Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Pirate Wednesday - Captain Avery


Today's story is about a famous pirate who had an ironic, yet rather anticlimactic end. My favourite line in this piece is "Avery sailed in this vessel, preying without distinction upon persons of all nations and religions." As if he is being commended for his equal treatment of all people. The logo for Pirate Wednesday is derived from Avery's flag.

AVERY, CAPTAIN JOHN, _alias_ HENRY EVERY, _alias_ CAPTAIN BRIDGEMAN.


Nicknamed "Long Ben," or the "Arch-Pirate." In the year 1695, when at the height of his career, Avery caught the public's fancy as no other pirate ever did, with the possible exception of Captain Kidd. So much so that his achievements, or supposed achievements, formed the plot of several popular novels and plays.

Charles Johnson wrote a play called "The Successful Pyrate," which work ran into several editions, and was acted at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane.

The scene in this play was laid in the Island of Madagascar, and the hero was modelled on Captain Avery.

This pirate was a Devonshire man, being born near Plymouth about the year 1665, and was bred to the sea. He sailed on several voyages as mate aboard a merchantman. He was later appointed first officer in an armed privateer _The Duke_, Commander Captain Gibson, which sailed from Bristol for Spain, being hired by the Spaniards for service in the West Indies against the French pirates.

Avery soon plotted a mutiny, which was carried out while _The Duke_ lay at anchor in Cadiz Harbour; the ship was seized, and the captain put ashore. Avery was elected captain, and he renamed the ship the _Charles the Second_. For more than a year Avery sailed in this vessel, preying without distinction upon persons of all nations and religions.

After leaving Spain he first sailed to the Isle of May, holding the Portuguese governor for ransom till provisions were sent on board. He took near here three English ships, then sailed to the coast of Guinea to procure slaves. To catch these Avery would anchor off a village and hoist English colours. The trusting negroes would then paddle off to the ship in canoes, bringing gold to traffic with. At a given signal these natives would be seized, clapped in irons, and thrown into the hold.

Avery next sailed to the Island of Princes, where he attacked two Danish ships, and took them both. The next place the pirates touched at was Madagascar, from there they sailed to the Red Sea to await the fleet expected from Mocha. To pass the time and to earn an honest penny the pirates called in at a town called Meat, there to sell to the natives some of their stolen merchandise. But the cautious inhabitants refused to do any business with these suspicious looking merchants, so in order to
punish them the pirates burnt down their town. They next visited Aden, where they met two other English pirate ships, and were soon joined by three others from America, all on the same enterprise.

Expecting the Mocha fleet to come along, they waited here, but the fleet slipped past the pirates in the night. Avery was after them the next morning, and catching them up, singled out the largest ship, fought her for two hours, and took her. She proved to be the _Gunsway_, belonging to the Great Mogul himself, and a very valuable prize, as out of her they took 100,000 pieces of eight and a like number of chequins, as well as several of the highest persons of the court who were passengers on a pilgrimage to Mecca. It was rumoured that a daughter of the Great Mogul was also on board. Accounts of this exploit eventually reached England, and created great excitement, so that it soon became the talk of the town that Captain Avery had taken the beautiful young princess to Madagascar, where he had married her and was living in royal state, the proud father of several small princes and princesses.

The Mogul was naturally infuriated at this outrage on his ship, and threatened in retaliation to lay waste all the East India Company's settlements.

Having got a vast booty, Avery and his friends sailed towards Madagascar, and on the way there Avery, as admiral of the little fleet, signalled to the captain of the other sloops to come aboard his vessel. When they arrived Avery put before them the following ingenious scheme. He proposed that the treasures in the two sloops should, for safety, be put into his keeping till they all three arrived in Madagascar. This, being agreed to, was done, but during the night, after Avery had explained matters to his own men, he altered his course and left the sloops, and never saw them again. He now sailed away with all the plunder to the West Indies, arriving safely at New Providence Island in the Bahamas, where he offered the Governor a bribe of twenty pieces of eight and two pieces of gold to get him a pardon. Avery arrived in 1696 at Boston, where he appears to have successfully bribed the Quaker Governor to let him and some of his crew land with their spoils unmolested. But the pirate did not feel quite safe, and also thought it would be wellnigh impossible to sell his diamonds in the colony without being closely questioned as to how he came by them. So, leaving America, he sailed to the North of Ireland, where he sold the sloop. Here the crew finally dispersed, and Avery stopped some time in Dublin, but was still unable to dispose of his stolen diamonds. Thinking England would be a better place for this transaction, he went there, and settled at Bideford in Devon. Here he lived very quietly under a false name, and through a friend communicated with certain merchants in Bristol. These came to see him, accepted his diamonds and some gold cups, giving him a few pounds for his immediate wants, and took the valuables to Bristol to sell, promising to send him the money procured for them. Time dragged on, but nothing came from the Bristol merchants, and at last it began to dawn on Avery that there were pirates on land as well as at sea. His frequent letters to the merchants brought at the most but a few occasional shillings, which were immediately swallowed up by the payment of his debts for the bare necessities of life at Bideford. At length, when matters were becoming desperate, Avery was taken ill and died "not being worth as much as would buy him a coffin." Thus ended Avery, "the Grand Pirate," whose name was known all over Europe, and who was supposed to be reigning as a king in Madagascar when all the while he was hiding and starving in a cottage at Bideford.

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