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Someone randomly found pirate coins that could help solve the mystery of world's first viral manhunt

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Apr 5, 2021, 10:20 PM EDT

If the infamous rum-soaked Jack Sparrow of Pirates of the Caribbean dropped some of his pocket change while drunkenly dancing around when he was supposed to be pillaging and plundering, what would you expect to find 325 years later?

Pirate captain Henry Every was anything but the quirky and free-spirited Sparrow. Even Barbosa looks halfway decent next to him. In 1695, at the helm of the Fancy, Every hunted down a royal ship on the high seas of the Middle East, leaving a bloodstained trail and taking off to Bermuda with tens of millions of dollars’ worth of booty. Often referred to as the "first worldwide manhunt," the whole thing was brazen enough that it didn't even need TV to sensationalize it.

Every literally got away with murder. Nobody could catch him, even though the King of England put a bounty over his head. He vanished under the identity of a slave trader and finally made off to Ireland in 1696 — but not without dropping a few telltale coins first.

Jim Bailey found one of those coins. That wasn’t the only thing he found. The amateur historian, who had previously assisted archaeologists with investigating the sunken secrets of a pirate shipwreck, has done research so extensive that even professionals in the field are impressed. What made Bailey’s coin stand out was that it was an Arabian coin of the same type that you would expect to find on the Ganj-i-Sawai, which was the ship Every suddenly attacked as it returned Muslim pilgrims home to India after a pilgrimage to holy Mecca.

Credit: Though this is not one of Henry Every’s ill-gotten coins, it was minted in the Middle East around the same time period. Credit: Ashmolean Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images

"Arabian gold and other objects ... flooded the markets from Charleston, South Carolina up to Massachusetts. Now we have material evidence of those coins," historian Mark Hanna, a pirate expert who was not involved in the study, told SYFY WIRE. "The 'Red Sea Pirates' were noted in Charleston, Maryland, Pennsylvania (including what is today Delaware), New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts."

There had been no evidence of Every’s whereabouts between Bermuda and his final voyage to Ireland until now. When Bailey first unearthed an old coin in Middletown, Rhode Island, he assumed it was of Spanish or colonial origin until the Arabic writing made him suspicious. Further research revealed the coin was minted in Yemen only a few years before Every took down the Ganj-i-Sawai, with his crew murdering the men and raping the women before they loaded their own ship with gold, silver, and jewels.

These coins are some of the oldest anyone has found in North America. There is no way they could have belonged to anyone else but the villainous captain and his crew, since there were no immigrants from the Middle East in the colonies, and they would not arrive until the late 19th century. Knowing that, Bailey was sure that the coin he found could mean only one thing. 

More coins have surfaced since then. On Every’s trail, archaeologists and historians were able to figure out that the elusive pirate and some of his crew (at least the ones who weren’t executed) succeeded at running away to New England and blending in with the locals. He apparently made a convincing slave trader. Because the profession, as horrible as it was, had just started to emerge in the area around that time, he got away with it. His men had no problem fitting in either, according to Hanna.

"We know a lot about the men who served with Every or were in alliance," he said. "Communities on the peripheries of the British Empire supported pirates. They came back from the Indian Ocean and settled all along the Eastern seaboard where they bought land and married local women; one married the daughter of the governor of Pennsylvania."

Credit: Culture Club/Getty Images

Bailey, who published his findings in the American Numismatic Society’s research journal, has rewritten history. He was already aware that the American colonies were swarming with pirates at the time. Every made his escape, and the coins align with New England being the next to last hideout of the most murderous pirate ever. What happened to him after he landed in Ireland remains unknown. Some say he was swindled out of his his ill-gotten fortune. However, the coins buried all over New England tell of a brazen pirate who would do just about anything to literally keep his head attached to the rest of his body.

"We still do not know what happened to Captain Every," Hanna said.

So go wander around an already historical site with a metal detector, which is exactly how Bailey found the coin that unraveled a grisly tale of murder and disguise that would go forever unpunished.