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September 7, 1695: The Greatest Pirate Heist You’ve Never Heard About

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The greatest pirate heist in history occurred on September 7, 1695, and few in the West have ever heard about it. The Ganj-i-Sawai, often referred to as the “Ganj-i-Sawai Treasure Ship,” was a legendary vessel that played a pivotal role in the maritime history of the Indian Ocean during the late 17th century. Its significance extended beyond its physical dimensions, as it symbolized the immense wealth and power of the Mughal Empire.

Commissioned by the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, the Ganj-i-Sawai was a grand ship that sailed during the height of the Mughal dynasty’s influence. It was an extravagant display of opulence, featuring stunning architectural details, intricate artwork, and luxurious accommodations. The ship was not only a symbol of the empire’s riches but also a testament to the craftsmanship and artistic prowess of the Mughal era.

The primary purpose of the Ganj-i-Sawai was to serve as a vessel for trade and diplomacy. Laden with a vast treasure trove of goods, it embarked on voyages between the Mughal ports of Surat and other destinations across the Indian Ocean. Its cargo included valuable commodities such as jewels, silks, spices, and precious metals, reflecting the immense wealth of the Mughal Empire.

It made for the perfect target for Henry Every, the best pirate no one has ever heard of. The History Channel writes, “During just two years prowling the seas, Every and his band captured roughly a dozen vessels and made off with tens of millions of dollars in booty. His exploits inspired songs, books and plays, including one called “The Successful Pyrate” that was performed on London stages for several years. Most astonishing of all—and unlike Blackbeard and many others—he did it all without getting captured or killed.

The Ganj-i-Sawai was more than capable of defending itself. It was the biggest ship in all of India, and boasted several dozen cannons and a complement of 400 riflemen—more than the entire pirate fleet combined.

Every gambled on an attack, and immediately scored a devastating blow when one of his first cannon volleys cut down the Ganj-i-Sawai’s mainmast. The Indian defenders then fell into disarray after one of their artillery pieces malfunctioned and exploded. Every brought the Fancy alongside the crippled Mughal ship and sent a boarding party scurrying onto its deck. A fierce hand-to-hand battle ensued, but the Indian soldiers were driven back after their captain abandoned them. According to one account, the cowardly officer took refuge below deck and ordered a group of slave girls to fight in his place.

After dispatching the leaderless Mughal resistance, the pirates sacked the Ganj-i-Sawai and brutalized its passengers. The men were tortured and killed, and the women—including an elderly relative of the Grand Mughal—were repeatedly raped. ‘The whole of the ship came under their control and they carried away all the gold and silver,’ the Indian historian Khafi Khan later wrote. ‘After having remained engaged for a week, in searching for plunder, stripping the men of their clothes and dishonoring the old and young women, they left the ship and its passengers to their fate. Some of the women getting an opportunity, threw themselves into the sea to save their honor while others committed suicide using knives and daggers.’”

Every’s audacious act shocked the Mughal Empire and had far-reaching consequences. His actions, notes the British Library, “seriously jeopardised the East India Company’s trading activities. A huge reward was offered for his capture but he was never tracked down. The emperor Aurangzeb, on his part, retaliated by imprisoning the English traders at the East India Company factory in Surat and threatened a siege of Bombay.” 

Following the successful raid on the Ganj-i-Sawai, Every and his crew managed to escape to the pirate haven of Nassau in the Bahamas. Every divided the loot among his men, and they dispersed, making it challenging for authorities to track them down individually.

While some of Every’s crew members were eventually captured and tried, the pirate captain seemed to have evaded capture. Rumors and unconfirmed reports suggested that he may have retired from piracy and lived under a different identity, possibly in the American colonies or even back in England. However, no concrete evidence exists to confirm these speculations.

Henry Every’s disappearance from the historical record has led to numerous theories and legends about his ultimate fate. Some believe he may have been killed by former crew members seeking revenge, while others suggest he lived out his days in obscurity, escaping the grasp of the law. 


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