Captain Avery, Part III: Living Like Kings

If you read Parts I and II of the Captain Avery saga, you’ll recall that Henry Avery hijacked the good ship Duke in 1695 and took her to go a’pirating. In due course he came upon Captains Tew and Dew, who, with their pirate sloops, agreed to sail with him. The three ships came across and took a ship belonging to the “Grand Mogul of India,” packed with pilgrims on their way to Mecca, and stuffed with incredible riches meant as offerings.

Captain Avery convinced Tew and Dew that the treasure would be safer aboard the Duke, and they readily agreed. One cannot imagine their disappointment when, on the following morning, they found their two ships alone on a wide, wide sea – Avery had sailed away in the darkness with all their treasure. Everyone else’s stories are covered in Parts I and II.

This is the story of Tew and Dew.

With no treasure, and with great disappointment, the two captains and their men agreed that maybe they should put ashore on the north coast of Madagascar for awhile. It was widely known that Madagascar was friendly to sea rovers.

They dropped anchors in a cove that was rarely visited by Europeans. The natives, in fact, were both fascinated and terrified of the white men and their guns. The pirates found soon found that this gave them a huge degree of power.

It didn’t take long for the pirates to subjugate the people of Madagascar, treating them like slaves and lackeys, forcing them to do their bidding. Different tribes within the native population allied themselves with the pirates in order to make war on other tribes – an alliance the pirates were only too happy to make.

The pirates found they could live like kings, declaring huge parts of the jungle as their own domains. They spread out, built palaces, and settled down to be great plantation owners.

One day another pirate ship dropped anchor in the cove. She was the Delicia, skippered by the renowned Captain Woodes Rogers. He tried to barter with these island kings, who had now been on the island for 18 years. But he found them treacherous, trying to sew unrest in his own crew and to take his ship from him. He sailed away, thankful to leave these wayward kings on their own.

Here’s the twist to the story:  the crews of Tew and Dew had trudged ashore with the clothes on their back and little more. By the time they were visited by Woodes Rogers, their clothes were threadbare, in most cases non-existent. Their shoes had long worn away. Their hair and beards hung in great, wild tangles. They peered at him with dirty. emaciated faces.

By European standards, these self-appointed kings of Madagascar had turned savage, and had lost all semblance of civilization. They were kings, but kings of nothing.

So ends our tale of Captain Avery. The Duke‘s crew broke up and enjoyed their tiny part of the Grand Mogul’s treasure. Avery died penniless on a dusty road. And Tew and Dew became the kings of nothing.

And so ends the story as told by Captain Charles Johnson, in his A General History of the Robberies & Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates, printed in 1724. Is it true? That’s up the good captain. As for you and me, well, do you think there’s a certain poetic justice, in that so very little came out of so horrific a crime? Thanks for sailing along with us!

Captain Avery, Part II: Henry’s Diamonds

If you read Part I, you’ll know that the legendary pirate Captain Henry Avery, in company with the pirate captains Tew and Dew, in the year 1695, attacked and took a royal ship belonging to the Grand Mogul of India – a ship filled with diamonds, gold, and an overwhelming number of other treasures. Captain Avery swindled all of the treasure away from Captains Dew and Tew, and sailed off to North America, where his crew broke up to become wealthy landsmen. What they never knew was that Captain Avery had swindled them, too, as he had secretly filled his pockets with diamonds from the Grand Mogul’s ship.

Captain Avery must have been pretty pleased with himself. He held a huge fortune quite literally in his pockets. Wherever he wanted to go in the world, whatever he wanted to do, he could now choose with abandon. Except.

Except that while many members of his crew had accepted a pardon for their piracy offered by King William III, Henry was afraid to do so: he was aware that his taking of the Grand Mogul’s ship had caused a major international incident, and that, instead of a pardon, a local governor would more likely offer him a noose.

Except that the diamonds in his pocket were beautiful, and exceedingly rare. So rare, that he dare not sell them in the Americas for fear of being discovered as a sea rover and hanged.

So, sadly, Henry took ship to Scotland, and then to Ireland, where he felt certain he could sell them and make his fortune. To his utter dismay, outrage against piracy was just as strong in Ireland as it was in the new world.

He crossed over into England, finding an acquaintance in Bristol who knew some rich fellows that were well versed in managing the kind of financial problems Henry faced. He stayed in the small town of Bideford and changed his name. The acquaintance brought the financiers to Bideford, and the meeting went well.

The financiers gave Henry a tidy sum of money as a deposit, and took the diamonds back to Bristol to sell them. This all seemed well and right with Henry, who finally was on his way to his fortune.

Except that he heard nothing more from the financiers. No money came, no letters, no words. The tidy sum, while tidy, was not enough for him to last very long. As the months went by, he began to worry.

Taking his courage in hand, he traveled to Bristol, and confronted the financiers in their offices. They gave him a much smaller sum of money. When he demanded his diamonds back, they refused.

“Begone, ruffian,” they probably said, “or we shall turn you in for the pirate that you are.”

The tiny sum of money wasn’t enough, and didn’t last very long, and Henry was very probably fearful for his life. He decided to go back to Ireland, where he was quite unknown.

But he had no money, and no skills to get any. The famous Captain Avery took to begging. “Help a sailor down on his luck…”

Except that his pride caught up with him. He resolved to get those diamonds back, let the ashes fall where they will.

