Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Legacy of the Gunsway

In August of 1695, a twenty-five ship convoy left Mocha on the Arabian peninsula bound for Surat, India.  The convoy belonged to the Indian Mughal dynasty’s Emperor Aurangzeb and was led by his treasure-laden flagship the Ganj-i-Sawai. Laying in wait was another flotilla—five pirate ships led by English mutineer and former Royal Navy officer Henry Every.

After a fierce battle, the Ganj-i-Sawai (anglicized as “Gunsway”) was captured by the pirates, along with her escort ship the Fateh Muhammed. The pirates sailed away with an estimated £600,000 in treasure, or adjusting for inflation from 1700, approximately $123,000,000. They also left dozens dead. The incident would nearly lead to war between the British and Mughal empires, and the famed British East India Company was nearly forced out of business.

Ships like Every’s 46-gun privateer, the Fancy, were the pinnacle of 17th century technology. Every’s crew used their mastery of that technology to steal a fortune in gold, silver, and jewels. It also allowed them to evade the ensuing, first of its kind, global manhunt from Madagascar to the Bahamas. Eventually six of the Fancy’s crew of 150 pirates were captured, tried, convicted and hanged in London. But the rest, including Every, escaped justice and disappeared with their treasure.

The details of the attack were embellished and glamorized in English popular culture in plays, books, and songs. This led to countless copy-cat acts of piracy, including inspiring the career of the infamous Edward Teach, better known as “Black Beard”.

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