Opened in 2022, Real Pirates Salem, one of Salem’s top tourist destinations, teaches a fascinating tale of pirates, treasure, and lost love.
Replica of the Whydah’s Bell
The shipwreck of the Whydah was discovered by Barry Clifford in 1984 off of Cape Cod. Buried somewhere between 10 and 50 feet of sand, it took careful study of historic documents and electronic remote-sensing equipment to locate it. It was a true pirate ship and the only one in the world whose treasure has been fully authenticated. Clifford recovered cannons, pistols, gold, silver, and pieces of eight. Recovery is now ongoing with Barry Clifford’s son, Brandon, in addition to Barry. With only 20-25% of the ship and goods brought to the surface, there is considerable work to be done, and treasure to be found! The mission of Real Pirates Salem museum is to raise awareness that the recovery is still ongoing and in the process, to inspire the bold explorer in all of us!
Sam Bellamy Capturing the Whydah
A little history: the Whydah was built in 1715 in England as a slave ship and took its name from Ouidah, a port on the west coast of Africa where slaves were purchased. After making two voyages, it was captured by pirates under the command of Sam Bellamy, also known as “Black Sam,” as he favored tying his long black hair with a simple band versus the fashionable powdered wigs of the time. While sailing in the Caribbean, Bellamy amassed a fleet of merchant ships from England, France, Spain, and Holland, and their crews, totalling 140 men.
Bellamy wanted to live in an egalitarian society; thus, that is how he treated his men, including the slaves from the captured ships. They were all entitled to equal shares of the treasures collected, and all had to sign an agreement stating that they would, essentially, behave themselves.
Before Bellamy became a pirate, he fell in love with a girl, Maria Hallett, from Wellfleet, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod. They planned on starting a utopian society, somewhere presumably up north, but her parents said no to the marriage of their daughter to a sailor left penniless by the British Navy, where he had served before coming to America. So Bellamy left to live his life of pirating to bring back wealth and claim his bride.
In April of 1717, on their voyage back from their successful marauding in the Caribbean, disaster struck. The Whydah sailed into one of the worst nor’easters ever recorded on Cape Cod, and sank. All but 2 lives were lost. Several other ships in Bellamy’s flotilla were also wrecked, and every crew member who didn’t drown was tried as a pirate.
Diorama of the Whydah’s Last Night
As legend has it, Bellamy’s sweetheart, Maria, was devastated. She was also with Bellamy’s child, who died shortly after birth. Maria was imprisoned as a murderer of her child, and earned the name the Witch of Wellfleet.
Now back to the museum: the Real Pirates Salem Museum houses real treasure! To begin with, there is a very well done introductory video that relays some history of the Whydah. Once that is over, the exploration begins! There are “manilla” bracelets, pistols, cannons to see. There are belt buckles, pieces of eight, and ship tackle to explore.
Then one of the most exciting parts of the museum: parts of a full-size replica of the Whydah. We can see it from an outside view, where the ship is docked and the rigging, sails, and cannons are in view. Then we enter the ship, where the figures of the captain and a companion are sitting having a beverage and a lively conversation in front of a fireplace.
Sails and Rigging
Sailors Discussing Their Journey
Finally, in the next room, the real treasure—a treasure chest full of silver pieces of eight, gleaming, untouchable, in a plexiglass case. But don’t be upset that you can’t touch it—there are several real coins on display that can be!
Real Pieces of Eight that Can Be Touched
Lastly, we get to explore today’s recovery effort by way of a small laboratory. There are concretions that encapsulate more objects from the wreck, and are stored in water as being in air would dissolve them. Some of them are undergoing electrolysis, a technique that helps draw salt out of iron, revealing what is hiding from view. A nice little gift shop is also attached to the lab as well.
Concretions Undergoing Electrolysis
Your Own Treasure from the Gift Shop!
Finally, we get a video moment to take home—a photo of me hiding in a treasure chest that I can bring up on my phone whenever I want! And I’ve had a blast showing it to people. Almost as much as I had learning about Sam Bellamy, his treasure, and the pirate ship the Whydah.
Me Tucked into My Own Treasure Chest
Real Pirates Salem is the ideal place to have a group event, whether it is a school group, an outing for elderly folks, or a birthday party. Please click here for more information!
~Jill Pabich, August 18, 2023