Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
P.O. Box 425, Keller, TX 76244-0425
Henry Every and the East India Company
By Cindy Vallar
A note dated 1694 arrived in London with a special missive attached. This declaration had been left at Johanna (Anjouan) in the Comoro Islands to be delivered to any visiting EIC ship. Those captains subsequently delivered the missive to officials in Bombay whose agents forwarded it to the company’s headquarters in England.
To all English Commanders, let this satisfie, 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 Croniae the 7th of May 1694 Being (and am now) in a Ship of 46 Guns, 150 Men, and bound to Seek our Fortunes. I have never as yet wronged any English or Dutch, nor ever intend whilst I am Commander. Wherefore as I commonly speak with all Ships, I desire whoever comes to the perusall of this to take this Signall, That if you, or any whom you may inform, are desirous to know what wee are at a distance, Then make your Ancient up in a Ball or Bundle and hoist him at the Mizenpeek, the Mizen 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 Englishmans Friend
Two artistic renderings of Henry Every.
Left: Woodcut from 1725 edition of Captain Charles Johnson's A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates. (Source: Beej's Pirate Image Archive)
Right: Unknown artist's 18th-century engraving of Every with his ship attacking the Fancy in the background. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
The EIC’s Governor added, “having likewise understood by some fresh Advices from Persia . . . That the said Pirate had in pursuance of his said Declaration pillaged severall Ships belonging to the Subjects of the Mogull in their passage from the Red Sea to Surrat, upon notice whereof the Factoryes of the said Company at Surrat had guards set upon their Houses by the Governour of the place till such time The Mogulls pleasure was known, Whereby the said Governour and Company have reason to fear many great inconveniences may attend them not only from the Reprizalls which may be made upon them at Surrat or other their Factories But also from the Interruption which may be thereby given to their Trade from Port to Port in India, as well as to their Trade to and from thence to England.
"Wherefore your Petitioners do most humbly beseech your Excellencies to use such effectuall means for the preventing the great Loss and damage which threatens them hereby, as to your Excellencies great wisdom shall be thought fit.1 (Jameson, 154-155)
The Lords Justices, who were ruling during William III’s absence, read the missive on 16 July 1696. Two days later, they declared Every and his men pirates and ordered their apprehension. They also deemed the EIC would pay a £500 reward should Every be captured.
Proclamation for the Apprehending of Henry Every, alias Bridgeman, and sundry other Pirates
Edinburgh, Scotland, 1696. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
On 15 March 1695, Every’s Fancy sailed close to Johanna again, but this time several Company ships attempted to capture him. This information was relayed to Bombay, which sent the following warning to the Company in London in a letter dated 28 May.
[H]ee was too nimble for them by much, having taken down a great deal of his upper work and made her exceeding snugg, which advantage being added to her well sailing before, causes her to sail so hard now that shee fears not who follows her. This Ship will undoubtedly [sail] into the Red Seas and Wee fear disappoint us of Our above expected Goods, And it is probable will after shee had ransacked that Gulph proceed to Persia and doe what mischief possible there, which will procure infinite clamours at Suratt and the Government will be for embargoing all that ever Wee have there. (Jameson, 156)Which is exactly what Every did. He met up with two other pirate ships, the Dolphin and the Portsmouth Adventure, and their commanders, Captains Richard Want and Joseph Faro respectively, and the duo preyed in consort with Every’s Fancy. Upon arriving at the Red Sea, they met two more sea rovers: Thomas Tew and his sloop Amity out of Rhode Island, and a brigantine called the Pearle, commanded by William Mues. They, too, joined with Every and, in 1695, the five vessels lay in wait for a fleet of twenty-five pilgrim and merchant ships coming down from Mocha (Al-Mukhā, Yemen). John Dann, one of Every’s men, would later say in a deposition:
