Barry Clifford's team pulls out the cannons and other items that fused together over the centuries into a solid mass called a concretion. The Whydah, the pirate ship the artifacts came from, sank in 1717.
Barry Clifford's team pulls out the cannons and other items that fused together over the centuries into a solid mass called a concretion. The Whydah, the pirate ship the artifacts came from, sank in 1717. Margot Clifford
An exhibit featuring artifacts recovered from the Whydah went on display this summer at the Cincinnati Museum Center. Called "Real Pirates: The Untold Story of the Whydah from Slave Ship to Pirate Ship," it examines the history of the ship.
- The Whydah was built in London in 1715 to be a slave ship.
- It was captured in early 1717 while returning from selling the slaves it had taken to the Caribbean. The pirates who captured the ship were led by Sam Bellamy.
- One of the pirates who sailed on the Whydah is believed to be John King, a boy no more than 11 years old.
- The ship went down in a fierce storm off the coast of Cape Cod in April 1717, along with the booty from more than 50 ships the pirates had captured. Most of the 146 people aboard drowned.
- The shipwreck was discovered in 1984 by underwater explorer Barry Clifford and his team.
Source: National Geographic's "Real Pirates" exhibit Web site and Ken Kinkor, projects research director at the Expedition Whydah Sea-lab and Learning Center
A crowd of locals and curious tourists gather to watch the concretion being pulled from the harbor. The mass of cannons and other items from the Whydah weighs about 12,000 pounds.
A crowd of locals and curious tourists gather to watch the concretion being pulled from the harbor. The mass of cannons and other items from the Whydah weighs about 12,000 pounds. Margot Clifford
Pirate ships exist mostly in legend, but a real one — the Whydah — was discovered off Cape Cod by Barry Clifford in 1984. It's the only authenticated pirate ship ever found, and just like in legends, it was laden with treasure. Clifford and his team have just recovered a new collection of artifacts from the ship.
The Whydah began her life as a slave ship, Clifford said.
"This was her maiden voyage," he said. "She had dropped off a consignment of slaves in Jamaica and was headed back to England with the money from the sale of those slaves when she was captured in the Windward Passage by these pirates."
The Whydah pirates were a mixture of nationalities, some of them former slaves. A number were captured after the ship went down in a fierce storm in 1717, about 1,500 feet from the Massachusetts shore, Clifford said.
"The pirates testified in court in Boston, and their testimonies were recorded," Clifford said. "They said that the treasure was laid in one heap...that the money was kept in bags, in chests, between decks. And there was about four to five tons just from the Whydah."
Finding and recovering that treasure has occupied much of Clifford's last 24 years. His latest discovery is a group of cannons and other items that fused together over the centuries into a solid mass called a concretion. The mass was towed into Provincetown Harbor, and on Tuesday, after days of waiting, the team was finally ready to haul it out of the water.
"And so when we bring this up, it'll shock you what you see," Clifford said. "It's 7 feet tall, about 10 feet long, and it weighs about 12,000 pounds."
As a huge crane prepared to raise the concretion from the harbor, the scene attracted a crowd of locals and curious tourists like Celeste Foley of Saratoga, N.Y.
"It's very exciting. It's part of history. And we just happened to be lucky enough to stumble on it as they were recovering it," Foley said.
The crane slowly lifted the massive object and suspended it just above a flatbed truck. Salt water dripped off its brown and rust-colored edges as Clifford and his team eagerly examined their discovery for the first time out of the water.
"Pretty amazing," Clifford said. "There's a dead-eye there — that's rigging for the ship, which means the rigging is underneath the cannon."
Clifford hopped up onto the flatbed, circling, crouching and ducking to examine every jagged edge and sea-worn surface.
"I count eight cannons. This one still has its plug in it. That means that cannon's still loaded. There's gold dust here. Here's some glass right here — a bottleneck right here."
This latest piece of Cape Cod pirate lore will be taken to a nearby lab for X-ray and analysis. Then, it will join a traveling exhibit of Whydah artifacts. Clifford savored the moment. But the wreck of the Whydah still lies offshore, and much of its priceless treasure remains buried in the shifting sands.
Morris reports for member station WCAI in Woods Hole, Mass.