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Rhode Island Man Unearths Ancient Coins That Could Solve Murderous Pirate Cold Case

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

A handful of ancient change could be the key to solving the case of a murderous pirate. Metal detectorist Jim Bailey found the first of the old Arabian pocket money in a strawberry orchard in Rhode Island. And now historians are excited to try to solve the case of Captain Henry Every, who disappeared after he plundered a ship of pilgrims. Jim Bailey joins us now from Warwick, R.I. Thanks so much for being with us.

JIM BAILEY: Thank you. And I'm glad to be on NP (imitating pirate) argh.

SIMON: (Imitating pirate) Argh.

BAILEY: (Imitating pirate) May I ask, what be your interest in my business beside (ph)?

SIMON: (Imitating pirate) Hey, I'm so glad you asked me that, Mr. Bailey, 'cause landlubbers don't understand it. (Laughter) I'm sorry. You and I could talk back-and-forth this way all the time.

BAILEY: Sure could.

SIMON: However, we have some ostensible information to impart. How did you find the coin? How did it get to Rhode Island?

BAILEY: Well, the primary source documents show that Henry Every and his men, who were on the run from the king of England because they had pulled off the heist of the century, no doubt they landed in Newport and went probably to the nearest tavern and drank to their health. And they paid their tab with Arabian silver coins.

SIMON: Tell us about this rapscallion Captain Henry Every.

BAILEY: Henry Every was a first mate aboard this ship off the coast of Spain. And there was some problem with the paperwork. The men weren't getting paid. And Henry Every basically masterminded this mutiny. And they wound up in the rich hunting grounds of the Red Sea to prey upon Mughal (ph) ships, the Mughals (ph) being the rulers of India at the time.

SIMON: And I understand this is like the longest open what we now call cold case in history, arguably.

BAILEY: I called it solving the nearly perfect crime because he was almost too smart for his own good. A lot of the pirates took silver and gold. The estimate is 350,000 pound sterling to 600,000 pound sterling. It's one of the biggest hauls in the history of piracy. Henry Every instead - he took his cut in the form of precious stones. When he went back to England, he entrusted these stones to middlemen to sell off, and they basically cheated him out of his fortune. And so we've actually shown with these coins that the most wanted man on the face of the planet actually was in the American colonies, where he ran his men, their plunder and East African slaves ashore in ports along the colonies.

SIMON: And he was a slave trader, right?

BAILEY: These were brutal men that lived in brutal times. What occurred endangered England's trade rights. The British was running the risk of being tossed out of the country because they had robbed this ship, and they were carrying Muslim pilgrims back from hajj, and it was sacrilege. So everybody was after these guys. So they presented themselves as incredibly, as awful as it sounds, as noble - well, a more noble profession. They were slave traders. They were not cutthroat pirates.

SIMON: You are a metal detectorist.

BAILEY: That's correct.

SIMON: Treasure hunter. Yeah.

BAILEY: Well, you know, it's funny. The term treasure hunter makes it sound like I'm also, you know, searching out Bigfoot on the weekends. And we're not really looking for treasure. We're looking for history. It's not so much the artifacts. It's the story it tells, you know, and a story that reveals the unwritten chapter behind one of the greatest piracies that's ever took place.

SIMON: Jim Bailey is a metal detectorist and scalawag in Rhode Island. I say that with respect. Thanks so much for being with us, sir.

BAILEY: Thank you. Pleasure's all mine.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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