After . . . 5 or 6 dayes the Moores ships (being about 25 in number) past by them in the night unseen, though the passage was not above 2 miles over. . . . the next morning they saw a Ketch comeing downe, which they tooke, and by them they heard the ships were gone by, whereupon it was resolved they should all follow them and accordingly they wheighed on Monday . . . . about 3 dayes before they made Cape St. John they mett with one of the Moores ships, betweene 2 and 300 tons, with 6 Guns, which they tooke, she haveing fired 3 shott. they tooke about 50 or 60,000 l. in that ship in Silver and gold, and kept her with them . . . . 2 (Jameson, 168)
This vessel was the Fateh Muhammed, which belonged to Abd-ul Ghafur, and she, along with the Ganj-i-Sawai, Emperor Aurangzeb’s flagship, had fallen behind the rest of the fleet. Tew’s Amity fired first, then Every’s Fancy unleashed a broadside. As his ships narrowed the distance, the pirates fired pistols and muskets at their prey before boarding her. The 600-ton Fateh Muhammed fired thrice on the pirates during the one- to two-hour engagement, but the pirates survived relatively unscathed. One exception happened aboard Amity, where the crew discovered their captain, Thomas Tew, had been killed. As Charles Johnson wrote: “in the Engagement, a Shot carry’d away the Rim of Tew’s Belly, who held his Bowels with his Hands some small Space . . . .” (Defoe, 439)
Aboard Fateh Muhammed, the pirates found “£50-£60,000 in gold and silver.” (Reddy, 136) Every learned from her master that most of the twenty-five vessels in the pilgrim fleet had already passed and were safely out of his reach. But there was one more to come, the flagship, which was heavily armed. Every consulted his fellow pirates, who decided to pursue that vessel. Leaving a small crew aboard their prize, the pirates reembarked their five ships and sailed away to wait for the flagship to pass. On 5 September, the Ganj-i-Sawai – a 1,600-ton vessel that the English tended to refer to as Gunsway – came into view. Compared to her, Fancy was a dwarf. The only equality between the two vessels was their crews; both numbered around 200. Aside from that, Ganj-i-Sawai carried eighty guns, 600 passengers, and 400 to 500 soldiers.
Fancy gained ground on the other pirate ships and was the first to pull alongside Ganj-i-Sawai. The prey’s response was to let loose a broadside, to which Every responded with his own. His gunners aimed high in hopes of disabling her sails and rigging. An explosion on board Ganj-i-Sawai silenced her guns. An array of hot, iron fragments showered the deck, but only three or four men died from the exploding cannon. Fancy’s next broadside toppled her prey’s mainmast, which crippled the flagship, dumped seaman aloft into the water, and acted like an anchor, slowing the ship. After the pirates boarded and subdued all their victims, a tally was taken of the damages to their brotherhood. Only 180 out of roughly 290 men lived to share the spoils. The total haul from both Muslim vessels ranged somewhere between £155,000 and £600,000.3 According to John Dann, “They tooke out of that ship soe much Gold and Silver in Coyned money and Plate as made up each mans share with what they had taken before about 1000 l. a man, there being 180 that had their Dividents, the Captain haveing a Double share and the Master a share and a halfe.” (Jameson, 168-169)
Eventually, both Fateh Muhammed and Gang-i-Sawai were released to lumber home to Surat. The former arrived on 11 September, but she only served as proof to the rumors that had already surfaced in the city. Samuel Annesley was the EIC’s president in Surat. He had come to India in 1678 and steadily worked his way up the ranks until he attained his current position in May 1694. When the first rumors reached him, he sent messages to all his employees to return to the factory where the high, thick walls should protect them from any backlash. It proved a wise precaution, because angry mobs congregated outside the factory. Shortly thereafter the city’s military commander, backed by a cavalry troop, demanded to be let inside. Once that was accomplished, he informed Annesley that they would remain there to protect the English.
Things quieted down until 13 September when Ganj-i-Sawai arrived and elevated the ire of the people even more than her predecessor had. Surat’s governor, Ahmanat Khan, had any stray Englishmen in the city taken to the factory, including the captain of the Company’s ship Benjamin, which had recently arrived in port – the same vessel that had conveyed Henry Every’s note from Johanna to Bombay the year before. The anger was such that three other trading posts were also shut down and Indian soldiers guarded those compounds as well.
