Named after a beautiful tropical bird the Whydah. this infamous gally served first as a slave ship and subsequently under pirate “Black Sam” Bellamy. But in spite of its marauding presence along American shores, it finally in the spring of 1717, met its end on the shores of Cape Cod.
Bellamy had ordered a course correction, taking the ship to the “elbow” of Cape Cod, and on 26 April 1717 they captured the ship Mary Anne with a hold full of Madeira wine. The captain of Mary Anne refused Bellamy’s request to pilot them up the coast, so Bellamy arrested the captain and five of his crew and brought them aboard the Whydah, leaving three of the original crew aboard Mary Anne. Then Bellamy sent 7 of his own men onboard of Mary Anne – one of whom being the carpenter Thomas South who had been forced by Bellamy and his crew to make repairs; not wanting to join the pirate crew he had been offered release by Bellamy after work was completed, but the surviving pirates later testified to the court that they had over-ruled Bellamy’s decision and forced South to stay due to his much whimpering and complaining. South testified that it was his choice to accompany the 6 pirates going aboard Mary Anne in hopes of escaping, possibly by jumping overboard and swimming ashore as they drew near to the Cape. Sometime around sunset that evening, the winds completely died, and a massive fog bank made visibility
virtually impossible. The four ships in Bellamy’s fleet lost sight of one another. Bellamy’s ships Anne and Fisher moved out to sea (eventually making it to Damascove Island with heavy damage).
Just after midnight, the Whydah was suddenly struck by an extremely powerful Nor’easter storm with the force of a Category-One hurricane. Running bow-first into a sandbar 16-feet deep at about 500 feet from the shore at what today is, she was battered by 30 to 40 feet waves. Within minutes the masts fell and the ship was pulled into 30 feet of water where she completely capsized, sending over 4.5 short tons (4.1 tonnes) of silver and gold, more than 60 cannons and 144 people to the ocean floor; with churning shoals and monstrous waves throwing many pieces of Whydah’s shattered body, her rigging and sails, 102 human bodies, and thousands of objects across four miles of the beach. Mary Anne was also wrecked that night, ten miles south, being thrown by the waves on the beach at Pochet Island [pronounced po-chee]. Of the 146 souls aboard Whydah, only two men (Welshman Thomas Davis and 18-year-old Central American Mosquito [Moskito] Indian John Julian) are known to have made it to the beach alive; all seven of Bellamy’s men and the three original crewmen from Mary Anne survived as well. Arrested by Justice Joseph Doane and his posse, they were all locked up in Barnstable Gaol (currently the oldest wooden jail house in United States), and then brought, by order of Governor Samuel Shute, to Boston for a nearly seven-month trial, after which six of the men would be executed by hanging, two set free, and one sold into slavery.
The Whydah and her treasure eluded discovery for over 260 years until 1984, when the wreck was found – buried between 10 to 50 feet of sand, under water depths of 16 to 30 feet deep, spread four miles parallel to the Cape’s coast. With the discovery of the ship’s bell in 1985 and a small brass placard in 2013, both inscribed with the ship’s name and maiden voyage date, the Whydah is the only fully authenticated Golden Age pirate shipwreck ever discovered.
The full story is provided below.
HOW TO GET THERE
The wreck site and museum displays are easily reached along the road and at Provincetown.
The wreck site is located along the beach at Wellfleet. The Whydah Pirate Shipwreck Museum has displays of artifacts & treasures from the 1717 pirate shipwreck Whydah. You can visit their Website here. Address: 16 MacMillan Pier, Provincetown, MA 02657, United States Phone:+1 508-487-8899. They continue to search for artifacts and you will enjoy following their exploits on Youtube.
Is it worth the trip? Having only explored on the internet, it’s hard to judge. But the area itself is unique and the visuals for the site, the museum and the ongoing explorations makes it well worth considering. It’s on my list.
BOOKS & REFERENCES
Master of the Sweet Trade: A Story of the Pirate Samuel Bellamy, Mariah Hallett, and the Whydah