• Reading Level 5
Science | History | Geography | Citizenship

Buried treasure solves pirate’s perfect crime

Is it wrong to love pirates? They were ruthless killers who terrorised the high seas, but a long tradition of books and film celebrates their swashbuckling adventures and rebellious spirit. Shiver me timbers, they’ve found Long Ben’s treasure! Historians say 16 coins dug up in the United States may solve the mystery of Captain Henry Every’s disappearance, over 300 years ago. They are the oldest coins ever found in North America, and were stolen by the “king of the pirates” and mastermind of the biggest sea heist in history. It was a “nearly perfect crime”, says historian Jim Bailey. In 1695, Every plundered the Indian emperor’s treasure ship, taking gold and silver worth almost £90m in today’s money. A worldwide manhunt went cold and the pirate escaped. These coins suggest he made his way to New England. Piracy is as old as civilisation. In the 13th Century BC, mysterious Sea Peoples terrorised the ancient world. But the golden age of piracy was between 1650 and 1730, when fearsome pirates became household names: Captain Kidd, Blackbeard and Henry “Long Ben” Every. Like many buccaneers, he began his career in the Royal Navy. In 1694, he was appointed the first mate on a privateer called Charles II, licensed to attack enemy vessels. But the crew mutinied, made Every their captain and renamed the ship the Fancy. Poor and starving sailors were easily seduced by the pirate’s life, with its promise of freedom and treasure. They elected their leaders, shared the booty and even compensated the injured. When the Fancy boarded the emperor’s ship, each pirate pocketed the equivalent of 80 years pay. Every fled to the Caribbean, where fugitive captains found safety in “pirate nests” like Port Royal in Jamaica – known as the “Wickedest City in the World”. He sailed the Fancy into the port of Nassau in the Bahamas, which later became a republic of pirates. With his ship full of gunpowder and elephant tusks, he changed his name to Bridgeman and bribed the governor not to alert the authorities. When the Royal Navy finally tracked him down, he had vanished. The Arabian coins in New England support the theory he continued to North America, disguised as a slave trader. Others were less fortunate. Captain Kidd was hanged in 1701 and Blackbeard died in battle in 1718. By the 1730s the golden age was over. But our obsession with pirates had only just begun. Plays, sea shanties and broadside ballads immortalised their exploits. Pirate stories were enormously popular, from Daniel Defoe’s 1724 bestseller to Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. Hollywood settled the modern image of the pirate with Robert Newton’s performance as Long John Silver in the 1950 film, Treasure Island: honourable but lethal, with a pegleg, a parrot and a distinctive West Country accent. Real pirates were murderous thieves, but their legacy is a loveable rogue, like Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean. A recent book even invites us to “be more pirate” by pushing boundaries and breaking rules in ordinary life. Perhaps the lure of piracy is irresistible. As Apple founder Steve Jobs said: “Why join the Navy... if you can be a pirate?” Is it wrong to love pirates? Pieces of eight Some say yes, pirates are violent criminals. They take advantage of peaceful trade and are guilty of heinous acts of torture and murder. The only reason we love them is that we no longer fear them, built up in fiction to excite and entertain. But modern pirates still cause misery to global shipping and it is wrong to glamorise a way of life that does not respect human life and property. Others say no, pirates represent our desire for freedom and adventure. The imperial navies that hunted them were guilty of the same violent acts, often on a far greater scale. But pirates refused to play by society’s rules. They made their own code and set their own course. In our ordinary lives, it is only natural to be envious of this freedom, and even to fantasise about starting our own mutiny. KeywordsNew England - A region of the northeast USA including the states of Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island and Connecticut. Some of the first European settlers in the region were people from England.

Continue Reading

The Day is an independent, online, subscription-based news publication for schools, focusing on the big global issues beneath the headlines. Our dedicated newsroom writes news, features, polls, quizzes, translations… activities to bring the wider world into the classroom. Through the news we help children and teachers develop the thinking, speaking and writing skills to build a better world. Our stories are a proven cross-curricular resource published at five different reading levels for ages 5 to 19. The Day has a loyal and growing membership in over 70 countries and its effectiveness is supported by case studies and teacher endorsements.

Start your free trial Already have an account? Log in / register