When the pirate ship Whydah broke up in a fierce storm off Cape Cod in 1717, it sank carrying the plunder from 54 ships it had seized over the last year. Of the 146 men aboard, 144 died.
For years the story of those pirates lay buried with the wreck and its treasure under 30 feet of sand—a tale of violent men who nonetheless built for themselves a mini-society that shed racial prejudice and operated on democratic principles.
A traveling exhibit opening Friday at the Field Museum uses artifacts salvaged from the Whydah—the first and only verified pirate shipwreck ever located and recovered—to shed light on the lives of these men. Objects on display include weapons, jewelry, gold and silver coins and ingots as well as clothing, everyday utensils and tools.
Named for a slave port in Africa, the Whydah (wee-dah) represented the best available maritime technology when it was built in England in 1715—a swift, powerfully armed ship designed to transport slaves to the New World.