Pirate Treasure May Lie In Waters Off Cape Cod

Explorer Barry Clifford has spent decades exploring the wreck of the pirate ship Whydah off the coast of Cape Cod. This summer, he and his team learned there may be far more treasure waiting. Clifford joins host Scott Simon to describe what they found.

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Barry Clifford has spent the last 30 years diving in the waters off Cape Cod. He's searching for buried treasure spilled by the pirate ship Whydah, which sunk there in 1717. He's pulled a trove of artifacts out of the sea and sand over the years and this summer he learned there may be far more treasure waiting. He joins us now from Provincetown, Massachusetts. Mr. Clifford, thanks so much for being with us.

BARRY CLIFFORD: Oh, it's my pleasure.

SIMON: What did you find out?

CLIFFORD: Well, our beloved historian passed away a few months ago and the day after he passed away I found a document on my desk and it was embossed and he had never done this before. And it was from the colonial papers in London and it spoke about the Whydah robbing two ships in the early part of April, 1717, and on those ships there was an additional 400,000 coins.

Now, we knew from primary source documents that the Whydah had approximately four to five tons of treasure on it prior to capturing these two vessels in the early part of April, and of course the Whydah wrecked in the latter part of April that same year.

SIMON: So that's how you know that this was not an empty pirate ship but one that was filled to the gills?

CLIFFORD: Just incredibly. They robbed 54 ships in all, so we have this unprecedented collection, this cross section of cultural material.

SIMON: So in a sense the most surprising discovery you made wasn't at the bottom of the sea, but at someone's desk.

CLIFFORD: Indeed. It was my desk and historian Ken Kinkor was a brilliant, brilliant man and this document, obviously, was extremely important. It also referred to as ship called the Benita that was leaving Jamaica with a boy who was described by the captain of the Benita as very rebellious and having joined the Whydah pirate crew. And of course we found a size 6 shoe, a human leg bone, a fibia, and a silk stocking who we later learned must have been this boy, John King.

SIMON: Mr. Clifford, legally, ethically, when and how does loot become cultural artifacts?

CLIFFORD: We've been doing this for a long, long time and we've been very successful in negotiating with foreign governments because I think they know that, you know, we're doing things in the best interest of people. But it's, you know, treasure brings pirates out of the woods, that's for sure. You have to definitely keep your eyes open.

SIMON: Well, Mr. Clifford, yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum.

CLIFFORD: Indeed. Rums out, rums aplenty.


SIMON: This is NPR News.


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