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The E-Sylum: Volume 19, Number 33, August 14, 2016, Article 15

QUERY: YEMENI COINS IN COLONIAL AMERICA

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

Yemen Coin Found at Colonial Site obverse Yemen Coin Found at Colonial Site reverse

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 coins.

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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