The Whydah, A Pirate Ship Feared, Wrecked & Found
Author: Martin W. Sandler
Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2017
Tales of pirates have fascinated us for generations. These legends, told over and over in print and on the screen, have had all sorts of fresh, modern updates. They continue to lure us with tales of adventurous lives.
So the real question is this: Is the nonfiction as entertaining as the fiction?
Yes – although perhaps not in the way readers will expect. The Whydah, A Pirate Ship Feared, Wrecked & Found gives us plenty of information, not only about the Whydah specifically but of piracy in general. It debunks the myths of buried treasure and secret maps. Unfortunately, most pirates spent their loot too quickly to actually bury it and while some of the treasure was gold and silver, much of it was “ordinary trade goods, such as lumber, cloth, and animal hides – all items that would have been ruined if they had been buried” (pg. 110). And although pirates certainly were violent and cruel, no one really walked the plank. The most common – and feared – punishment was flogging.
Pirates were also surprisingly democratic. In fact, “the biggest reason to turn to piracy was the desire to be free men” (pg. 40). On a pirate ship, everything of significance was decided by vote and booty was distributed equally. Men of color were treated as equals, even though many had been (or had been destined to become) slaves. They even had a sort of “insurance policy” for men injured and disabled.
So will all of our romantic notions of pirates be shattered?
Not really. The Whydah was captained by Samuel Bellamy, known as “Black Sam” or “Black Bellamy.” He had jet-black hair and instead of the usual powdered wig, he grew his hair long and tied it back with a black satin ribbon. His outfit, which consisted of a long velvet coat, knee britches, silk stockings and silver-buckled shoes, was “completed by a sword that hung at his left hip and four pistols that were secured by a broad sash” (pg. 11). And of course there is a romance (though undocumented) of Black Sam and a girl from Cape Cod named Maria Hallett.
There’s plenty of adventure, too. Bellamy learned the pirate trade from Benjamin Hornigold, a legend himself because he trained so many pirates including the infamous Edward Teach, aka Blackbeard. Bellamy quickly became one of the most successful pirates. The book gives details of pirate attacks, including tactics like playing weird music and doing even weirder dances meant to terrify their prey.
The Whydah sunk off the coast of Cape Cod in what meteorologist’s called “the perfect storm” and Bellamy and most of the crew died. Though heading to Maine, it is presumed that Bellamy had visited with Maria just before the wreck. The legends, however, have lived on. Then, in the 1980’s, the Whydah was discovered by Barry Clifford. It was first documented pirate ship discovered. Did the discovery take away from the mystery? Not at all. The archeological evidence is just as fascinating as the Whydah’s story.
If you are taking a trip to Cape Cod this summer, you might want to check out the Whydah Pirate Museum to see the real artifacts. https://www.discoverpirates.com/