Whydah Gally

The 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, rated at 300 tons burden, and could travel at speeds up to . Christened Whydah after the West African trading town 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 cannons, 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.

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. After a three-day chase, Prince surrendered his ship 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 the captain 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. 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, and looting or capturing additional vessels on the way.

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 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, dozens of 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 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. 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.

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.

Nine members of Bellamy's crew survived (two from the Whydah and seven from accompanying ships in his fleet) the storm and wrecking. Six were tried as pirates and hanged in Boston. One of the survivors from the Whydah, a carpenter named Thomas Davis who had been pressed into service when his ship was captured by Bellamy, was captured and brought to trial; however, possibly in part due to the intervention of the famous Puritan minister Cotton Mather, he was 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 sold into slavery after his capture. Included among the dead were Bellamy himself, as well as a boy, aged approximately 9 to 11, named John King. Young John 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.


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 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 the only pirate shipwreck site 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 in Provincetown, Massachusetts.


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 the next five 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.

On January 7, 2008 the National Geographic Channel is airing 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.


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