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Piracy in the Public Sphere: The Henry Every Trials and the Battle for Meaning in Seventeenth-Century Print Culture

  • Douglas R. Burgess
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1 Examination of John Dann, 10 August 1696, The National Archives (TNA): Public Record Office (PRO) Colonial Office (CO) 323/2/24.

2 Captain Johnson, Charles (author presumed Daniel Defoe), The History of the Pirates (London, 1736; New York, 1999), 27.

3 East India Company letter from Bombay, 12 October 1695, TNA: PRO Privy Council Unbound Papers, 1/46.

4 Steele, Ian K., Politics of Colonial Policy: The Board of Trade in Colonial Administration, 1696–1720 (Oxford, 1968), 20.

5 Habermas, Jürgen, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society, trans. Thomas Burger (Cambridge, MA, 1989), quoted in Lake, Peter and Pincus, Steven, The Politics of the Public Sphere in Early Modern England (Manchester, 2007), 233; for an overview of this debate, see Lake and Pincus, Politics of the Public Sphere; also Peter Lake and Steven Pincus, “Rethinking the Public Sphere in Early Modern England,” Journal of British Studies 45, no. 2 (April 2006): 270–92.

6 Lake and Pincus, Politics of the Public Sphere, 214.

7 ibid., 213–21.

8 Steven Pincus, “‘Coffee politicians does create’: Coffeehouses and Restoration Political Culture,” Journal of Modern History 67, no. 4 (December 1995): 807–34.

9 Lake and Pincus, “Rethinking the Public Sphere,” 273.

10 Lake and Pincus, Politics of the Public Sphere, 220.

11 ibid., 220.

12 Indeed, much has been written on the frequency of show trials in the latter half of the seventeenth century, often surrounding such seminal events as the Popish Plot and the Exclusion Crisis.

13 Rogozinski, Jan, Honor among Thieves: Captain Kidd, Henry Every and the Pirate Democracy of the Indian Ocean (Mechanicsburg, PA, 2000), 88.

14 Sir John Gayer to the Lords of Trade, excerpted in East India Company Letters from Bombay, 12 October 1695, TNA: PRO Privy Council Unbound Papers, I/46.

15 Rogozinski, Honor among Thieves, 88–89.

16 A full account of Annesley's negotiations appears in Wright, Arnold, Annesley and His Times (London, 1918), which also contains reprints of correspondence between Annesley and Sir John Gayer.

17 I. K. Steele credits two factors precipitating the creation of the Board of Trade in May 1696: the “well-known shortcomings” and ineptitude of the Lords of Trade and “a general crisis in England's economy which brought demands for government action, and led by the King's desire to defend his prerogative against parliamentary power-seeking.” An entire chapter is devoted to the “war on piracy,” yet Steele unaccountably chooses to begin this examination in 1697, after the Every scandal and trials. Henry Every is not mentioned once in Steele's account, despite the fact that among the Board of Trade's first (and certainly most notorious) acts was to coordinate the manhunt for the Fancy's captain and crew. As Steele's work is the most commonly referenced on the creation and early years of the Board of Trade, this may account for the relative silence of more contemporary scholars on the role of the Every trials.

18 Steele, Politics of Colonial Policy, 10–18.

19 Philip Stern, “ ‘A Politie of Civill & Military Power’: Political Thought and the Late Seventeenth-Century Foundations of the East India Company-State,” Journal of British Studies 47, no. 2 (April 2008): 253–83.

20 ibid., 257.

22 Sir John Gayer to the Privy Council, 15 February 1696, TNA: PRO Privy Council Unbound Papers, 1/43/69.

23 “By the Lords Justices, a proclamation … ,” 10 August 1696 (printed in London by Charles Bill).

24 Such was the case of John Devin, one of those whom Trott had scooped up in his staged “raid.” To make it look more convincing, Trott at once convened a petty jury to try the case. Devin was acquitted on all counts and even presented by the court with a certificate “as a Testimony of his, the said John Devin’s, innocency relating to the supposed charge of piracy.” Suffolk Court Files, n. 3765, paper 1, in Jameson, John Franklin, Privateering and Piracy in the Colonial Period: Illustrative Documents (New York, 1923), 179.

25 Abstract; Letters from Ireland, 16 June–7 July 1696, excerpted in Jameson, Privateering and Piracy in the Colonial Period, 160.

26 See, generally, Douglas, Lawrence, The Memory of Judgment (New Haven, CT, 2001).

27 Examination of John Dann, 10 August 1696.

28 Earle, Peter, The Pirate Wars (New York, 2003).

29 Theophilus Lewis, A Copy of Verses, Composed by Captain Henry Every, Lately Gone to Sea to seek his Fortune (available in its original format at TNA: PRO CO 388/4/59).

31 See Joel Baer, “Bold Captain Avery in the Privy Council: Early Variants of a Broadside Ballad from the Pepys Collection,” Folk Music Journal 7, no. 1 (1995): 9–15.

32 Sharp, Bartholomew, The Voyages and Adventures of Capt. Bartholomew Sharp (London, 1684); courtesy of the British Library.

33 A full record of Dampier's relations with Every appears in Joel Baer, “William Dampier at the Crossroads: New Light on the ‘Missing Years,’” International Journal of Maritime History 8, no. 2 (1996): 97–117.

34 Quoted in Baer, “William Dampier at the Crossroads,” 117.

35 In one example, William Dampier made frequent mention of revisiting the sites of Drake's glorious battles and even made a special excursion to the spot where Drake was believed to be buried. Masefield, John, ed., Dampier's Voyages (London, 1726), 1:69.

