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The 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.

Contents

History

The Whydah was first launched in 1715 from London, England. A three-masted ship of galley-style design, it measured 31 meters in length (about 105 feet), rated at 300 tons burden, and could travel at speeds up to 13 knots (14.95 mph).[2] Christened Whydah after the West African slave trading kingdom of Ouidah (pronounced WIH-dah), the vessel 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, sugar, indigo, and medicinal ingredients, which would then be transported back to England. Fitted with a standard complement of eighteen six-pound cannon, which could be increased to a total of twenty-eight in time of war, the Whydah represented one of the most advanced weapons systems of the time.[2]

In late February of 1717, the Whydah, under the command of one Captain Lawrence Prince, was navigating the Windward Passage between Cuba and Hispaniola when it was attacked by pirates led by "Black Sam" Bellamy. At the time of the Whydah's capture, Bellamy was in possession of two vessels, the 26-gun galley Sultana and the converted 10-gun sloop Marianne.[2] After a three-day chase, Prince surrendered his ship near the Bahamas with only a desultory exchange of cannon fire. Bellamy decided to take the Whydah as his new flagship; several of its crew remained with their ship and joined the pirate gang. In a gesture of goodwill toward Captain Prince who had surrendered without a struggle—and who in any case may have been favorably known by reputation to the pirate crew—Bellamy gave the Sultana to Prince, along with £20 in silver and gold.[2][3] The Whydah was then fitted with 10 additional cannons by its new captain, and 150 members of Bellamy's crew were detailed to man the vessel.[1] Bellamy and his crew then sailed on to the Carolinas and headed north along the eastern coastline of the American colonies, aiming for the central coast of Maine, looting or capturing additional vessels on the way. At some point during his possession of the Whydah, Bellamy loaded an additional 30+ cannons below decks, possibly as ballast.[4] In August 2009, Clifford recovered two more cannon, weighing 800 pounds and 1,500 pounds respctively.

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, on April 26, 1717, sailed into a violent storm dangerously close to Cape Cod. The ship was driven onto the shoals at Wellfleet, Massachusetts. At midnight she hit a sandbar in 16 feet of water some 500 feet from the coast of what is now Marconi Beach. Pummelled by 70 mile-an-hour winds and 30 to 40 foot waves, the main mast snapped, pulling the ship into some 30 feet of water where she violently capsized.[5] The 60+ cannon on board ripped through the overturned decks of the ship and quickly broke it apart, scattering its contents over a 4-mile area. One of the two 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, 102 pirate corpses were washed up on the shoreline, and hundreds of Cape Cod's notorious wreckers (locally known as "moon-cussers") were already plundering the remains. Hearing of the shipwreck, then-governor Samuel Shute dispatched Captain 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 a part of the ship was still visible breaching the water's surface and much of the ship's wreckage were scattered along more than four miles of shoreline. On a map he made of the wreck site Southack reported that he had buried 102 of the 144 Whydah crew and captives lost in the sinking (though technically they were buried by the town coroner, who surprised Southack by handing him the bill and demanding payment).

According to surviving members of the crew - two from the Whydah and seven from Bellamy's other fleet ship, the Marianne - at the time of its sinking, the ship carried nearly four and a half to five tons of silver, gold, gold dust, and jewelry, which had been divided equally into 180 fifty-pound bags and stored in chests below the ship's deck. Though Southack did recover some of the all but worthless items salvaged from the ship, little of this massive treasure hoard was recovered until the wreck's rediscovery in 1984 - nearly three hundred years later - by underwater explorer Barry Clifford.

