Monday, May 30, 2011

Real Pirates Exhibit - National Geographic

While visiting in Colorado this May, we went to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science to see the Real Pirates Exhibit. I've been waiting and waiting for this traveling exhibit to reach California, but since we were already visiting Colorado, we jumped at the opportunity to attend.
This guy greeted us at the Denver airport.
The boys loved looking at all the artifacts they obtained from this sunken pirate ship. It took the boys 1-1/2 hours to get through the exhibit with their Dad. (They ditched me and went to lunch because it took me 2 hours to get through, lol). Unfortunately, they didn't allow cameras inside, so I can't show you the amazing things we saw. I guess you'll have to check it out yourself when it comes to your area.

I must say it was well worth it. It is a fascinating exhibit about the Whydah, a slave ship that became a pirate ship when it was captured by Captain Sam Bellamy and his men. It was built in April 1715, and was engulfed and sank on April 26, 1717. Barry Clifford discovered the wreckage of the Whydah in 1984.

The exhibit was great because it didn't just talk about piracy. It started with the sad history of slave trading and what it was really like on slave ships, particularly those traveling the "Middle Passage," the slaving voyages between the African coast and the Caribbean slave markets. They had slavery artifacts so the kids and adults could see and understand better.

Then they gave us the history of piracy and what it was really like being a pirate and why they chose (or were forced into) that way of life. It's funny how much of what we think we know about pirates comes from Hollywood, but the truth is so much different. I took some (okay a lot) of notes at the exhibit. I won't bore you with all the details, but I'll share some tidbits that I thought were interesting.

Privateers were authorized and sanctioned by the state.
Pirates were no longer sanctioned by the state and thus were outlaws.

The Articles were the code of conduct the pirates followed. The were agreed to and signed by everyone who wanted to join a pirate crew. They took an oath of loyalty to never betray. They also received an equal vote, equal share of the booty, and a chance to be elected as an officer. Pirate ships were islands of freedom.

Pirates may have taken their first vessel in a mutiny or they may have used canoes or rowboats to capture their first ship. Ships seized by force were called prizes. The Quartermaster led the boarding party. Pirates used a variety of vessels - sloops, pinks, shows, pettaugers, galleys, and ships. Pirates wanted slave ships, but most didn't want slaves. Pirates leveled the top deck of their ships and lowered the quarterdeck. This made the ships less top heavy, more streamline, and provided an open fighting platform.

Pirate ships were multi-ethnic communities, "motley crews." Only one early 18th century pirate ship is known to have sailed without any black crewmembers. Pirates were known as a brotherhood, shipmates, brother sailors, and brother tars.

Some of the Whydah crew included:
* Sam Bellamy (Captain) - an impoverished young English sailor who arrived in Cape Cod around 1714 to seek his fortune
* Hendrick Quintor - born in Amsterdam, was a free black man of Dutch and African descent
* John Julian (Pilot) - a Miskito Indian, probably born in Nicaragua or Belize
* John King - around 8 or 9 years old, was traveling with his mom on an Antiguan sloop when it was captured by Bellamy's crew, King was determined to join the pirates

Other members:
* Boatswain (Jeremiah Burke) - helped to met out punishment if there were any infringements of the ship's articles, supervised and directed the crew; to get elected, he would have been one of the most experienced and capable members of the crew
* Sailing Master (John Lambert) - in charge of the navigation of the ship, calculating longitude and latitude (sea charts were inadequate at the time)
* Quartermaster (Richard Nolan) - responsibilities included representing the crew on issues that concerned their welfare, settling minor disputes and dispensing punishment if required, leading the attack when pirates boarded a ship, taking command of captured prizes, managing and distributing the stolen loot

"Pieces of Eight" - from the Spanish measurement reales - these coins weighed 8 reales each, therefore called pieces of eight (They had a whole chest full of them at the exhibit, which was quite amazing to see in person).

The Whydah was barely a year at sea and they got 50 prizes. At the time of its engulfment, the Whydah was carrying 146 men on board - 130 pirates and their 16 prisoners. A nor-easter hit the Whydah at full force. The hull of the ship ran aground. The main mast and the other rigging snapped like twigs, and the Whydah rolled over. 144 men died on the Whydah with only 2 survivors - Thomas Davis and John Julian. Following behind the Whydah was the MaryAnne, which was carrying a few of the pirates from the Whydah, including Hendrick Quintor. Richard Nolan also survived because he was on another ship.

Some of the men were caught, however, and charged with piracy. Six men were charged with piracy and hanged: Hendrick Quintor, Peter Cornelius Hoof, John Shaun, John Brown, Thomas Baker, and Simon Van Vorst. Thomas South was the only man aquitted. Thomas Davis was released as a freeman because he was pressed into services as a carpenter. John Julian was not tried but instead sold into slavery.

They has a Gibbet there as well. After pirates had been hanged, they were often taken down and covered with tar. Then they were suspended in a metal cage called a gibbet and displayed for month while their flesh slowly rotted away. This was used to discourage piracy. The authorities also refused to bury pirates in cemeteries or other consecrated ground.

Okay, so I got a little carried away with my "tidbits" of information. Believe it or not, I have more notes than I shared. Let's just say I found the exhibit fascinating. This was a great exhibit for the boys because there was so much to see and talk about - lots of Living History. If this is a topic that interests you and your family, or if you just love history in general, I definitely recommend this exhibit.

The boys (& their cousin) had a great time.

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