At this point, everyone inside the EIC’s factory at Surat went from being protected for their own safety to shackled prisoners, three to a cell. They were not permitted to contact anyone outside the walls. Nor could they see beyond their cells since all windows had been boarded over. Some were badly beaten; one was stoned and died. Extra guards were also assigned, enough to ensure that there were four or five guards per man twenty-four seven. Annesley later penned:
It is needless to write of the indignities, slavish usages and tyrannical insultings wee hourly bear day and night; and to expatiate on so hateful a subject would no wayes redress or alleviate our sufferings. (Keay, 187)In all, sixty-three Englishmen were imprisoned there, and they would remain so until 27 June 1696.
One reason for such vehemence stemmed from the fact that both vessels were Muslim ships carrying pilgrims home from the holy city of Mecca. Making this hajj was one of the Pillars of Islam and every believer was expected to make the journey at least once in his or her lifetime. To attack these ships was deemed a sacrilege – so much so, for some, that the only just recompense would be immediate execution of all Englishmen. Governor Khan questioned whether he had such authority under Islamic law and consulted a qadi or Islamic judge, who informed him that without evidence of collusion with the pirates, Annesley and the other prisoners could not be punished. That answer did not appease the mob; in fact, one man threatened to harm the governor.
In a letter from Bombay, dated 12 October 1695, Governor Sir John Gayer, who was also the Company’s president there, described what happened when news reached Indian officials.
One of Abdull Gofores Ships arriving, their people sent the Governour word, that they were plundered by an English Vessell, severall of their Men killed in fight, and others barbarously used; Upon which there was a great noise in Towne, and the Rabble very much incensed against the English, which caused the Governour to send a Guard to Our Factory to prevent their doing any violence to Our People. the 13th in the Morning, the Gunsway, one of the Kings Ships, arrived from Judda and Mocho, the Nocqueda and Merchants, with one voice, proclaiming that they were robbed by four English Ships near Bombay of a very great Sume, and that the Robbers had carryed their plundered Treasure on Shoar there, on which there was farr greater noise than before. upon this the Governour sent a very strong Guard to the Factory and clapt all our People in Irons, shut them up in a room, planked up all their windows, kept strict Watches about them, that no one should have pen, ink, or paper to write, stopped all the passages, that no Letters might pass to Us. att this time Captain Brown being att Surat, with some of his Officers and Boats Crew, faired in Common with the rest, and so did some others, that were on shoar . . . .Gayer also wrote to the Surat Council, the body that had elevated Annesley to his present position.
Wee are informed, that one English man in Surrat carrying to Prison, was so wounded by the Rabble, that he dyed three days after, and that severall others were barbarously used. it is certain the Pyrates, which these People affirm were all English, did do very barbarously by the People of the Gunsway and Abdul Gofors Ships, to make them confess where their Money was, and there happened to be a great Umbraws Wife (as Wee hear) related to the King, returning from her Pilgrimage to Mecha, in her old age. She they abused very much, and forced severall other Women, which Caused one person of Quality, his Wife and Nurse, to kill themselves to prevent the Husbands seeing them (and their being) ravished. All this will raise a black Cloud att Court, which We wish may not produce a severe storme.
