I got to take in this wonderful exhibit the other day, and let me tell you, it's spectacular. If you're in Winnipeg, I strongly urge you to check it out before April 19th when it closes. For now, I want to share a bit about my experience. I came expecting to see the romanticized notions of pirates completely dashed. I know fiction is often a little lenient with the historical accuracy of what pirates were, Pirates of the Carribean movies being a prime example of that. And I'm more than aware that my own pirates, like Captain Brant Foxton, are not exactly the roughest toughest of sea dogs. But what I learned of Captain "Black Sam" Bellamy and the story of the Whydah, is that it's a tragic love story--right up my alley!
And that's exactly what the exhibit is: it's a story that people have the opportunity to walk through and be immersed in.
Or rather two stories, that intersect. Because the Whydah herself is a character in all of this.
Sam Bellamy was a young British sailor in his 20s who found himself in Cape Cod, Massachusets, where he met and fell in love with Maria Hallett. However, being a poor sailor, he could not support her, so he took to the sea to find his fame and fortune the "get rich quick" way of the day: piracy.
He was quite successful, raiding more than 50 ships in less than a year. But the crown jewel of his exploits was the Whydah.
The Whydah was built a slave ship. She was fast, traveling up to 13 knots--to put that in perspective, it's about 24 km/h. She was heavily armored, with as many as 28 cannons. And she had room in her hull, transferring about 367 slaves at the time of her capture.
She left on her maiden voyage in 1716 and Bellamy captured her in early 1717. Many of the slaves joined Bellamy's fleet of ships, comprised of Mary Anne, Sultana, Postillion, and now the Whydah.
Piracy was a chance at equality for the people who were destined for slavery. It wasn't that strange to have a minority in an officer's position even. And, a pirate ship was often run as a democracy.
Of course, the ending to this story is not a happy one. Sam Bellamy was on his way back to Cape Cod to return to his love, Maria Hallett, when a storm rose up. Just 500 feet from the coastline, the Whydah sank, taking with her SamBellamy, and all of the crew except for two: John Julian and Thomas Davis.
When I went to see this exhibit, I went with Terry MacLeod of CBC Radio One Winnipeg, and took him on a bit of a tour. This resulted in a radio segment on Saturday, April 4, 2015. You can listen to it here: [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3KXpUz7qi8s] Intrigued? I know I am! All I can say is maybe fictional pirates aren't so far off after all. And Sam Bellamy would probably fit in pretty well with my own Brant Foxton. What I wouldn't do to see a conversation between those two--Or maybe I should write that... and share it in April's newsletter ;)
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Thanks for reading,