Roskilde, Denmark - Roskilde Ship Museum; West Yarmouth, MA - Whydah Pirate Museum and Whydah Gally
Whydah Pirate Museum is in Yarmouth, Massachusetts. The wreck of the Whydah Gally is approximately fifteen-hundred feet off Marconi Beach in Cap Cod, with most of its wreckage submerged in sand. Originally built in 1715 as a transport ship for slaves, the Whydah Gally sat at one-hundred feet in length and weighed over three-hundred tons. During its first and only voyage as a slave transport ship, it was taken by pirate captain Sam “Black” Bellamy after a three-day chase. By the time Bellamy’s fleet reached New England after taking over the Whydah, he and his crew had plundered over fifty separate vessels. On the night of April 26, 1717, a nor’easter struck the Whydah, running the ship aground on a sandbar. Many of the pieces recovered from the wreck are on display in the Whydah Pirate Museum, which currently houses a full-size replica of the ship. Since the wreck’s discovery by an underwater explorer named Barry Clifford, over two-hundred-thousand pieces have been recovered by Clifford’s team according to Ian Aldrich of New England Today. The wreck of the Whydah is one of the only golden-age pirate wrecks with undoubted conformation thanks to the discovery of a plaque and bell with the ship’s name on both, which makes it a cultural symbol of the late golden-age of pirating. Not only is it one of the only identified golden-age pirate wrecks with two pieces of proof confirming the ship’s identity, but it also remains in the New England area, making it a valuable symbol of pirating and pirate culture during the early 18th century. Pirating and pirates have a long-standing history in the seafaring world. Traversing oceans and battling the elements can be just as deadly as the pirating and raiding, and the 18th-century pirate lifestyle owes a great deal to that of their Viking metaphorical ancestors.
Vikings are synonymous with pirating, looting, raiding, and seafaring travel. Some would consider Vikings to be some of the best sea navigators of their day, and with good reason. Being a Viking was a job, and that job involved pirating. If a Viking wasn’t an excellent navigator, fighter, or plunderer of goods, the Viking wasn’t good at their job.
Egil’s Saga follows the story and lives of the clan Egil Skallagrimsson, who holds the titles of farmer, skald, and Viking. The saga spans multiple generations and goes through the family’s history from Egil’s grandfather to Egil’s offspring. Like the pirates aboard the Whydah, Vikings plundered for loot across the seas. While pirates primarily overtook ships, and preferred not to fight and risk losing the enemy’s ship and the cargo it held, Vikings primarily raided along coastal waters and, as a result, didn’t have the heavy economical restrictions as golden-age pirates. As The Sagas of the Icelanders edited by Jane Smiley notes, the Viking’s “[f]irst notable attack on England came, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, in 793, when the church on the island of Lindisfarne was plundered and some people were slain.” While being a Viking was a job and title, piracy in the golden-age of pirates was more akin to a way of life. Vikings could go back home to their family in Iceland or Norway, but pirates didn’t typically have national allies, which made going to any kind of home much more difficult.
The image chosen to go with Egil’s Saga and subsequently the Whydah Pirate Museum and Whydah shipwreck is the image of a Viking longboat at the Roskilde Ship Museum in Denmark. Both Vikings and the more modern, golden-age pirate used ships as their primary method of travel, which makes this image serve as a reminder not only of the seafaring ways of pirates and Vikings, but the possible dangers of sea travel during the period. This is an excellent image of a piece of Viking cultural history and, in part, the pseudo ancestors to the golden-age pirates of the 17th and 18th century.
"Egils Saga." The Sagas of Icelanders: A Selection. Edited by Jane Smiley, and Robert Leland Kellogg. Translated by Bernard Scudder. Kindle ed., Penguin. 2005.
“Real Pirates.” Field Museum, 2009, archive.fieldmuseum.org/pirates/index.html.
Webster, Donovan. “Pirates of the Whydah.” National Geographic, 1999, www.nationalgeographic.com/whydah/story.html.
Allison St. Peter, Student, Fitchburg State University
Accessible Description of Image(s)
Description by: Michael Brito, Student, Fitchburg State University