A Correction to “Treasure (Rhode) Island”

On April 9, 2021, Pocket Change hosted a post of mine that took issue with the popularization of a theory originally published by Jim Bailey in the Colonial Newsletter in 2017. In Bailey’s article, it was argued that silver khamsiya coins of Qasimid Yemen (Fig. 1) found (increasingly, it seems) in North America—particularly in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island—are directly connected to the English pirate Henry Every and his crew after their plunder of the Mughal treasure ship Ganj-i-Sawai in 1695.

Figure 1. Qasimid silver khamsiya of al-Hadi Muhammad III dated AH 1105 (AD 1693/4) similar to coins found in New England. ANS 1971.229.3.

As part of my criticism of the theory that the coins must have come with Every’s men as they sought to escape the long arm of the embarrassed British authorities, I challenged the reading of the date on one of the find coins illustrated by Bailey in CNL—a khamsiya of the Qasimid imam Muhammad III using the laqab al-Hadi (“the Provider of Guidance”) (Fig. 2).

Figure 2. Grayscale image of the Qasimid silver khamsiya of al-Hadi Muhammad III found by Jim Bailey. As published in the Colonial Newsletter 164 (August 2017), p. 4575, fig. 1.

In this greyscale image the vertical linear element in the final numeral of the date gave the impression to me and others that the date should be read as ١١٠٨ (AH 1108 or AD 1696/1697) rather than ١١٠٥ (AH 1105 or AD 1693/1694). If read as AH 1108, the coin must have been struck after the capture of the Ganj-i-Sawai and therefore could not have possibly been carried off by Every’s pirates in 1695.

Last week I was given the opportunity to see the original color images of the coin from the CNL article (Fig. 3).

Figure 3. High-quality digital image of the Qasimid silver khamsiya of al-Hadi Muhammad III found by Jim Bailey.

From these it is very clear and indisputable that the final digit of the date is actually ٥ as published by Bailey and not ٨ as I had suggested. Hopefully, it should be equally clear when comparing the final digit of this coin to the ANS specimen illustrated above how the erroneous reading came about (Fig. 4).

Figure 4. AH 1105 date comparison between the ANS specimen and Bailey’s specimen.

The linear element in the digit on Bailey’s find coin is by no means a regular feature of the Arabic numeral 5 on Qasimid coins and was the cause of the misreading of the date in the greyscale image. Indeed, it would be tempting to suggest that the numeral on Bailey’s coin might be an AH 1101 (١١٠١) date that has been recut as AH 1105 (١١٠٥) if not for the fact that khamsiyat struck by Muhammad III before AH 1105 feature the laqab al-Nasir (“the One Who Gives Victory”) rather than al-Hadi and employ a different arrangement of the Arabic legends. Coins with the al-Nasir laqab are presently known in North America from finds in Connecticut, Maine, and Rhode Island while those with the al-Hadi laqab have been reported from Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

In any case, due to this new revelation, I wish to withdraw the dating argument made in my original post and apologize to both Mr. Bailey and to readers for injecting an unfortunate chronological red herring into the discussion of khamsiyat in North American find contexts. At present, there are no known khamsiyat found in North America with Hijri dates that fall after AD 1695. The latest date on a khamsiya with a North American find context known to me at present is an al-Hadi Muhammad III issue of AH 1106 (AD 1694/1695) found in northern Massachusetts and reported in April 2021.

Despite the mistaken reading of AH 1108 for 1105, however, I still stand by my original position that we are still very much lacking in solid evidence to clearly tie the khamsiyat found in North America directly to the piratical exploits of Henry Every’s crew. At the moment, the case for Every’s men as the mechanism for the arrival of Qasimid coins in the American colonies still seems somewhat circumstantial and speculative. Unless the movement of the coins from Yemen to the New England via the slave and/or coffee trades can be entirely ruled out, or until specimens are found in an unambiguous piratical context connected to known associates of Henry Every, there must remain some element of doubt about his crew as the ultimate source of khamsiyat in North America. For the not infrequent confusion of trade and piracy and the tendency of the East India Company to paint all interlopers into its area of trade as pirates, see John Kleeberg, “The Circulation of Leeuwendaalders (Lion Dollars) in England’s North American Colonies,” CNL 152 (August 2013), 4042–4043.

Even if piracy was the sole possible means by which khamsiyat came to North America, it does not necessarily follow that the pirates responsible had to have been Every’s men. In 1980, a team of French archaeologists recovered the debris that remained of Speaker, an English pirate vessel that sank off the coast of Mauritius on January 7, 1702. Along with two gold bars and a variety of gold and silver coins, the archaeologists recovered several Qasimid khamsiyat of Muhammad III. Two of these were catalogued, but not illustrated, in Patrick Lizé, “The Wreck of the Pirate Ship Speaker on Mauritius in 1702,” The International Journal of Nautical Archaeology and Underwater Exploration 13.2 (1984), 129–130, nos. 11–12 (I am very grateful to Nancy Um for bringing this article to my attention). Coin 11 in Lizé’s catalogue is an al-Nasir issue that must date to the period AD 1686/1687-1693/1694 on the basis of the laqab, while coin 12 is an al-Hadi issue described as “minted in 1697” (in need of confirmation). All of this tends to suggest that Qasimid coins with legends and dates similar to those found in North America were still available to pirates in 1702 and therefore it cannot be certain that khamsiyat with North American find contexts must have been taken as plunder in 1695. Every’s men were not the only pirates to haunt the ports of New England.          

It is hoped that ongoing study of Qasimid coins, Yemeni trade, and Indian Ocean piracy in the seventeenth century, as well as new finds in controlled archaeological excavations will together provide a more unequivocal explanation for finds of khamsiyat in North America.