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Ancient Coins May Solve Age-old Murder Mystery


A 17th century Arabian silver coin made in 1693 in Yemen, rests against a piece of 17th century broken pottery featuring a likeness of Queen Mary. This ancient coin is important evidence to help solve a very old crime, March 11, 2021. (AP PHOTO/Steven Senne)
Ancient Coins May Solve Age-old Murder Mystery
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A few coins found in rural areas of the United States, including the state of Rhode Island, may help solve one of the oldest murder mysteries.

A 17th century Arabian silver coin, top, that research shows was made in 1693 in Yemen, rests near an Oak Tree Shilling made in 1652 by the Massachusetts Bay Colony, below, and a Spanish half real coin from 1727. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
A 17th century Arabian silver coin, top, that research shows was made in 1693 in Yemen, rests near an Oak Tree Shilling made in 1652 by the Massachusetts Bay Colony, below, and a Spanish half real coin from 1727. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

The murderer in this story is an English pirate who became the world’s most-wanted criminal. His crime? He attacked and robbed a ship carrying Muslims traveling home to India from Mecca. The pirate then escaped capture by posing as a slave trader.

It is “a new history of a nearly perfect crime,” Jim Bailey told the Associated Press.

He is an amateur historian who found an 17th-century Arabian coin in Middletown, Rhode Island. That ancient coin is one of the oldest ever found in North America. And it could explain how pirate Captain Henry Every disappeared from history.

Here is the story…

On September 7, 1695, a pirate ship named Fancy under Every’s command captured the Ganj-i-Sawai. That ship belonged to Indian emperor Aurangzeb. At the time, the Indian emperor was one of the most powerful men in the world. Aboard the ship were Muslims returning from Mecca and tens of millions of dollars’ worth of gold and silver.

Historical records say Captain Every and his men tortured and killed the men and raped the women aboard the Indian ship. Then they escaped to the Bahamas, a safe place for pirates at that time. When word of the crimes reached English King William III, he set a large price for the capture of the pirates.

Today Bailey said, “If you Google ‘first worldwide manhunt,’ it comes up as Every.” Everyone, he added, was looking for the pirates at the time.

Until now, historians only knew that Every eventually sailed to Ireland in 1696 and disappeared.

But Bailey said the coins, he and others have found, prove that the pirate and his crew had first come to the American colonies. They used the coins for day-to-day expenses during their escape.

With his metal detector by his side, Jim Bailey looks in the dirt for Colonial-era items in a field, March 11, 2021, in Warwick, R.I. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
With his metal detector by his side, Jim Bailey looks in the dirt for Colonial-era items in a field, March 11, 2021, in Warwick, R.I. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)


While using his metal detector at Sweet Berry Farm in Middletown, Rhode Island, Bailey got a signal. He dug down and found a darkened, dime-sized silver coin. At first, he thought it was either a Spanish coin or one made by the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

However, after a close look, he got very excited. He saw Arabic text on the coin. He said to himself, “Oh my God.”

Research confirmed that the coin was made in 1693 in Yemen. Since Bailey’s discovery, others have found 15 more Arabian coins from the same time period. One coin was found in North Carolina, where records show some of Every’s men first landed. Another coin was found in 2018 at a farm in Connecticut.

Bailey said Every was able to hide by posing as a slave trader. On his way to the Bahamas, Bailey explained, the pirate even stopped at the French island of Reunion to get some Black captives so he would look the part.

Other little-known records show the pirates left the Fancy and used a ship called the Sea Flower to sail along the Eastern coastline. It arrived with some slaves in 1696 in Newport, Rhode Island, then a center of the North American slave trade.

Bailey, who has a degree in anthropology from the University of Rhode Island, published his findings in the research publication American Numismatic Society.

Amateur historian Jim Bailey uses a metal detector to look for Colonial-era items in a field, March 11, 2021, in Warwick, R.I. (AP PHOTO/Steven Senne)
Amateur historian Jim Bailey uses a metal detector to look for Colonial-era items in a field, March 11, 2021, in Warwick, R.I. (AP PHOTO/Steven Senne)

“Jim’s research is impeccable,” said Kevin McBride, a professor of archaeology at the University of Connecticut. “It’s really a pretty interesting story,” he said.

Hollywood thinks so, too. A movie about Captain Every will be released by Sony Pictures in early 2022.

For Bailey, “It’s always been about the thrill of the hunt, not about the money,” he said. “The only thing better than finding these objects is the long-lost stories behind them.”

I’m Anna Matteo.

William J. Kole reported this story for the Associated Press. Anna Matteo adapted it for VOA Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.

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Words in This Story

coin -n. a small, flat, and usually round piece of metal issued by a government as money

pirate -n. someone who attacks and steals from a ship at sea

pose -v. to pretend to be someone or something else

amateur -n. a person who takes part in sports or occupations for pleasure and not for pay

emperor -n. a man who rules an empire

manhunt -n. an organized and usually intensive hunt for a person and especially for one charged with a crime

metal detector -n. a device that detects the presence of hidden metal

impeccable -adj. free from fault or error

thrill of the hunt phrase the excitement that people feel when they are trying hard to get something

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