Gregory G. H. Rihn (milwaukeesfs) wrote,
Gregory G. H. Rihn

Milwaukee Public Museum: "Real Pirates"

On Saturday the 22nd, we went to the Milwaukee Public Museum to take in their current traveling exhibit, "Real Pirates". The exhibition, assembled by the National Geographic Society, centers on the brief but busy career of the pirate ship "Whydah," which ran aground, capsized, and sank in a storm off Cape Cod on April 26, 1717.

The exhibition imbeds the story of the Whydah in a history of piracy in general, in the Atlantic and Caribbean in particular, and in the history of the latter days of the Slave Trade.

The Slave Trade is significant, since the Whydah, commissioned in 1715, was purpose-built by a consortium of London merchants, as a slaver. She made one voyage from Africa to Cuba with a cargo of slaves, in early 1716. After selling that cargo at Cuba, the Whydah and her new cargo of precious metals, sugar, indigo, spices, rum, and "medicinal ingredients" was pursued and overtaken by pirate Sam Bellamy and his ships, the galley "Sultana" and sloop "Marianne". After a three-day chase and desultory exchange of gunfire, the Whydah surrendered, and was taken as a pirate vessel by Bellamy. (Slavers, which tended to be heavily armed, and whose "cargo space" could readily be converted into accommodation for large pirate crews, were prized as pirate ships.)

"Black Sam" Bellamy was an Englishman who had emigrated to the Cape Cod area, and who had "gone on the account" (i.e. become a pirate), according to legend, because he lacked money to be able to marry. In a bit more than a year, he went from being an apprentice pirate to commanding a small fleet, and capturing fifty prizes, which made him relatively, one of the most successful pirates ever. Unfortunately, he couldn't beat the North Atlantic in its rage, and he, 143 of his 145 crew, and all of his treasure went down with the Whydah.

In 1982, a diving crew led and funded by underwater explorer Barry Clifford discovered the wreck of the Whydah, one of the few authenticated pirate ships ever found. Since then, over 200,000 items have been recovered from the wreck site, including the ship's bell, many of her cannon, and chests full of silver and gold pieces.

The exhibit includes a representative sample of the artifacts from the Whydah, a partial reconstruction of the ship, the aforementioned historical material, and a section on the discovery of the wreckage and retrieval of the booty. The exhibit is enlivened by pirate-costumed docents who interact with the visitors in a variety of accents befitting the cosmopolitan makeup of pirate crews.

We found the exhibit very interesting, and fascinating to be able to see closely the remnants of this turbulent time. The exhibition continues at the Milwaukee Public Museum through May 27th, 2013.

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Tags: historical, museum, pirates
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