Nine members of Bellamy's crew survived the storm and wrecking. In October of 1717, six were tried as pirates and hanged in Boston three weeks before King George's official pardon of all pirates, which had been issued in September, had reached Boston.[6] Two of the survivors from the Whydah - a carpenter named Thomas Davis, and another man also named Thomas, who had been pressed into service when their ships were captured by Bellamy - was captured by authorities and brought to trial; however, possibly in part due to the intervention of the famous Puritan minister Cotton Mather, they were acquitted of all charges and spared the gallows. The other survivor of the Whydah, a Miskito Indian named John Julian, was not tried but rather is believed to have been sold into slavery after his capture to none other than the grandfather of future abolitionist U.S. president, John Quincy Adams, son of president John Adam who pushed the American Colonies to declare independence from England. Included among the Whydah's dead were Bellamy himself, as well as a boy, aged approximately 11 years of age, named John King. Young John King actually chose to join the crew on his own initiative the previous November when Bellamy captured the ship on which he and his mother were passengers. Among the Whydah artifacts recovered by Barry Clifford was a shoe, silk stocking and fibula bone dated to a child between 8 and 11 years old, most likely belonging to that of John King.

Recovery

The wreck of the Whydah was rediscovered in 1984 by underwater explorer 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 200,000 individual pieces have since been retrieved, including the ship's bell whose inscription THE WHYDAH GALLY 1716 positively identified the wreck. It is the only pirate shipwreck site to date whose identification has been established beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Work on the site by Clifford's dive team continues on an annual basis. Selected artifacts from the wreck are displayed at Expedition Whydah Sea-Lab & Learning Center (The Whydah Pirate Museum) in Provincetown, Massachusetts. A selection of the artifacts are also on a tour across the United States under the sponsorship of The National Geographic Society.

Controversy

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 previous history of participation in the Atlantic slave trade as though the intent was to trivialize 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 the next five years, such as the Field Museum in Chicago from April to October 2009, the Nauticus Museum in Norfolk Virgina from November 21st 2009 to Spring 2010, and on to New York.

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]

On January 7, 2008 the National Geographic Channel aired a 2 hour documentary, Pirate Treasure Hunters, about the ongoing excavation of the wreck of the Whydah Gally which includes detailed interviews with Barry Clifford. It is currently available on DVD.

In January 2009, National Geographic issued a new and comprehensive DVD, REAL PIRATES, that presents the entire history of the Whydah, from its launching to the current exhibition of its artifacts.

Sources

  1. ^ a b 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. pp. 298. http://books.google.com/books?vid=OCLC08289974&id=ufabWl1cXm0C&pg=RA8-PA127&lpg=RA8-PA127. "They immediately mounted this galley with 28 guns, and put on board 150 hands, of different nations...Bellamy was declared captain, and the vessel had her old name continued, which was Whidaw... (p.127)"  
  2. ^ a b c d Woodard, Colin (2007). The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down. Harcourt Trade. ISBN 0151013020. http://books.google.com/books?id=J50kpuaPlNkC&source=gbs_summary_s&cad=0.  
  3. ^ Dow, George Francis. The Pirates of the New England Coast 1630-1730. p. 121.  
  4. ^ Haggerty, Ryan (2007-07-18), "Yet more booty turns up at pirate wreck", The Boston Globe, http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2007/07/18/yet_more_booty_turns_up_at_pirate_wreck/, "Still, the discovery of the cannons -- all of which were taken from ships captured by the Whydah -- surprised (underwater explorer Barry) Clifford, who had already recovered most of the Whydah's 22 to 28 original cannons."We had no idea that there were 30 extra cannons on board this ship," Clifford said. "Every time we go down there, we find another tip of another iceberg.""  
  5. ^ Webster, Donovan (05-1999), Pirates of the Whydah, National Geographic Magazine, http://www.nationalgeographic.com/whydah/story.html, "Bellamy signaled his fleet to deeper water, but it was too late for the treasure-laden Whydah. Trapped in the surf zone within sight of the beach, the boat slammed stern first into a sandbar and began to break apart. When a giant wave rolled her, her cannon fell from their mounts, smashing through overturned decks along with cannonballs and barrels of iron and nails. Finally, as the ship's back broke, she split into bow and stern, and her contents spilled across the ocean floor."  
  6. ^ Dow, George Francis (1988). Every Day Life in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Courier Dover Publications. pp. 221. ISBN 0486255654. http://books.google.com/books?visbn=0486255654&id=l9sh2dKUWmgC&pg=PA221&lpg=PA221&sig=8ldih7RDuZF3fk5onj7_D7PTuew#PPA221,M1.  

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