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The Whydah

Expedition Whydah, Cape Cod


Expedition Whydah, Cape Cod


The Whydah pirate shipwreck site was discovered in 1984 by underwater explorer Barry Clifford and his team. Mr. Clifford continues to direct the ongoing excavation of the wreck in a project that has been described by state and federal regulatory agencies as "a model for private archaeology".

Artifacts from the Whydah are not sold, but are conserved and studied prior to display at Expedition Whydah Sea-Lab & Learning Center museum in Provincetown, Massachusetts. In 2007, a selection of artifacts from the Whydah collection commenced a five-year traveling exhibition, entitled "Real Pirates" under the auspices of The National Geographic Society and Arts & Exhibitions International.

Recent Exploration Developments

During the 2005 dive season, the project field team located an area within the debris field of the Whydah site that revealed more than fifteen new cannon, many long rolls of lead and other large artifacts. These objects had been stored with the ship's ballast, and, when the vessel capsized, they pinned a very large quantity of artifactual material beneath.

The 2006 dive season focused on further surveys of this small area, and a nearby section of ship's structure first observed in 2000. The latter artifact was successfully recovered and is currently under study as possibly being associated with the Whydah

With the acquisition of a new crane in 2007, the team returned to the dense concentration of cannon, lead rolls and other large concretions found in 2005. In the course of the most productive season since the 'eighties the team succeeded in recovering over 25,000 pounds of artifactual material—including a ship's stove and a ten thousand pound concretion containing more than seven cannon!

There are, however, still more artifacts in this same sector, and this will be our focus in the 2008 season.


The Whydah was the first pirate shipwreck to be positively identified, and, nearly a quarter of a century later, remains the only pirate shipwreck whose identity is unquestionably authenticated. This therefore may be the only glimpse the world will ever have into the material culture of an extraordinarily secretive group of men—the pirates of the 17th and 18th century Atlantic world.

Artifacts recovered from the site confirm many points made about pirates by contemporary observers, including such important features of their society as their egalitarianism, internationalism, racial tolerance and their unique brand of democracy.

More importantly, however, previously-unknown aspects of the subculture of piracy have been brought to light. Their adaptation and use of weaponry, for example, has provided new insights into not only their operations and tactics, but even their apparel as well.

Graffiti inscribed by Whydah crew-members on such objects as pewter plates reveals not only such typical pirate symbols as "wounded heart" and "hour-glass" designs, but also inscriptions of a number of masonic symbols—including the oldest datable representation of the hallmark of freemasonry--that establish connections between some 18th century pirates and a number of loosely organized groups of British political dissidents.

Of equal significance is the fact that the Whydah was originally built and used as a slaver before being liberated by Sam Bellamy's pirates. As such, this wreck is one of only a very few that represents a vessel engaged in the Triangular Trade and the Middle Passage. Recovered artifacts from this phase of her career, such as slave shackles and the stove used to prepare provisions for the captives, are very important as "living links" or "touchstones" to an extraordinarily tragic episode in human history.

Just as the Whydah's pirate crew were racially, nationally and religiously diverse, so too were her contents. At the time of the wreck, she was carrying the picked valuables from over fifty other ships captured by Bellamy's pirates. The Whydah collection therefore represents an unprecedented cultural cross-section of material from the 18th century. The stories of these artifacts, as well as that of the ship herself, knit together over a dozen countries on four continents.

For example, the more than fifteen thousand coins recovered thus far represent the numismatically most diverse assemblage of shipwreck treasure coins ever found.

The unique and historically priceless collection of Akan gold jewelry is not only the earliest datable such gold in the entire world, but appear to be the only examples that have survived from the period c.1500-1870—all other such gold ornaments were melted down into coins by the Europeans, or recast into new jewelry by the Africans themselves.

Even artifacts of European origin have been recovered that have cast new light on the material culture of this period.

In addition to her tremendous archaeological importance, the story of the Whydah is a vehicle that links a number of important historical events and personalities in a fresh and insightful way. It involves such personalities as cartographer Cyprian Southack, Ben Franklin, puritan minister Cotton Mather (of Salem Witchcraft Trials fame), the powerful Adams family of Boston, philosopher Henry David Thoreau and others.

Sam Bellamy, captain of the Whydah, was linked to such important pirates of the "Golden Age of Piracy" (c.1690-1725) as William Kidd, Blackbeard, Bart Roberts, William Condon, Ben Hornigold, Henry Jennings, Oliver "the Buzzard" Levasseur and others.

Given the tragic drama of the Whydah shipwreck itself, and the fact that the Whydah was a pirate ship carrying an enormous cargo of treasure, ensured her place in American folklore. The legend of pirate captain "Black Sam" Bellamy and Maria Hallett "the Billingsgate Witch" is particularly enduring and appealing. With elements reminiscent of Shakespeare, Hawthorne, Cooper, Irving, Longfellow and Sir Walter Scott, it is especially compelling when the historical evidence for the basic core of the story is considered.


