WASHINGTON (Feb. 7, 2013)—From Captain Hook to Captain Jack Sparrow, the world has been fascinated with the legend of pirates for decades. From March 8 through Sept. 2, 2013, the National Geographic Museum will host “Real Pirates: The Untold Story of the Whydah from Slave Ship to Pirate Ship,” which tells the story of a slave ship turned pirate ship and the diverse people whose lives converged on the vessel. Sunk in a fierce storm off the coast of Cape Cod, Mass., in April 1717, the Whydah wreckage was found by underwater explorer Barry Clifford in 1984, becoming the first pirate ship discovered in North American waters to be authenticated and fully excavated. The exhibition will be on display in the museum’s 17th St. gallery.
The three-masted, 300-ton galley was built as a slave ship in London in 1715 and represented the most advanced technology at that time. She was easy to maneuver, unusually fast and — to protect her human cargo — heavily armed. The Whydah’s purpose was to transport human captives from the west coast of Africa to the Caribbean, but it was fated to make only one such voyage. In February 1717, after the slaves were sold in the Caribbean, the Whydah was captured off the Bahamas by Sam Bellamy, one of the most successful pirates of his day. Bellamy and his crew hoisted the Jolly Roger, and the slave ship became a pirate ship.
Just two months later, on April 26, 1717, in one of the worst nor’easters ever recorded, the Whydah, packed with plunder from more than 50 captured ships, sank off the Massachusetts coast. All but two of the 146 people on board drowned. Some 270 years later, Clifford found the first remains of the ship. In a recovery operation that has spanned more than two decades, Clifford and his team have brought up hundreds of artifacts, not only gold and silver, but everyday objects that shed light on this tumultuous period of American and world history.
Many of the artifacts will be on display in the exhibit, including weapons such as swords, cannons, muskets and pistols as well as daily necessities such as tools, kitchen utensils, buttons, coins and personal belongings from the captain’s quarters. In addition, visitors can climb aboard a replica of the ship and experience what it was like in the captain’s quarters and below deck.
“Real Pirates: The Untold Story of the Whydah from Slave Ship to Pirate Ship” features real stories of the people who populated the Atlantic world in the age of slavery and piracy: artisans and traders from West Africa; slave ship captains and their captives; impoverished sailors from Europe; and pirates of all persuasions, including women and a boy no more than 11 years old.
On Thursday, April 11, Barry Clifford will talk about his discovery of the Whydah at National Geographic headquarters as part of the National Geographic Live lecture series. Tickets are $20 for members and $22 for the general public. They can be purchased at www.nglive.org/dc. On Saturday, June 22, the museum will host a free Pirates Family Festival, featuring re-enactors, a treasure hunt and more. In addition to these events, the museum will host weekend birthday parties in the exhibition for children ages 5-12. To schedule a party, call (202) 857-7154.
Two companion books of the same name, one for adults and one for children, will be on sale in the National Geographic Store.
Also open in the museum’s 17th Street galleries during this time are “Birds of Paradise: Amazing Avian Evolution,” which will run through May, followed by a yearlong exhibition dedicated to the National Geographic Society’s 125th anniversary, opening in June. “Beyond the Story: National Geographic Unpublished” will be on display in the museum’s M Street gallery.
The National Geographic Museum, 1145 17th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C., is open every day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Though the photography exhibitions in the museum’s M Street gallery and outdoors are free, the exhibitions in the 17th Street galleries are ticketed. Admission is $11 for adults; $9 for National Geographic members, military, students, seniors and groups of 25 or more; $7 for children 5-12; and free for local school, student and youth groups (18 and under; advance reservation required). Tickets may be purchased online at www.ngmuseum.org; via telephone at (202) 857-7700; or in person at the National Geographic ticket booth, 1145 17th Street M Street, N.W., between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. For more information on group sales, call (202) 857-7281 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.