History of Whydah Galley

The Whydah first commenced from London, England back in 1715. It was designed in the style of the galley. This three-masted ship extended up to 31 meters, rated at 300 tons of load and could journey to a speed reaching 13 knots. Named after barter town of Ouidah (it is pronounced WIH-dah) in West African, the vessel better known as Whydah was built up as trading and transport ship. It was used to carry heavy loads for trading and was also used for the Atlantic slave trade, transmitting goods from England in exchange for West African slaves.

The Whydah Galley

The Whydah Galley

The vessel would then proceed to the Caribbean to exchange the slaves for prized sugar, indigo metals and medicinal ingredients. These products would then be shipped back to England. The Whydah signified one of the most enhanced weapons systems back then, among them is the eighteen six-pound cannons. Since it was the time of war, these cannons could be augmented to twenty-eight in total, making them even more powerful and deadlier.

By late February of 1717, the Whydah was suddenly attacked by pirates who were led by Samuel “Black Sam” Bellamy. When the attack happened, the Whydah was under the authority of Captain Lawrence Prince and was steering through the Windward Passage amid Cuba and Hispaniola. When Whydah was captured, Samuel Bellamy has already seized two other vessels, the converted 10-gun sloop Marianne and the 26-gun galley Sultana.

After being chased for three days, Prince gave up his ship after a haphazard canon fire exchange. Bellamy then opted to use the Whydah as his latest flagship; some of its crew stayed with their ship and became members of the pirate gang. Bellamy bestowed Prince with the Sultana as well as £20 in gold and silver. This was done as a gesture of goodwill since the captain surrendered without a fight and was also reputable in the pirate crew.

Afterwards, Bellamy and his crew cruised on to the Carolinas and drifted north near the eastern coastline of the American colonies. As they aimed for the innermost coast of Maine, they looted and captured additional ships on the way.

The stories regarding Whydah’s destination during its last weeks were varying. Some myths state that Bellamy intended to go near the tip of Cape Cod, in order to visit Maria Hallett, his mistress. Others, meanwhile, say that Whydah’s route on navigator erred. Anyhow, on April 26, 1717, the Whydah encountered a furious storm near Cape Cod.

The vessel drifted into Wellfleet, Massachusetts and swiftly broke apart. Thomas Davis, one of the few living members of Bellamy’s crew, even testified. He states, “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.”

Come morning, a number of pirate corpses piled on the shoreline. Subsequently, dozens of Cape Cod’s nefarious wreckers (locally identified as “moon-cussers”) were already pillaging the remains. Upon hearing of the wreckage, then-governor Samuel Shute asked Cyprian Southack, a local cartographer and salvager, for a favor. He was to retrieve “Money, Bullion, Treasure, Goods and Merchandizes taken out of the said Ship.”

When Southack reached the setting of the pirate shipwreck on May 3, he discovered that the ship’s remnants were spread out along the shoreline. Southack recounts that he buried 102 of the 144 Whydah crew and captives. He even drew a map and sketched what he saw.

The Whydah Wreck site map

The Whydah Wreck site map

Surviving members of the gang revealed that at the moment of its sinking, the ship carried a substantial amount of load. This load includes nearly four and a half tons of gold, gold dust, silver and jewelry. It had been equally divided among the 180 personnel and kept in chests beneath the ship’s deck.

Although Southack was able to recover a few of the pieces salvaged from the vessel, little of this immense treasure stockpile was recovered. This hoard was hidden until the wreckage was rediscovery two hundred years later. Nine members of Bellamy’s crew (two come from Whydah and seven from the other convoy ships) surpassed the storm and wreckage. Six were put on trial and consequently hanged in Boston.

Thomas Davis, one of the Whydah wreckage survivors, had been pushed into service when his vessel was detained by Bellamy. Then again, he was exonerated from all charges and was even spared the gallows. This could possibly be due to the interference of renowned. Puritan minister Cotton Mather. The other Whydah wreckage survivor, a Miskito Inidan called John Julian, was not put in trial but was sold into slavery instead. Those who died include Bellamy himself, and a boy, named John King who was probably between the ages of 9 and 11. It was young John’s choice to join the crew, after Bellamy captured the vessel on which he and his mother were on.

Recovery of Whydah Galley

The pirate shipwreck was found again in 1984 by underwater explorer Barry Clifford (relying mostly on Southack’s sketched map back in 1717). More than 100, 000 single pieces have been recovered since, including the vessel’s bell whose THE WHYDAH GALLY 1716 inscription absolutely identified the pirate shipwreck. This is the sole pirate shipwreck site that has been positively identified.

The Whydah Galley Bell

The Whydah Galley Bell

Clifford’s dive team continues to work on the location on a yearly basis. A few artifacts from the wreck are exhibited at Expedition Whydah Sea-Lab & Learning Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

Controversy Involving Whydah Galley

In 2006, Whydah almost represented the pirates in a museum exhibit. This incident caused a controversy. The Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa, Florida was thinking of utilizing relics and history from the vessel for an exhibit on the Golden Age of Piracy. This was set to overlap with the release of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End movie in 2007. However, it was condemned for have a ship with a background in Atlantic slave trade because it trivializes that aspect of its history.

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