Henry Avery

Flag of Henry Avery

Henry Avery, also known as Long Ben and Captain Bridgeman
(c.1650–c. 1696)

Captain Avery is a legendary pirate because he was one of the few to have retired successfully from his life of piracy, with a horde of loot and evading the law. However, Captain Avery is also legendary for having squandered all of his loot and living the life of an obscure beggar.

In his day, Captain Avery was a very celebrated pirate. He sailed mainly during the “age of buccaneers” and only briefly in the “golden age of piracy.” Therefore his reputation wasn’t competing with the likes of Captain Kidd or Blackbeard, and his name was known to all who fancied talk of pirates. In fact, those who spoke of pirates embellished his career to the point where he was talked of like he was a king, as though he could commission privateers. His reputation became so bloated that a play named The Successful Pyrate was written about him and performed in London.

Avery began his career as an ordinary sailor. Throughout the age of buccaneers, the French become a force on the open seas and Spanish shipping was paying for it. The Spanish, therefore, chose to hire some foreign vessels to deal with the buccaneers. Avery found himself hired to one of these vessels, the Charles, under Captain Gibson. Finding the cruise to be unsatisfying, Avery fomented a rebellion. One night, as Captain Gibson was drunk on punch, the mutineers simply raised anchor and began sailing. When the Captain awoke he saw that the numbers were against him and had himself and a few other sailors put on shore. The rebellion was a success and the pirates made a course for Madagascar, renaming the ship Fancy along the way.

Henry Avery and the 'Fancy'

When they arrived at the north-eastern part of Madagascar they found two ships at anchor. The sailors of those vessels vanished into the woods as Avery and his men approached, fearing that he was a pirate-hunter. After some time, Avery was able to gain the confidence of the hidden pirates and their two sloops joined with his galley as a pirate gang. In August 1695, they sailed for the Arabian coast.

The waters they sailed into were reported to be very wealthy waters. The small pirate fleet encountered American pirates while there. After a few days, their fleet consisted of the following vessels: Captain Avery on Fancy, Captain Joseph Faro on Portsmouth Adventure, Captain Want on Dolphin, Captain William Maze on Pearl, Captain Thomas Tew on Amity, and Captain Wake on Susannah. The pirates stood at nearly 700 strong amongst their six vessels.

As the ships neared the River Indus, they spotted a tall mast. Figuring it to be a Dutch East Indiaman returning home, they gave chase. The ship stood its ground and presented a bellicose front. The pirates saw the majesty of the prize and dared fight for it. After a long-range cannonade from the galley, the pirates saw that they had toppled their opponent’s main mast. Also, a cannon had exploded on the deck of the prize ship. Seeing their target greatly weakened, two sloops moved in for boarding. As soon as the first raiders hit the deck of the prize, its crew surrendered.

The vessel was the Ganj-i-Sawai and belonged to the Great Mughal. It was carrying a one of the Great Mughal’s daughters on her pilgramage to Mecca and therefore was laden with only the finest of finery. The pirates were able to plunder all they wanted from the vessel.

Being a pirate for less than a year, Captain Avery had taken part of the single largest robbery on the high seas. He sailed his vessel home for retirement. He made Fancy and many other precious items a gift to the local governor. Avery then changed his name and became obscure. It is known, however, that the greatest store of wealth he had was in diamonds. He had a great difficulty in liquidating them, however, and in one attempt he found some merchants who simply swindled him out of the precious gems. Trying to chase down the scoundrels, he begged in the streets for money to afford passage to Plymouth. From Plymouth, he walked to Bideford and fell ill. Within days of his arrival in Bideford, Henry Avery died and was so poor he couldn’t even afford a coffin.

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