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Tip from puzzled reader leads to 1600s pirate mystery

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New England editor Bill Kole and photographer Steven Senne turned a reader’s polite complaint into an engaging mystery story of 17th century piracy. Amateur historian Jim Bailey questioned why AP had run an item on a 1796 penny found in a Maine churchyard. The coin was not significant but, he added, he had found one that was. The tip put Kole and Senne on the trail of ancient Arabian coins unearthed around New England that were traced to Henry Every, an English pirate whose crew raped, murdered and pillaged in 1695, making the captain the planet’s most-wanted man.

Kole interviewed historians and archaeologists who said Bailey’s discovery — a 1693 Yemeni coin found with a metal detector in a pick-your-own fruit orchard — indeed was significant and that it provided evidence that the subject of the world’s first manhunt did not just vanish into the wind after plundering a ship carrying Muslim pilgrims home from a pilgrimage to Mecca — he and his crew may have spent time in colonial New England spending their loot. Bailey found documents showing that the way the pirates hid out was by posing as slave traders, then a “legitimate” profession in Newport, Rhode Island.

Kole’s story rocketed to the top of the news cycle on the day it was published, getting more clicks than any other story on apnews.com.

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Jim Bailey digs for Colonial-era artifacts in a field in Warwick, R.I., March 11, 2021. Bailey, who holds a degree in anthropology from the University of Rhode Island, found a 17th-century Arabian silver coin in 2014 at a farm in Middletown, R.I., that he contends was plundered from Muslim pilgrims in 1695. – AP Photo / Steve Senne
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