By Manushag N. Powell, Purdue University
Most of the Red Sea men made a single voyage, and then headed home with whatever booty they’d acquired. However, men like Captain Henry Every, also known as John Avery, were criminal inspirations because they were exceptional. A General History of the Pyrates, which focuses on the late golden age of piracy, opens its pages with a heavily revisionist version of Every’s story. Clearly, if one wanted to establish oneself as an authority on pirates, Every was where one had to start.
In one of the sermons that New England Puritan Minister, Cotton Mather preached against piracy, he urged,
A supplication for our sea-faring people, that they may more generally turn and live unto God. That they may not fall into the hands of pirates. That such as are fallen into their hands, may not fall into their ways. That the sea monsters, of all the most cruel, be extinguished.
Mather was not discussing John Every in particular, but he was certainly trying to advance what had become the dominant attitude toward pirates in the 18th century. That they were dangerous, ungodly, and more liable to convert others to their dangerous and ungodly ways.
The Rise of Henry Every
Mather, and others like him, were pushing back against, not just the way Captain Every practiced piracy, but also the way he was talked about as a pirate. Rather like Captain John Ward, the arch pirate of an earlier generation, Every was famous in England, in ballad, periodicals, pamphlets, and on stage.
Ward had a long, complex career as a sea corsair. Every, on the other hand, was a pirate for only about two years. And yet, like Ward, the stories about him tended to be more idealized than connected to his reality.
This article comes directly from content in the video series The Real History of Pirates. Watch it now, on Wondrium.
Henry Avery: An Able Seaman
Every was born, like many of the other famous English pirates, in the West country in Devon, near Plymouth, around 1659. He started out in the Royal Navy and would have been in his mid-30s during his pirate career.
By 1689, he was a midshipman, which, given the period, may suggest that he was an able seaman promoted for his merit to the rank of officer. He was promoted to Master’s mate, which would have given him experience in the complex business of supplying a ship.
The Enslaving Business
In 1690, Every left the navy. He spent some time in the enslaving business. Although, his activities here are not well documented. It’s in 1693, when he attempted to leave off enslaving for privateering, that things become rather better documented.
In 1693, Spain commissioned several vessels funded by London backers to prey upon French ships in the Caribbean.
Maybe it was hoped to have recovered some wealth out of Spanish wrecks as well. Such multinational privateering or shipping arrangements were common, and are another reason the line between privateer and pirate can be hazy.
The Complexities of the Venture
Here, the complexities of the venture were a different kind of problem for Every and his fellows. The ship set sail but was held up in the Spanish port city of Coruña, awaiting some paperwork that didn’t appear. Months went by.
To save money, and prevent their sailors from deserting for home or better berths, which they probably would have if they’d had any travel money, the owners stopped paying the men. They also fed them cheap short rations. These were not popular decisions.
Every Provokes Mutiny
On 7 May 1694, after waiting more than half a year for their mission to begin, they’d had enough. A strike was called. Every, who at this point had developed the skills to break out on his own, provoked a mutiny.
As William Phillips, one of the mutineers, would later describe at his trial,
Henry Every Master of the Charles II went up and down from ship to ship and persuaded the men to come on board him, and he would carry them where they should get money enough.
Some three score men were persuaded, and they seized the Charles II, and made a break for the open ocean.
Every argued for sailing to the Indian Ocean, inspired by the success Captain Thomas Tew had had there, and most of the men agreed.
Reportedly, Every attempted to persuade the Charles II’s captain, John Gibson, to join them. Gibson had been a fair captain and had lobbied for the men’s pay. The mutineers had no personal reasons against him. Every said to him that:
I am a man of fortune, I must seek my fortune. But, if you will go in the ship, you shall still command her.
Gibson refused. And so, he and another 14 or 15 reluctant souls, were given a boat to return to Coruña.
This episode was very rapidly translated into broadside form. And by August, composed by Captain Henry Every, a ballad called Verses, Lately Gone to Sea to Seek his Fortune was being sung in London streets.
It began with Every’s solicitation of the mutineers:
Come all you young sailors of courage so bold,
that venture for money, I’ll clothe you with gold.
Come resort onto Croney,
and there you will find a ship called the Fanny,
shall pleasure your mind.
This is exactly the kind of thing Cotton Mather did not appreciate people singing about. As Joel Baer has argued, ballads about criminals usually end with the outlaw facing the scaffold. This one doesn’t.
The righteous defiance in The Ballad of Bold Captain Every, as it came to be called, resonates more strongly with ballads about Robin Hood. Every is not depicted as repentant or regretful. Later in the ballad, he sings, “My commission is large, for I made it myself”.
Common Questions about Captain Henry Avery
Captain Henry Every was born, like many of the other famous English pirates, in the West country in Devon, near Plymouth, around 1659.
Henry Every argued for sailing to the Indian Ocean, inspired by the success Captain Thomas Tew had had there.
The righteous defiance in The Ballad of Bold Captain Every, as it came to be called, resonates more strongly with ballads about Robin Hood.