Sunday, April 15, 2012

Learning about Pirates

The Science Museum of Minnesota presently has a special exhibit about pirates. This centers on  artifacts from the pirate ship, Whydah. Whydah is pronounced Wi-dah, rather like saying the word widow very quickly. It is an English version of a Nigerian port name.

The story is that a young British man arrived in the colonies -- New England, and fell in love with a young woman. Her parents refused their marriage because the young man was not wealthy. He decided to go off and become wealthy, and the fastest way to wealth at this time was to become a pirate. The young man was Sam Bellamy.

The most sought ship for capture was a slave ship - a fact that mystifies visitors to this exhibit in the beginning. A slave ship was desired, not for the cargo, but for the ship. A slave ship was well fortified. A slave ship was large -- it had space for a large pirate crew and had a kitchen facility for cooking for a large crew, and had space left over for storage of captured goods.A slave ship was captured in the Caribbean after the slaves were ashore and then at the time the ship was transporting a different cargo such as rum to New England.

The Whydah sunk off the coast of New England in late April, 1717, when Bellamy was returning to New England to find his sweetheart. A few survivors struggled to shore and were eventually convicted of being pirates, except for one crew member who was part American Indian and was sold into slavery due to his ethnicity. Bellamy died in the ship wreck. Because the ship sunk quite close to shore, everyone through the generations knew it was there.

In the late 20th century Barry Clifford led the effort to find the ship.

The exhibit shows some finds from the ship.

The above picture is a collection of buttons and belt buckles found with the ship remains. The pirate compact said that booty was equally shared through the crew, but one could personally take and keep clothing.

After a view of real things, one moves to an area of models and reproductions.

Here is a model of the ship.

And model of the hull, and part of the ship through which one can walk.
Inside this area one finds the captain.

A few days after this visit I attended a lecture presented by Angus Konstam. Konstam is a British historian whose expertise is the era of pirates. He pointed out that our view of pirates as the "Golden Age" is a Hollywood image, from films that started on the theme of pirates in the early 20th century. For the people involved, it was anything but golden. Piracy was devastating to the economy of these areas. Piracy was finally ended when the colony government gave amnesty to pirates. Most accepted amnesty and then the government could go after the lesser number who didn't want to stop piracy activities. Finally I learned too what were privateers. A privateer was actually a pirate authorized by the government. A privateer could capture ships from other countries than the nation that had issued the privateer agreement. The captured goods were split between the privateer and the authorizing government. And I went brain dead and forgot to walk up a couple of days ago for the lecture about female pirates. Sorry to have missed that. -- Hope you found this entry a moment of learning and fun.

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