Whydah Gally

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Whydah Gally (variously written as "Whidah" or "Whidaw"[1]) was the flagship of the pirate "Black Sam" Bellamy. The ship sank in a storm off Cape Cod on April 26, 1717, taking Bellamy and the majority of his crew with it.

The Whydah was first launched in 1715 from London, England. A three-masted ship of galley-style design, it measured 31 meters in length and weighed 300 tons. It was christened Whydah after the West African trading post of Ouidah (pronounced WIH-dah), and was configured as a heavily-armed trading and transport ship for use in the Atlantic slave trade, carrying goods from England to exchange for slaves in West Africa. It would then travel to the Caribbean to trade the slaves for precious metals and medicinal ingredients, which would then be transported back to England.

In February of 1717, the Whydah was attacked by pirates led by "Black Sam" Bellamy, who captured the ship and its cargo. At this time, Bellamy was in possession of two smaller vessels, the Sultana and the Mary Anne (or Marianne), and decided to take the Whydah as his new flagship. The Whydah's captain, Lawrence Prince, was given the Sultana by Bellamy, who sailed on to the Carolinas and headed north along the eastern coastline of the American colonies, heading for Maine.

Accounts differ as to the destination of the Whydah during its last weeks. Some legends recount that Bellamy wanted to visit his mistress, Maria Hallett, who lived near the tip of Cape Cod, while others blame the Whydah's route on navigator error. In any case, the Whydah diverted its route to Cape Cod and, on April 26, 1717, sailed into a violent storm. The ship was driven ashore at Wellfleet, Massachusetts and quickly broke apart. One of the few surviving members of Bellamy's crew, one Thomas Davis, testified in his subsequent trial that "In a quarter of an hour after the ship struck, the Mainmast was carried by the board, and in the Morning she was beat to pieces."

By morning, hundreds of pirate corpses were washed up on the shoreline, and hundreds of Cape Cod's notorious wreckers (locally known as "moondoggers") were already plundering the remains. Hearing of the shipwreck, then-governor Samuel Shute dispatched Cyprian Southack, a local salvager and cartographer, to recover "Money, Bullion, Treasure, Goods and Merchandizes taken out of the said Ship." By May 3, when Southack reached the location of the wreck, he found that the ship's remains were scattered along more than four miles of shoreline.

According to surviving members of the crew, at the time of its sinking, the ship carried nearly four and a half tons of silver, gold, gold dust, and jewelry, which had been divided equally among the 180-man crew and stored in chests below the ship's deck. Though Southack did recover some of the items salvaged from the ship, little of this massive treasure hoard was recovered until the wreck's rediscovery nearly two hundred years later.

Only nine members of Bellamy's crew survived (two from the Whydah and seven from accompanying ships in his fleet), of which six were tried as pirates and hanged in Boston.[2] The remaining two, represented at trial by Cotton Mather, were acquitted of their charges, and the last, an Indian, was sold into slavery. Those who died in the shipwreck included Bellamy himself, as well as a nine-year-old boy, John King, who had joined the crew (on his own impetus) in November of the previous year, when Bellamy captured the ship on which he and his mother were passengers.

The wreck of the Whydah was rediscovered in 1984 by treasure hunter Barry Clifford (relying heavily on the 1717 map that Southack drew of the wreck's location) and has been the site of extensive underwater archaeology. More than 100,000 individual pieces have since been retrieved, including the ship's bell whose inscription THE WHYDAH GALLY 1716 positively identified the wreck. It is one of only two confirmed pirate ships to be salvaged in modern times (the other being Blackbeard's flagship, Queen Anne's Revenge).
In 2006 the possible choice of the Whydah to represent a museum exhibit on pirates caused a controversy. The Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa, Florida was considering using history and relics from the ship for a display on the Golden Age of Piracy set to coincide with the release of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End in 2007, but was criticized for using a ship with a history of participation in the slave trade while trivializing that aspect of its past. [1]

A touring museum exhibit of artifacts from the Whydah opened June 30, 2007 at the Cincinnati Museum Center and is slated to travel to numerous museums over several years.

On 27 May 2007 a UK documentary/reality show titled Pirate Ship ... Live! followed a team of divers, including comedian Vic Reeves, in live coverage of a dive at the Whydah site.[2]

Wikipedia Sources

^ Strong, Ezra (1836). The Lives and Bloody Exploits of the Most Noted Pirates, Their Trials and Executions, Including Correct Accounts of the Late Piracies, Committed in the West Indias, and the Expedition of Commodore Porter. Courier Dover Publications, 298. “...Bellamy was declared captain, and the vessel had her old name continued, which was Whidaw... (p.127)” 

^ Dow, George Francis (1988). Every Day Life in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Courier Dover Publications, 221. ISBN 0486255654. 

National Geographic page on the Whydah Gally

Bob Cembrola, "The Whydah is for Real: An Archeological Assessment"

Kenneth J. Kinkor, "The Legend of Black Sam and the Good Ship Whydah"

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