By Will Johnson
Many years ago, Mr. Carl Anslyn gave me two cut glass decanters when he was moving back to Aruba to be with family in his old age. He told me that they had been given to him by his aunt Mrs. Helena Peterson born Every. According to Miss Helena they had been handed down to her by her famous pirate ancestor Henry Every.
I had never heard of him at the time. I thought it had been a story which was made up, though we did have well known pirates like Hiram Beakes who coined the phrase “Dead men tell no tales.”
I took the decanters with thanks and the story of the pirate with a grain of salt. I never thought about it again until some years later in Old San Juan. There used to be a famous bookstore which I would always stop at when visiting the lovely city of Old San Juan.
Leafing through a book I came across a story about the pirate Henry Every. By that time both Carl and Miss Helena were deceased and there was no one around who I could ask about the connection between the Saba Every’s and the famous pirate. I must confess that I had a personal interest in finding out as one of my great-great- grandmothers was Adriana Every. Already claiming descent from Daniel Johnson popularly known to the Spanish as “Johnson The Terror” I was anxious to add one more pirate to my family tree.
Remarkable though is that in Miss Helena’s family there were a number of Henry Every’s. The last of which was the Judge Henry Every who was her nephew. He was probably named after his uncle who died tragically in Windward Side on January 2nd, 1934.
A lot of interesting facts and speculation by pirate enthusiasts have taken place over the years. I will quote from a few of these articles.
The following is taken from “The pirates Realm” of 2003.
Henry “Long Ben” Every.
Every supposedly offered to pay off the English National debt in exchange for a pardon.
He once paid for provisions with a Bill of Exchange drawn on a fictitious bank… a pirate’s rubber check!
There was even a play written about him called. The successful pirate.
Henry Every was born about 1653 (or perhaps as late as 1665) near Plymouth England. (I will come back to these dates to prove a point later on in this article.) He was so successful at piracy that in his day he was known as the ‘Arch Pirate’, and the legendary plunder of men like him and Thomas Tew caused a “Red Sea Fever” to spread through America, the Caribbean, and England.
After an early period of unlicensed slave trading out of the Bahamas, Every was by June 1694 a first mate on the 46-gun Spanish privateer the Charles II, which was assigned to attack French smugglers on Martinique. The crew became increasingly irritated after many months of no pay, and Every led a mutiny while near the Spanish town of La Coruna.
He was promptly elected captain of the new “Fancy”, which was sailed north of Madagascar only to capture one French and three English ships, adding many to his crew. Near Guinea, Every would lure out locals under pretense of trade and then take them as slaves. He was well established in a career that would prove so successful, he would later be declared outside of the Acts of Grace (beyond pardon).
In early 1695 while in the Red Sea, Every forged a pirate flotilla of 5 ships commanded by pirates such as Thomas Tew, William Want, Thomas Wake, and William May. With these he soon attacked the Grand Mogul’s Fatah and the larger 40-gun Gang-I-Sawai, which were busy accompanying a pilgrim fleet from Mecca. The Gang-I- Sawai lost its mainmast, and a cannon exploded on deck, shortening the fight and resistance. The passengers and crew were brutalized in hope that the locations of any secret stash would be revealed: some jumped ship, and some of the women committed suicide. The search yielded 600.000 Pounds in gold, silver and jewels in one of the largest hauls ever, and each man got over 1000 pounds and the younger pirates 500.
Soon after this, the flotilla split up. Even some of Every’s crew left, but he got slave replacements before heading back to St. Thomas and finally New Providence. After buying protection from the Bahamian Governor Nicolas Trott and having a big party, Every and Company sailed to Jamaican June 1695 and tried to buy a pardon from Governor William Beaston for 24,000 pounds. Boston refused and they returned from the Bahamas and split up. Some went to the American colonies and a few went to parts unknown.
Every had a number of aliases among them John Avery which was the one most often used, also Long Ben, and Benjamin Bridgeman.
Henry Every reportedly changed his name to Benjamin Bridgeman and grouped some sloops to sail with the remaining crew to the British isles.
Lying low and acting inconspicuous was not their strong suit, and several of them were quickly caught by October 1696. Those who were not hanged were deported to the American colonies. Every however, disappeared after arriving in Ireland and was never heard from again. There were various reports of his being seen in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and even on a tropical island.
And here we come to that tropical island. When Every was on St. Thomas there were any number of Saban pirates active in the trade as Ryan Espersen refers to as “Fifty shades of Trade.” Every would surely have passed the isolated pirates nest of Saba on his travels to and from St. Thomas and destinations beyond. He would have heard that it was a pretty secure pirates’ nest and seldom if at all visited by the European powers who claimed the island from time to time.
In 1728 on the population list of Saba there is a John Avery listed as living on Saba with a wife and children (3 sons, 1 daughter). In all my research I have never found any other Avery listed. But any number of Every’s and there are a number of people on Saba who still carry that surname.
If as some claim that he was born in 1665 he would have only been 63 in 1728. Even as some others claim that he was born in 1659 he would have been only 69 when listed under the name of John Avery on Saba.
There are many records of people with names of Henry Every over the centuries. One such person is Henry Every who was born in 1817. His parents were Thomas and Ann Every. He married a Mary Peterson on February 8th, 1849 and died on June 8th, 1861.
On September 3rd 1931 a Henry Every (47) was witness to the wedding of his brother Peter Every, son of Peter Every and Eleanor Elizabeth Hassell,
Oral history cannot be discounted. I lived just above the home of “Miss Helena Peterson-Every”. I was her eyeball as we would say. I remember once when she went to St. Kitts on a business trip that she brought me a small penknife and the handle was full of flowers. If she had brought me back the whole of St. Kitts it would not have been a better present. It is a great pity that only a number of years after her death when Carl Anslyn gave me the two glass decanters that he told me about Henry Every. I would have surely questioned Miss Helena about that pirate story and those two glass decanters which I have. Carl was living on Statia and Aruba when I was a boy and he would not have known the close relationship I had with Miss Helena. Perhaps via him Miss Helena meant for me to have the decanters.
I remember once when a man living on St. Thomas came to my house and he claimed expertise in every possible thing, from making an atomic bomb to planting sweet potatoes. I told him the story about the decanters and he took a look at them and said they were recently made. But then he offered me one hundred dollars to “take them off my hands” as he claimed. I knew that Miss Helena was born around 1880 and if she had inherited them they were of no recent vintage, so I thanked the gentleman and told him to look around and he would come to the conclusion that I am not a person desperate for anyone to take things off my hands as if they were a liability instead of the treasure which I have them to be.
So since here were so many reports that Henry Every had disappeared from his pursuers in the British Isles, I will go with the premise that he moved to a tropical isle and that tropical isle was Saba and that he still has descendants walking around.
My speculation in this is as good or better than all of those who have been trying over the centuries to locate his ultimate hideout. With a large degree of certainty, I can argue that Henry Every spent his last years on Saba with a family and he has descendants here