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
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
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.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
•Whydah Gally (variously written
as "Whidah" or "Whidaw") 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
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. 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. 
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.
^ 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
Kenneth J. Kinkor, "The Legend of Black Sam
and the Good Ship Whydah"
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