The Pyrates, being neglected of all hands, begin to grow formidable, and if some Course be nott taken to destroy them, they will yearly increase, having found their trade so beneficiall, and how soon the Companys servants, as well as their Trade, may be sacrificed to revenge the Quarrell of the Sufferers, they know not.4 (Jameson, 156-159)
How often have we been falsely charged. Nay, how often hath it been proved so, and yett upon every fresh alarm of a pyrate on the coast all is still laid upon the English, and the Company’s Chief and Council, and gentlemen of quality, must like the meanest and basest criminals be clapt up in irons, chained together like a company of doggs to secure their lives being made a sacrifice to the rabble . . . . and we further say, suppose it should be proved there is English pyrates in the seas as well as other nations, is the English East India Company to be charged with their crimes? How unreasonable a thing would that be. (Wright, 170)It didn’t help matters that some crew members from the Ganj-i-Sawai were willing to swear under oath that they knew some of the pirates who had attacked their ship. The reason for this recognition? They had seen these men working for the EIC in Bombay. In the days and months afterward, more details emerged as to what occurred. Facts and rumors merged, depending on who told the story, making it difficult to ascertain embellishment from verity. What could not be contested was the fact that English pirates had assaulted two pilgrim ships laden with great riches, and the EIC bore the brunt of Emperor Aurangzeb’s and his people’s outrage.
Eventually, Annesley received permission to write to his superior, Sir Gayer in Bombay.
For nine years past have been the same false aspersions on us, and all along wee have at last appeared merchants and not pyrates. If wee were the latter, would we live amongst them and bring so many 100,000 rupees’ worth of goods to the City? He might consider how unreasonable and ridiculous it would be to expect anything of the nature from persons meriting such a character. Were wee pyrates, would wee rob under our own colours and tell everybody who wee were? No, rather if wee had plundered the ship wee should have sunk her, that 100 years after none should have known what had become of her. Wee have declared, if it can be proved on us, wee will give two for one, and do the same now again; but if it be false, then those that so wrongfully accuse us to our prejudice must make us a full satisfaction of that damage. Is their King answerable for any of his runagate subjects that may do mischief abroad? No more is our prince or we for those of his that have shook subjection to the laws and pyrate it up and down. If any of the Right Honourable Company’s subjects have done it, its another matter. Our Generall should be informed of the dishonour and tyranny unreasonably laid upon us, and wee hoped a just remedy would be found. (Wright, 167)
To be continued . . .
1."Croniac" is Coruña, Spain. Joanna (Anjouan) is the main island of the Comoros, volcanic islands found northwest of Madagascar. "Ancient" is a corruption of the more familiar term for a flag, "ensign."For additional information, I recommend the following resources:
At the time of Every's attack, India was ruled by the Mughal emperors. The empire began in 1526 and ended in 1761. Emperor Aurangzeb -- whose father built the Taj Mahal for his beloved wife -- ruled the most powerful and richest empire of the Asian subcontinent, extending from Afghanistan to Burma. Aurangzeb came to power in 1658 and ruled for fifty years. He is considered one of the greatest of the Mughal emperors, but he also sowed the seeds that would eventually lead to the empire's downfall.
2. According to Jameson, Cape St. John might be a reference to Diu, an island off the west coast of India. For additional information on this historic outpost, see here.
3. The National Archives' currency converter calculates purchasing power in decades. While it doesn't provide a calculation for 1695, a treasure valued at £155,000 in 1690 would be worth £18,574,254.50 in 2017. In comparison, that original sum in 1700 would equal £16,582,411.50 had the pirates captured the booty in 2017. During that decade, it would have taken one skilled tradesman 1,722,222 days or 4,718 years to earn £155,000. In comparison, the £600,000 would have been equivalent to between £71,900,340 and £64,189,980 in 2017. In this case, the tradesman would have to work 6,666,666 days or nearly 18,265 years to amass that sum.
According to the Bank of England's inflation calculator, which can provide sums for 1695 (the year the pirates captured the Gang-i-Sawai), £155,000 and £600,000 that year equated to £32,883,274 and £127,290,093, respectively, in 2020. Since each man in the pirate company received £1,000 in 1695, that amount equated to £212,150 in 2020. The captains, as well as anyone else earning more than a single share, earned even more than that. The American equivalent of the treasure in 2020 would be $42,212,259 and $163,402,293; each man's share was worth $272,337.
4. "Abdull Gofores" refers to Abd-ul Ghafar, the richest merchant in Surat. "Noqueda" stems from an Urdu word meaning captain or master of a ship.
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