36 Mark Hanna, “The Pirate Nest: The Impact of Piracy on Newport, Rhode Island and Charles Town, South Carolina, 1670–1740” (PhD diss., Harvard University, 2006), 362.

37 The Trials of Joseph Dawson, Edward Forsyth, etc … for several Piracies and Robberies (hereafter Trials) (London, 1696), 3, courtesy of the John Carter Brown Library.

38 Blackstone, William, Commentaries on the Laws of England (Boston, 1962), 67.

39 Sir Matthew Hale in his Pleas to the Crown remarks that “the statute alters not the offence” for crimes of piracy that were not expressly treasonable, “but it removes only an offense by civil law … and gives trial per course of common law.” SirHale, Matthew, Pleas of the Crown (London, 1678), 77.

40 SirCoke, Edward, Institutes of the Laws of England: Concerning High Treason, and Other Pleas of the Crown and Criminal Causes (1628; repr., London, 1794), 113.

41 While it is dangerous to impute outside circumstances to Coke's legal writings, Stephen White has noted that Coke wrote his Institutes while in severe political disfavor with Charles I, whose administration he criticized openly. This might have influenced Coke's defense of common-law jurisdiction for piracy, especially as it could be regarded as a check on the crown. White, Stephen, Sir Edward Coke and the Grievances of the Commonwealth (Chapel Hill, NC, 1979), 910.

42 ibid., 135.

43 Zouch, Richard, The Jurisdiction of the Admiralty in England Asserted against Sir Edward Coke's “Articuli Admiralitatis” (London, 1663).

44 See Langbein, John, The Origins of the Adversarial Criminal Trial (New York, 2005).

45 For a comprehensive review of the role of legal language in determining trials, see Conley, John M. and O’Barr, William, Just Words: Law, Language and Power (Chicago, 1998).

46 Trials, 14–15.

47 For an in-depth study of the role of shared understandings of criminality in English justice in this era, see, generally, Cockburn, J. S., ed., Crime in England, 1500–1800 (Princeton, NJ, 1977); Linebaugh, Peter, Thompson, Edward P. et al. ,Albion's Fatal Tree: Crime and Society in Eighteenth Century England (New York, 1975).

48 Trials, 2–3.

49 Examination of John Dann, 10 August 1696, TNA: PRO CO 323/2/24.

50 Affidavit of Philip Middleton, 11 November 1696, TNA: PRO CO 5/1257/47I.

52 Baer, “William Dampier at the Crossroads,” 18.

53 Trials, 6.

54 ibid., 4.

55 ibid., 6.

56 ibid., 11.

57 ibid., 4.

58 ibid., 5.

59 ibid., 7.

61 ibid., 8.

62 ibid., 22–23.

63 ibid., 11.

64 ibid., 28.

65 ibid., 4.

66 Hinc illæ lacrymæ … a brief narrative of the case and tryal of certain persons for pyracy and felony on the 10th of February 1680: upon a special commission of Oyer and Terminer, grounded upon the statute of the 28 of Henry the 8. (London, 1695).

67 Publishing record of the Everinghams is available online at

68 Trials, 9.

70 The tryal and condemnation of Capt. Thomas Vaughan for high treason in adhering to the French-king and for endeavouring the destruction of His Majesties ships in the Nore who upon full evidence was found guilty at the Sessions-House in the Old-Baily, on the 6th of Novemb. 1696. … (London, 1697), 47.

71 ibid., 38.

72 ibid., 1.

73 Harris, Michael, “Trials and Criminal Biographies: A Case Study in Distribution,” in Sale and Distribution of Books from 1700, ed. Myers, Robin and Harris, Michael (Oxford, 1982), 84.

74 Robert Snead to Sir John Houblon, 20 September 1697, Calendar of State Papers, Colonial Series, America and the West Indies, Preserved at the Public Records Office (C.S.P.), 1331, 613.

75 See Faller, Lincoln, Crime and Defoe (Cambridge, 2008); Hanna, “Pirate Nest,” 360–80; Aravamudan, Srinivas, Tropicopolitans: Colonialism and Agency, 1688–1804 (Durham, NC, 1999), 7791.

76 Rogozinski, Honor among Thieves, 88.

77 Not all depictions of Every were panegyrics. Johnson's General History of the Pirates and Defoe's The King of Pirates, both appearing well into the next century when the pirate menace was all but gone (and both allegedly written by Defoe), portrayed Every as less hero than con artist. Aravamudan, Tropicopolitans, 82–84; Hanna, “Pirate Nest,” 375–78.

78 Johnson, Charles, The Successful Pyrate (London, 1713), 9.

79 Aravamudam, Tropicopolitans, 91.

80 Rediker, Marcus, Villains of All Nations (Boston, 2004), 41.

81 Board of Trade to Governor Stoughton, 15 May 1697, C.S.P. 1697, 1331, 438.

82 Board of Trade to Governor Cranston, 24 May, 1697, C.S.P. 1697, 604, 132.

83 Bartlett, John Russell, ed., Records of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, 4 vols. (Providence, RI, 1858), 3:319–20.

84 Nutting, P. Bradley, “The Madagascar Connection: Parliament and Piracy, 1690–1701,” American Journal of Legal History 22, no. 3 (July 1978): 202–15.

85 Ritchie, Robert, Captain Kidd and the War against the Pirates (Cambridge, MA, 1986), 149.

86 ibid., 2.

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