Henry Avery


Henry Avery began his career at sea by serving as a midshipman in the Royal Navy. He then had the opportunity to serve as second mate aboard the privateer, the Charles, which was part of the fleet of ships led by Sir James Houblon & destined to attack Spanish colonies. He had to wait 8 months for the rest of the privateer fleet to be outfitted before they finally left England, sailing for La Coruña.


While waiting 4 months in La Coruña, during which time the crew was not paid, the morale of the crew plummeted. Becoming disgusted with the situation. Avery plotted with several crewman of the Charles to steal the ship to go seek their own fortune.


On May 7, 1694, while the captain was drunk. Avery and his fellow mutineers took over the Charles.   Avery was reported to have said, "I am a man of fortune and must seek my fortune." He became the new captain of the ship and the Charles was renamed the Fancy, and became a formidable pirate's Man-of-War.


While sailing Africa's west coast, stealing provisions along the way, he plunders 3 English ships near the islands of Cape Verde. While off the Guinea coast, Avery flew the English flag to lure the locals into believing he wished to trade with them. Carrying their gold, the natives would canoe out to the "trade" ship to do business. At a prearranged signal the pirates would capture them, take their gold and clap the natives in irons to keep for themselves as slaves.


Off of Principe, they attacked and plundered 2 Danish ships. Many crew members of the Danish ships elected to join the pirates which made the crew of the Fancy so large that Avery decided to burn only one of the Danish ships & keep the smaller one as a consort.


Before long the crew assigned to the captured ship became quite troublesome. Avery decided to move everything aboard the Fancy, despite the fact that it would be crowded with 46 guns and 150 men, he then burned the consort ship.


The Fancy sailed onward around the Cape of Good Hope and headed northeast. They took on provisions at Madagascar and several other ports along their course to the Red Sea where they planned to lie in wait for the Muslim pilgrim fleet which was on the return leg of their annual voyage. It was well known that they always leave from the Indian port of Surat to Mocha (located at the mouth of the Red Sea) and finally arrive at Mecca. The emperor of the Mogul Empire, the Great Mogul, had several ships on the journey. Every hold in the emperor’s fleet would be heavily laden with gold, silver and jewels which they would have received in exchange for their silks and other prized luxury goods of India.


Avery arrived at the Red Sea in June, 1695 and soon learned he was not alone when he discovered other pirates hiding in the many obscure coves along the coast. Among them were two American pirates, Captain Joseph Faro on the Portsmouth Adventure from Rhode Island, and Captain Want on the Dolphin from Philadelphia. Even more American pirates arrived in the next few days. Captain William Maze on the Peral from Rhode Island, Captain Thomas Tew on the Amity from New York and Captain Wake on the Susannah from Boston. Since the six ships made up a formidable fleet, the pirate captains agreed to pool their efforts.


Upon sighting a pilgrim ship, the Fath Mahmamadi, off Cape Saint John they plundered her and carried away her cargo, about 50,000-60,000 pounds of gold and silver. A few days later they sighted the Ganj-i-Sawai (later renamed the Gunsway) the largest ship of the Great Mogul, captained by Muhammad Ibrahim. It was a large ship with 40 guns and 400 rifles for protection.


It would have been a difficult target, but two things happened to tip the scales in the pirate's favor.   One of the first salvos from the pirate ships destroyed the Ganj-i-Sawai's mainmast and then a cannon, exploding on the Ganj-i-Sawai's deck, caused much damage and threw the crew into confusion. Still a fierce battle ensued, lasting almost two hours, but finally the two pirate ships were finally able to come alongside, and take the large ship. Captain Ibrahim was considered a coward when he ordered Turkish slaves girls to dress as men and fight the pirates as they boarded on the main deck, while he fled below decks to hide in the hold. It was rumored that one of the Great Moguls daughters was also onboard along with several wealthy merchants.


Gunj-i-Sawai turned out to be a prize beyond Avery's wildest dreams. Avery’s crew tortured the captured crew and passengers until they disclosed every secret hiding place on the ship. The Indian owners estimated their losses were well over 1,600,000 pounds of treasure.


The pirate ships stayed together several days, repeatedly raping the women and dividing up the booty. Each crewman's share came to about 11,000 pounds of gold and silver plus a quantity of jewels. Many crewmen of the Peral lost their shares when they tried to cheat the crew of the Fancy by offering to trade gold for silver without mentioning that it was damaged. The Fancy's crewmen took back their silver at gunpoint and also kept the damaged gold.


Now wealthy men, Avery and his crew decided to retire from pirate life and set sail for the West Indies, in New Providence. Governor Nicholas Trott, royal governor of the Bahamas, was as corrupt a man as ever lived. He agreed to allow them to come safely ashore, for a price. As well as booty, Avery gave the governor 1,000 pounds of ivory tusks and also presented him with the Fancy. The crew then disbanded; some slipped secretly into North American colonies, others yearned for England, assumed alias since they knew they were not welcome, and returned home.


Many of the men foolishly threw their money around and drew attention to themselves. This resulted in six of Avery's crewmen being caught.   They were sentenced to death in October, 1696. Avery himself, however, was never captured. It is believed that he returned to the British Isles under an alias, remaining there until his death. His year of glory ended, and he was never heard from again.


Stories of Avery's exploits made him a legend in his own time. Not only had he been incredibly successful, but he also escaped punishment for his crimes. It became the fantasy of seamen everywhere to follow in his footsteps, amassing vast wealth. And it was the inspiration of many a poor man who dared to dream of becoming a pirate.