard the Indian ship and raped the women before escaping to the Bahamas. But word of their crimes quickly spread, and King William III of England, under enormous pressure from a scandalized India and the trading giant of the East India Company, offered a huge bounty on their heads.
“Everybody was looking for these guys,” Bailey said.
Until now, historians only knew that Every finally sailed to Ireland in 1696, where the road turned cold. But Bailey says the coins he and others have found are evidence that the famous pirate first made his way to the American colonies, where he and his crew used the loot for daily expenses while on the run.
The first complete coin turned up in 2014 at the Sweet Berry farm in Middletown, a place that had piqued Bailey’s curiosity two years earlier after he found old colonial coins, an 18th-century shoe buckle and some musket balls.
Waving a metal detector over the ground, he received a signal, dug, and found a darkened silver coin that he initially assumed was Spanish or money minted by the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
Looking closer, the Arabic text on the coin quickened her pulse.
Research confirmed that the exotic coin was minted in 1693 in Yemen. That immediately raised questions, Bailey said, as there is no evidence that American settlers struggling to make a living in the New World traveled anywhere in the Middle East to trade until decades later.
Since then, other detectorists have unearthed 15 additional Arab coins from the same era: 10 in Massachusetts, three in Rhode Island, and two in Connecticut. Another was found in North Carolina, where records show some of Every’s men made landfall for the first time.
“It appears that part of his crew was able to settle in New England and integrate,” said Sarah Sportman, a Connecticut state archaeologist, where one of the coins was found in 2018 in the ongoing excavation of a 17th-century farm.
“It was almost like a money laundering scheme,” he said.
Though it sounds unthinkable now, Every was able to hide in plain sight by posing as a slave trader, an emerging profession in 1690 New England. On his way to the Bahamas, he even stopped on the French island of Reunion to get some black captives for make it look good, Bailey said.
Dark records show that a ship called the Sea Flower, used by pirates after they left the Fancy, sailed along the east coast. He arrived with nearly four dozen slaves in 1696 in Newport, Rhode Island, which became a major center for the North American slave trade in the 18th century.
“There is extensive documentation from primary sources showing that the American colonies were bases of operations for pirates,” said Bailey, 53, who has a degree in anthropology from the University of Rhode Island and worked as an archaeological assistant on the explorations of the pirate ship Wydah Gally. wrecked off Cape Cod in the late 1980s.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism