Arabian coins found in US may unlock 17th-century pirate mystery

A handful of Arabian coins unearthed from an orchard in Rhode Island and other parts of New England are shining a new light on the “world’s first hunt”.

Taken by the British, the target is the English pirate captain Henry Every and his crew, who hijack an armed merchant ship of the Mughal Empire.


The ship – “Ganj-i-Sawai” (“Outstanding Treasure”) – sailed to Surat, India, from Yemen, the owner of pilgrims returning from Mecca as well as extensive wealth.


Captain Every and his crew initially made their way to Bourbon (now Réunion), before setting off for the island of New Providence in the Bahamas.


However, news of the bounty placed on their heads soon began for them – and what happened to his nameplate and many of his crew after they departed remains a mystery.

The recent discoveries – including a 17th-century Arabic coin found by amateur utilitarian and metal detectorist Jim Bailey, 53, of Middletown – may provide clues.


The coin, which belongs to the owner from Ganj-i-Sawai, shows that several squadrons of Every – and possibly even the captain himself – arrived in New England.The first complete coin appeared in 2014 at Sweet Berry Farm in Middletown, a site that piqued Bailey’s curiosity two years earlier after he found old colonial coins, a shoe buckle. 18th century and some muskets.

Waving a metal detector on the ground, he received a signal, dug down, and found a dark silver coin that he initially assumed was either Spanish or minted by the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Taking a closer look, the Arabic inscription on the coin made his pulse start to race.


Research confirms that the exotic coin was minted in 1693 in Yemen. That has raised questions, says Bailey, because there is no evidence that American colonists struggling to make a living in the New World traveled anywhere in the Middle East to trade for decades. century later.

Since then, other discoveries have unearthed 15 more Arabic coins from the same era – 10 in Massachusetts, 3 in Rhode Island and 2 in Connecticut. Another was found in North Carolina, where records show some of Every’s men came ashore for the first time.

“It looks like some of his crew were able to settle in New England and settle in,” said Sarah Sportsman, an archaeologist from Connecticut, where one of the coins was found in 2018. . “It was almost like a money laundering scheme,” she said.

Although it sounds unthinkable now, Every was able to hide from view by posing as a slave trader – a profession that emerged in 1690s New England. On his way to the Bahamas, he even stopped at the French island of Réunion to find some black people arrested for him to look at the part, Bailey said.

Little-known records show that a ship called the Sea Flower, used by the pirates after they left Fancy, sailed along the eastern seaboard. It arrived with nearly forty slaves in 1696 in Newport, Rhode Island, which became the main center of the North American slave trade in the 18th century.

Bailey, 53, who holds a degree in anthropology from the University of Rhode Island and served as an archeology assistant on the Whydah Gally pirate ship expeditions, said: Cape Cod wrecked in the late 1980s.