Operating just before the Golden Age of Piracy, Henry Every, also known as John Avery, Benjamin Bridgeman, and Long Ben, was one of the most successful pirates to ever sail. With a legacy that includes books and plays written about him, his exploits were limited, but his few prizes were great.
Nicknamed the "Arch Pirate," his greatest prize was the taking of two of the Moghul Emperor of India's treasure fleet ships returning from trading in the Middle East in September of 1695.
Arriving off the Arabian coast, Every was joined by five other pirate vessels, and the small fleet ran across the "Gang-i-Sawai," a vast 62-gun ship, carrying 400 to 500 musketeers and 600 passengers and the "Fateh Mohammed." Luck aided the taking of the Gang-i-Sawai, as one of its guns exploded on the first salvo, followed by a blast from one of Every's guns which snapped the mainmast of the ship. The Indian ship surrendered after a two-hour battle.
The treasure aboard the ship was vast and included silver, gold, jewels, and a jewel-encrusted saddle set meant as a gift for the Great Mogul.
The takeover of the two ships embodied the cruelty pirates of the time were known for. Many of the Indian ships' crew were tortured and the female passengers raped, including the aged wife an Indian official. It's possible that the rapes, which weren't uncommon by pirates of the time, were fueld by racial and religious differences. When the pirates finished their plundering of the ships, they set them adrift without the surviving women.
Though the Indian ships eventually made their way to Surat, the fate of the women is unknown. It is noted that some of the female passengers may have committed suicide, which may have been due to the fact that Islamic law deems rape victims as tainted and unmarriageable, thus ruining the prospects for a young woman of marriageable age. Others speculate that they were thrown overboard, or perhaps put ashore at Reunion, where the pirates anchored, to split the spoils of their plundering.
Although, this raid was Every's most successful his early life seemed to have been spent at sea also, possibly on a variety of merchant ships.
Born in the west of England near Plymouth in the 1650s, accounts place him as a Royal Navy sailor who worked as a mid-shipman, first mate, and a sailing master. He was also reported as working as an illegal slaver employed by the Governor of Bermuda along the African Guinea coast. In 1694, he was first mate aboard a privateer outfitted to harass French shipping in New Spain, at the request of the Spanish government. According to legend, one evening, as the ship's captain, a notorious drunk by the name of Gibson, lay sleeping after a bout with a bottle of rum, Every and several confederates slipped out of the Spanish port of La Coruna, setting sail for Madagascar with the purpose of pursuing a career in piracy. Along the way, they plundered three British ships off the Cape Verde Islands and captured a French privateer along with loot taken from the Moors near the island of Johanna. It was here that Every wrote a letter that would make him famous. Addressed to all English Commanders, he stated that he had no intent of committing acts of piracy against English or Dutch vessels, but that if he could not convince his crew otherwise, it was possible. This message was sent on a ship bound for London, and was published in the newspapers. This may have been done as a fall back plan, enabling him to later claim that he didn't intend harm to his fellow countrymen.
After splitting the loot from the Gang-i-Sawai, Every's fleet split up. His band headed to St. Thomas to sell off some of the cargo they carried. In the Bahamas, the pirates showered the governor with gifts and bribes, even going so far as to give him their ship. Unfortunately, the attack on the Gang-i-Sawai had been badly received by the Great Moghul and he cut off all trade with the East India Company. The Moghul seized their trading posts and arrested East India Company officials. By that time, the British government had offered a reward of £500 for every crewman, which the East India Company doubled, and as a result they were not welcome in the West Indies or any of the British colonies.
By purchasing a small sloop, the remaining crew and Every, who changed his name to Benjamin Bridgeman, escaped to Ireland. Eventually, fourteen crewman were arrested, six of which were hanged. Every, however, managed to avoid prosecution for his crimes in any court of law, making him one of the only pirates escape prosecution and to survive all of his battles, virtually retiring from piracy. Some say he retired from piracy a wealthy man and lived a life of luxury, but it is also said that he tried to sell off his share of the treasure, mostly diamonds, only to be cheated by merchants.
Most accounts report that he was reduced to begging for food and died without being able to afford a coffin. Regardless of whether he died rich or poor, he was a pirate celebrity of his time, who inspired pirates and pirate hunters alike.