Uncharted 4 & Libertalia – Separating Facts from Fiction


Naughty Dog's latest opus, Uncharted 4: A Thief's End, came out two weeks ago and it received incredible recognition from gamers and critics alike, including our own. First week global sales have also been great, with over 2.7 million units sold.

One of the main talking points of Uncharted 4 is undoubtedly its plot and the characters. In this article, we're choosing to focus specifically on the historical roots of the plot and any similarities/differences implemented by Naughty Dog. For its very nature, this article contains some spoilers - readers beware.

Like previous Uncharted titles, this last chapter sees Nathan Drake chasing the fabled treasure of an historical figure, in this case Henry Avery and his legendary Gunsway heist.

While Avery's career as a pirate is believed to have lasted only about two years, he became the most famous pirate after successfully pulling off what is considered to be the most profitable pirate raid in history.

In August 1695, Avery reached the Mandab strait with his ship (the Fancy) and teamed up with four other pirate ships, including Thomas Tew's Amity, to try and take down the Ganj-i-Sawai (anglicized as Gunsway). This was an armed trading ship belonging to the Mughal Emperor of that time, Aurangzeb, which alongside many other ships was making the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.

Above: Henry Avery depicted with the Fancy engaging the Gunsway in the background.

The enormous 1,600 ton Ganj-i-Sawai (which meant Exceeding Treasure) was the jewel of the fleet and as such, it had a dedicated escort ship, the Fateh Muhammad. While both ships eluded the pirates at first, they were eventually spotted and Avery gave chase. The first fight happened with the Fateh Muhammad, which successfully destroyed the Amity and killed his captain Thomas Tew, but couldn't repel the other attacks.

Avery and the other pirates looted the Fateh Muhammad for an estimated £50,000, but they were far from satisfied after the loot had been shared among every member of the crews. They set sail again in pursuit of the Gunsway and managed to catch up with the ship on September 7, 1695.

The Gunsway was far from defenseless, sporting eighty guns and a musket armed guard estimated around 400 soldiers, not to mention six hundred passengers. However, the Fancy had the support of William Mayes' Pearl and Joseph Faro's Portsmouth Adventure. According to battle accounts, Avery managed to shoot down the Gunsway's mainmast with a broadside shot; this blocked them from attempting to flee.

One of the Gunsway's cannons also exploded, taking many victims among the Mughals. In the confusion Avery and his allies were successful in boarding the ship, thus sparking a massive melee battle. In the end the pirates were victorious despite heavy losses and managed to loot between £325,000 and £600,000, including 500K between silver and gold pieces.

That's more or less when the backstory of Uncharted 4: A Thief's End begins: in the game, after the raid Avery and Tew decided to pool together the treasure along with those of ten other famous pirate captains (such as Anne Bonny, Edward England, Richard Want, Christopher Condent, William Mayes) and founded Libertalia, a pirate colony set in Madagascar.

Needless to say, things went quite differently in reality. First of all, as we have seen Tew was killed when the Amity went down fighting the Fateh Muhammad. Moreover, Avery's legendary raid made him a marked man as Emperor Aurangzeb demanded reparations from England; the Parliament declared the pirates hostis humani generis (enemies of the human race) and issued a huge £1,000 bounty on Avery's head, which turned into the first worldwide manhunt. A manhunt that was never successful, anyway: the "King of Pirates" eluded all attempts at capture and eventually vanished from history.

Libertalia itself, however, is far from a fictional creation of Naughty Dog. Also known as Libertatia, it was described by a captain Charles Johnson (possibly a pseudonym of Daniel Defoe) in his book A General History of the Pyrates as a pirate colony founded by captain James Misson in the late 17th century, on the coasts of Madagascar.

According to the book, Libertalia employed direct democracy and abolished social constructs of the time such as slavery; they also operated a socialist economy. Thomas Tew was allegedly among its founders; should that be the truth, it would have happened before Tew embarked on the Gunsway heist.

The existence of Libertalia and, indeed, the entire contents of Charles Johnson's book are disputed by some historians as possibly fabricated. That said, it is doubtless that the book had a major influence on popular conceptions of piracy all the way to Uncharted 4; and even should A General History of the Pyrates be a complete fabrication, the ideals of the pirate utopia were actually alive in pirate settlements scattered throughout the coasts.

The closest thing to a real Libertalia was probably Nassau, on the island of New Providence, today's capital and largest city of The Bahamas. The colony became a pirate haven around 1713 due to the continued lack of effective Governors; the Governor of the nearby Bermuda estimated that there were over a thousand pirates in Nassau at the time, far more than the rest of the population.

Famous pirate captains like Anne Bonny, Charles Vane, Edward Teach (Blackbeard), Jack Rackham and Benjamin Hornigold attempted to create a pirate republic; fans of the TV show Black Sails will be familiar with this part, since it is the main plot of the series. However, the experiment was short lived as the British eventually regained control around 1718 thanks to captain Woodes Rogers, who became the first Royal Governor of Nassau.

Finally, let's take a look at some fun historical tidbits dropped by Naughty Dog in Uncharted 4: A Thief's End.

  • Libertalia's motto was "for God and liberty", which makes sense since the pirates called themselves Liberi (free men). In Uncharted 4, Nathan and Sam Drake find this motto on a coin and that's when they realize that Libertalia was the place where all the captains hid their treasures.
  • Henry Avery was baptized in Devon, England. The walled enclave where all the Founders live in Uncharted 4's Libertalia is therefore called New Devon, in one of many nods to Avery's grandeur.
  • While searching for the many clues left behind by Avery, they stumble upon his grave in Scotland where the name Benjamin Bridgeman is used instead of his own. This was actually the most famous alias used by Avery.