Julia Purdy put me in touch this week with Jim Bailey, who is seeking information about Yemeni coins found at North American
archeological sites. His search was inspired by his own discovery of a 1693 Yemeni Khums Kabir coin found with a metal detector near
Newport, RI (shown below). -Editor
I’m presently writing an article for The Colonial Newsletter (CNL), a research journal published by the American Numismatic
Society, on the origin and circulation of Arabian gold and silver coins during the late 17th century in the American Colonies. I’m assisted
by CNL Editor Chris McDowell. The article to be published in January of 2017 examines an extensive number of primary source documents and
examines a total of eight specimens of Arabian silver (three whole coins and five fragments), all of which were found by detectorists at
Colonial Period sites in New England.
I believe these coins represent a small sample of countless others brought to the colonies by pirates that plagued trade between the
East Indies and the Red Sea in the late 17th century. I have obtained extensive primary source documents on the origins and circulation of
The connection between the coins and piracy is hard to dispute. England’s mercantile system ensured that no direct trade took place
between the East Indies and the colonies, but the colonies sent many ships to go “on the account” in the Red Sea using dubious privateer’s
commissions to attack French shipping.
Rhode Island was first and foremost on these piratical endeavors, and the colony’s extensive involvement is epitomized in the historical
record concerning the capture of two Mughal vessels, the Fateh Muhammed and the Ganj-i-sawai in the Arabian Sea in early 1695. These two
vessels were taken by several pirate ships working as a squadron to seek out the Indian fleet on its return home after the annual
pilgrimage to Mecca. Mocha was the last stop for the fleet on its return from Haj, and the port made extensive use of Khums Kabir coins in
its trade. The better known pirate captains in the squadron included Henry Every of the Fancy and Thomas Tew of the Amity. While Thomas Tew
was from Rhode Island, he was killed in action while attempting to capture the Fateh Muhammed; however, most of the pirate vessels in the
squadron were also based in Newport.
Newport remained at a safe distance and indifferent to the unfolding outrage over the attack on the Mughal fleet. All the perpetrators
sought to avoid discovery, and Rhode Island proved to be a good option. News of the incident was bad for England and its overseas trading
interest, as The Ganj-i-sawai was a treasure ship belonging to Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, and its loss to the pirates was estimated to total
somewhere between £200,000 and £600,000. This amount included 500,000 gold and silver pieces. The coin that I recovered only a few miles
from Newport Harbor very likely came from this tremendous haul, one of the largest scores in the history of piracy.
While the coin can never be directly attributed to any specific pirate, its connection to piracy is beyond all doubt due to its year of
mintage, its origins from Yemen, and its recovery from a late 17th century context in Newport, RI. Proper identification of the coins in
this study is my only hindrance toward publication on a subject matter that has gone too long without any in depth study. The upcoming
article will offer the first documented recovery of Arabian silver coins in North American; furthermore, it’s in depth examination of
piracy as a source for the coins is unprecedented.
Are any of our readers familiar with this topic? Comments and assistance are appreciated. -Editor
To read Jim's account of his discovery on Treasurenet.com, see:
1693 HAMMERED SILVER - A
PIRATE'S COIN! (www.treasurenet.com/forums/today-s-finds/417331-1693-hammered-silver-pirates-coin.html)
Wayne Homren, Editor
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