The Real Pirates Museum brings authentic pirate treasures and stories to Salem

On April 9 at 1 p.m., a new museum opens in downtown Salem. The Real Pirates Museum tells the story of the Why Gally, a pirate ship that ran aground off Cape Cod in 1717, leaving behind tens of thousands of pounds of gold and silver. These artifacts and many more will be on display in the new exhibition.

the Whydah (pronounced WIH-duh) The wreck was lost at sea for over 250 years until underwater archaeological explorer Barry Clifford found the remains in 1984. The remains of the wreck have been identified without the shadow of a doubt when his team pulled a bell from the bottom of the ocean inscribed with “THE WHYDAH GALLY 1716”, making the Whydah the only verified pirate wreck ever found. The Whydah Pirate Museum in West Yarmouth is the only other museum dedicated to displaying artifacts from the wreck.

Real Pirates guides visitors through the WhydahThe short but hard-hitting timeline of, as well as the story of its captain, 26-year-old “Black Sam” Bellamy, the highest paid hacker of all time, and his love affair with Maria Hallet, nicknamed the “Witch of Wellfleet”. Through artifacts, replicas and bits of information, guests learn the history of the Whydah, from its beginnings in the slave trade, to its pirate voyages, its fateful shipwreck and its discovery almost 40 years ago. “It’s a great story and our job is to bring it to life,” says Real Pirates director Bill Golden. “They made history, and we have to make it real.”

A dark story

The exhibition opens with the history of the ship itself, the Whydah was built as a slave ship, named after one of Africa’s largest slave-trading ports in the 18th century, Ouidah. “It is important to understand the cruelty that has been involved in this trade,” says Golden, explaining the importance of detailing the Whydahthe dark past.

Although it was built to transport over 300 slaves from Africa to the Caribbean on each voyage, it only made this trip once – the ship was intercepted by Sam Bellamy and his pirate crew during of her maiden voyage, during the last leg of her triangular trade. itinerary.

Eighteenth-century pirates, unlike the rest of the maritime world which was dominated by the slave trade at that time, ruled an egalitarian society, declaring themselves “equal and free among themselves,” says Golden. “You sign the [pirate articles], you get an equal vote and an equal share of the treasury. For the first time in history, Africans, Europeans and Native Americans were in one society where they were all equal,” says Golden. “It’s never happened before, and it hasn’t happened since.” When they were shipwrecked off Cape Town, the crew was supposed to be heading for Maine, aiming to create a republic like the pirates had done. in the Bahamas.

Real Pirates is full of artifacts, most of which come from the Whydahwrecks and offer special insight into the life of a real pirate in the 1700s. From the cannons aboard the ship to the plates they ate to the tools they used for navigation, each artifact belonged to a real hacker. “Some of these things were last worn by someone over 300 years ago,” says Carolyn Shapiro, Real Pirates’ general manager. “Or you realize wow, someone was hammering with this hammer 300 years ago. It’s a piece of Americana.

Some of the treasure guests may even touch, perhaps thinking about which pirates might have held those same coins. You will see decorated pistols and other weapons used by the crew of the Whydah, but you will also come across artifacts such as gambling chips and other recreational items. “These people were human beings. They went fishing…they played cards,” says Golden.

To add to the humanity of these people, you will read the stories of some of the Whydahthe members of who survived the sinking and the many who did not, including Sam Bellamy. John Julian was a 16-year-old Miskito Native American who was sold into slavery after surviving the incident, and Hendrick Quintor was a free black man from the Netherlands who survived but was later tried and hanged for piracy.

Beyond the Pirate Ship

The exhibit also tells the story of Sam Bellamy’s lover, Maria Hallet, whom he met when he was a poor fisherman on Cape Cod. According to legend, the Whydah was aiming for a stopover in Cape Town, where Bellamy, with his newfound fortune, would reunite with his love, when a violent northeasterly brought the captain to his watery grave.

At the museum, you will ride a partial replica of the Whydah itself, filled with even more artifacts and characters, and you’ll uncover details of the night the ship sank, buffeted by thirty-foot waves, finally washing aground in the dead of night within sight of shore. The Real Pirates Museum adds a less witch-focused attraction to Salem’s typical array of offerings, but it’s still perfectly suited for Halloween.

In the final gallery of the museum, you will learn about explorer Barry Clifford and his successful expedition to discover the wreck. Clifford and his team still visit the site each summer, recovering more artifacts each year. This year marks their fortieth anniversary, but they have only found about 15% of the treasure. “It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack,” says Golden, “but when you do it underwater, you have to find the haystack first.”

Most of the artifacts lost to the seabed over three hundred years have hardened into masses of stone and sand called “concretions” – you’ll see these concretions in this gallery, and from time to time the museum will even ask archaeologists to ‘extract Whydah concretion artifacts.

“Everyone is really excited,” says Golden. “The outpouring from the business community has been really great,” he says, mentioning that this museum will hopefully bring more tourists to Salem during its low season (which is anytime outside of October). .

“We have museum-level artifacts and we have the ability to really bring that to life,” says Golden, “to get people to understand why pirates were pirates and how they lived.”

Real Pirates opens April 9 and tickets are $16.50 for adults, $13 for children, and $13.50 for seniors. For more information, visit their website.

285 Derby Street, Salem, (978) 259-1717,

About Carlos V. Mitchell

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