He took a job as a common sailor on a ship bound for Plymouth, England. Once there he jumped ship and walked through the countryside, determined to get what was his.

Except, on a bright and sunny afternoon, walking a common dirt road in the English countryside not too far from Bristol, Henry stumbled and fell face first in the dirt. A cloud of dust lifted around him, flickering in the sunshine. The birds in the trees fell silent for a moment, but then went back to their squawking and chattering. Henry Avery was no more.

Captain Henry Avery, murderer, rapist, liar, cheat, swindler, and, above all, a diabolical pirate, died face down in the dirt, trying to get what he deserved.

So ends Part II of the Captain Avery trilogy. Sad, yes, but don’t you find it poetically correct?

There is one more part to this amazing tale: the adventures of Tew and Dew and their crews.

This abbreviated story is from A General History of the Robberies & Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates, first written in 1724 by Captain Charles Johnson. You can find more information on the Further Reading page.

Captain Avery, Part I: A Tragedy in Three Parts

On the Further Reading page, you’ll find a reference to a book called A General History of the Robberies & Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates, by Captain Charles Johnson.

Captain Johnson’s book was first published in 1724, right smack in the middle of the Golden Age of Piracy, by a fellow about whom nothing is known. Was he Daniel Defoe, the popular novelist of the age? Maybe. Was he himself a pirate, writing under a false name so as not to get hanged for his crimes? Likely.

Regardless, most of our knowledge of pirates from this era comes from him. There were newspaper accounts, and official records, of course, but nothing that comes even close to the depth of detail provided by the good captain.

And no story in his History is as ironic or poetically pleasing as his story of Captain Henry Avery. What is most fascinating about Avery’s story is this it’s very short, stunningly wicked, and is actually three stories – three forks of a tale, or tail.

Part One: Duke’s Crew.

In 1695, the Spanish have trouble keeping English pirates from taking ships bound for their ports in the Caribbean. As they don’t have enough ships themselves, they hire, in England, two powerful British ships, the Duke and the Duchess, to patrol the Caribbean waters on their behalf.

These are powerful ships, of 30 guns each. Captain Gibson, in command of the Duke, is a well-respected, established sea officer with many years of experience behind him. His first mate is a fellow named Henry Avery, born some years before in Devonshire, near Plymouth, England. Avery is a tough and able sailor.

Avery notices early on in the voyage from Plymouth to Jamaica that Captain Gibson likes to drink and pass out in his bunk early in the evening. Every evening. Avery sees that the crew notices this, too.

It doesn’t take much for Avery to convince the bad apples in Duke’s crew, and there are many of those, that it wouldn’t take much effort to steal control of the ship away from Captain Gibson.

One night, while Captain Gibson sleeps drunkenly in his cot, Avery orders the ship to weigh anchor, and off they sail for India. The captain awakens with a start when he senses the changed motion of the ship.

“Are we run aground?” he stammers.

“No, Captain,” replies Avery, who is in the cabin when the captain awakens. “I have taken your ship from you, and we are at sea. Pray, put your clothes on and come out to the main deck. I will put you and those who don’t wish to go to sea with us ashore in a boat.”

Which is exactly what happens – Captain Gibson and five of his men watch the Duke sail over the horizon with almost a hundred sailors, all of who had turned pirate.

That’s the story according to Captain Johnson. Wikipedia doesn’t describe this part of Avery’s history, and differs from the good Captain in detail for what comes next. We’ll stick with Captain Johnson’s story, because it’s intriguing.

Avery puts into a small bay on the island of Madagascar to find wood and water. There he meets Captains Tew and Dew, each in command of a small sloop. The three agree they should go a’pirating together.

The three ships together attack and overwhelm an Indian royal ship, belonging to, according to Johnson, the Grand Mogul himself. The ship is packed with passengers who are on their Mecca, and have brought enormous piles of gold and diamonds and money as offerings.

Johnson glosses quickly over what happened aboard that ship in his book. But the details you’ll find on Wikipedia make it clear that these men were barbaric at the least. It must simply have been horrifying for the pilgrims on that ship.

So, according to Johnson, before splitting up the wealth, Avery himself lines his pockets with the diamonds that he finds, knowing that his fortune is made. He has quite hit the jackpot.

After they dispatch the Mogul’s ship, Captains Avery, Tew, and Dew hold a council as to how best to secure the treasure. All three captains agree that they don’t need to be pirates anymore, as their futures are secure. All they have to do is get the treasure off of the sea, away from capture by other pirates. Avery suggests, and they all agree, that the Duke is the most powerful of the three ships, and should therefore carry the treasure.

They all make a solemn pact to meet at Madagascar to divvy up the goods. They drink, they shake hands, Tew and Dew row back to their ships, and, in the dark of night, Avery quietly sails away with everything.

Avery and the Duke’s crew divvy up the treasure amongst themselves, and each member of the crew finds himself terribly wealthy.

This is where the first part of the story concludes: the crew is terrified of getting caught as pirates, so they break up, and wander off into the wilds of North America – some to the Carolinas, some to New England – assuming new names and leaving their horrible crime behind them. Some became landed gentlemen – we’ll never know who, because everybody changed names.

So, what became of Captain Avery? That’s part two.

And what of Tew and Dew? Oh, that’s a fascinating story – very much part three.