last voyage of the Whydah
July 11, 2011
Kitty’s Big Trouble debuted on the NYT mass market bestseller list at #15. Very nice news for the weekend, no? Thanks to everyone who rushed out and picked it up.
In a bit of fortuitous timing, about the time that my pirate book, Steel, came out, a National Geographic-sponsored special exhibit arrived at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science: Real Pirates of the Caribbean. At the center of the exhibit are artifacts recovered from the wreck of the Whydah. Since I actually mentioned the Whydah and her captain, Sam Bellamy, in Steel, I was pretty anxious to see the exhibit. Which I have now done.
I had kind of a spooky moment: the first artifact in the exhibit is the ship’s bell — stamped with the ship’s name and used to positively identify the wreck. It’s suspended in a tank of water, to help preserve it (exposing it to air at this point would cause it to disintegrate). So it’s shrouded, eerie, the water seems to glow in the light. And I thought — people I wrote about touched this thing. Now, I’ve written about lots of historical figures and seen their things before. But nothing has ever reached out of the past at me quite like this bell did.
The exhibit was really, really good, using the artifacts to illustrate what pirate life was really like. There’s a chest full of real doubloons, cannon, pistols and sword handles. But there’s also tea pots and plates, shoe buckles and carpenter tools. Discussion of where pirates came from, and why they became pirates. All my research for Steel spread out before me, and I really wish I’d been able to see all this before I wrote the book.
Another thing I really appreciated: the Whydah was a slave ship that Bellamy and crew captured, and a big chunk of the exhibit was devoted to discussing slavery, the triangle trade, and the middle passage. When I started researching Caribbean pirates, it took about thirty seconds to realize that the “Golden Age” of piracy could not have happened without the institution of slavery in the Caribbean. The great wealth coming out of the region, that the pirates preyed on, was generated on the cheap labor provided by slaves. It’s an easy thing to gloss over in favor of the more romantic and adventurous images of piracy. But I’d rather it not be.
The exhibit runs until August 21, so if you find yourself in Denver looking for something to do, I recommend it.