Ghosts of the Whydah [Real Pirates Exhibit]

Today’s post is brought to you by our guest blogger Alice Newman. Alice is a volunteer at HMNS and a contributor to our magazine, the Dashing Diplodocus.

Photo by jjsala, on Flickr.
Taken during an HMNS Flickr meetup.
Interested in attending a future event?
Follow the discussions on the HMNS Flickr Pool.

Ghosts, witches, and devils are haunting our halls! No, they aren’t left over from Halloween, rather, they are the spooky tales that accompany the exhibit Real Pirates.

In The Narrow Land, a collection of Cape Cod folk tales, author Elizabeth Reynard relates how young Sam Bellamy met golden-haired Maria Hallett beneath a blossoming apple tree in the Wellfleet cemetery. The two became lovers, and when Sam sailed to scavenge treasure from Spanish shipwrecks off the coast of Florida, he promised to return and marry her. Unsuccessful in his quest, Sam turned to piracy, eventually commandeering the Whydah, which wrecked in a terrible storm within sight of Maria’s hut. According to legend, Maria looked desperately for Sam’s body among more than one hundred that had washed ashore. Locals say she still searches for Sam; her mournful wails can be heard echoing off the Eastham cliffs. Some believe she had been “ruined” by Sam, and, in revenge, caused the Whydah to be destroyed by selling her soul to the devil in exchange for Sam’s. Others say she was a witch, who danced and sang madly along the shore and lured the Whydah to its harrowing doom.

And what of Sam Bellamy? In the fall of 1717, the same year that the Whydah went down, a mysterious, dark-haired stranger arrived in Wellfleet. He appeared to be anxiously waiting for someone and became a regular visitor to the cemetery and tavern that Maria and Sam had frequented. Though he had no job, he was well dressed and always had ready money. He died in his sleep three years later, beneath the same apple tree where Maria and Sam had first met; a belt of gold was found around his waist.

Spirits associated with the Whydah continue to linger nearly three centuries later. Barry Clifford, discoverer of the Whydah’s remains, recounts in his book, Expedition Whydah, how the start of his 1998 exploration was plagued with constant, often inexplicable obstacles — engine problems, an undermanned crew, GPS malfunction, heavy fog, a shark encounter, and more. While their salvage vessel was positioned over the wreck site, a crew member using a hand held radio clearly heard a voice over the open receiver repeating, “We want your boat… We want your boat…” Were the pirates of the Whydah trying to protect their treasure? The treasure hunters poured most of a bottle of rum into the water over the wreck site area and shared the rest in a symbolic drink with the pirates.

Their troubles ceased, and that season turned out to be one of their most successful, with the explorers ultimately finding the ship’s wooden hull.

Photo by jjsala, on Flickr. Taken during an HMNS Flickr meetup.
Interested in attending a future event? Follow the discussions on the HMNS Flickr Pool.

Maria Hallett has not been at rest, either. During the 1998 expedition season, a shaken patron at a restaurant in Wellfleet stated that he had seen a ghost of a young, blonde woman in the restroom. He quickly left the restaurant after signing his name, Bellamy, on the credit card slip.

Have the ghosts of the Whydah escorted the artifacts of their ship to our museum? If you find yourself visiting on a late tour, you might just want to keep a pint of rum handy to steady your nerves, or to appease the ghosts of the Whydah!


Clifford, Barry and Paul Perry. Expedition Whydah. New YorkL HarperCollins 1999.
Reynard, Elizabeth. The Narrow Land, 4th ed. Chatham, MA: The Chatham Historical Society, 1978.

Yes, You Do Talk Like a Pirate!

Today’s post is written by guest blogger Pat Hazlett. Pat is one of our volunteers at HMNS, and a contributor to our magazine, the Dashing Diplodocus.

Skull and Crossbones Flag
Creative Commons License photo credit: therapycatguardian

“Avast, me hearties!”

No, you probably don’t use that expression daily, but I’ll bet there are some expressions you do use that have their origins in the pirate world.

“Let the cat out of the bag”

Apparently, this phrase originated from the cat-o-nine-tails. The cat-o-nine-tails (the cat) was a whip, made of nine cords of rope, each knotted at the end. The punished was required to make his own whip, adding to his terror about the whipping to come. The cat was kept in a canvas sack and men on whom it was used were said to have “let the cat out of the bag.” The cat was nicknamed “the Captain’s Daughter.” A line from the song “What Do You Do With a Drunken Sailor says “throw him in bed with the Captain’s Daughter.” Clearly that was a reference to pain, not pleasure!

“Armed to the teeth”

This is a reference to pirate battle tactics. Weapons of the day were not efficient, especially the single shot, black powder guns used by most Caribbean pirates. The guns could fire only one shot per powder load. Pirates did often carry multiple, loaded guns in battle, but were also prepared with other weaponry. They would carry a knife between their teeth so that they were never without a weapon at hand.

“Fifteen men on a dead man’s chest, yo ho ho and a bottle of rum?”

Finally, who among us has not belted out this chorus? Pirates referred to a coffin as a “dead chest.” This line from Robert Louis Stevenson’s pirate song is believed to refer to an incident whereby 15 pirates were marooned by their own crew on a well-known coffin shaped island in the Virgin Islands, with nothing but rum for sustenance.


Spence, David. Pirates-a Short History of the Sea-Robbers and Adventurers who Roamed Upon the World’s Oceans.  Greenwich, England: Addax Retail Publishing. 1995.

Real Pirates: Attackers, Thieves…Equal Opportunity Employers?

Though piracy is largely viewed as a masculine pastime, there have been some women who were not only able to survive but thrive in a pirate’s life.  History has recorded a number of notable cases of women pirates, though surely more have existed.

One of the earliest recorded is a Scandinavian tale of a woman pirate named Alwilda.  Legend has it that she was the daughter of a Scandinavian king in the fifth century AD.  Her father arranged a marriage between his daughter, Alwilda, and the King of Denmark’s son, Alf.  She was so opposed to this wedding that she and some of her friends dressed up as men and sailed away, later coming upon a company of pirates that had lost its captain.  Apparently her regal demeanor was enough to guarantee their loyalty, and her new company of pirates proceeded to raid throughout the Baltic Sea.  Understandably, the King of Denmark was not pleased and sent his son Alf to deal with them.  After a fierce battle, Alf and his men captured Alwilda and she was so impressed with his masculine ways that she married him and became Queen of Denmark.

The meeting of Grace O’Malley
and Queen Elizabeth I

Another early example of female piracy is the story of an Irish woman by the name of Grace O’Malley.  Grace was born to an Irish chieftain on Ireland’s west coast.  Her family, the O’Malley’s, maintained a small fleet of ships in the 1500s that were used for a variety of purposes, such as fishing, trading, and raiding.  It seems likely that she went to sea as a girl, was married by 16, and in a few years had three children.  After her husband died, Grace took over the O’Malley fleet.  As was the custom at the time, her fleet would make raids of opportunity on passing ships.  It did not matter if they belonged to far away merchants or some of the neighboring chieftains, as they were likely doing the same thing.  After a while, the raiding grew excessive and the English governor of the territory dispatched some men and ships to lay siege to her castle.   She marshaled her forces and they forced the governor’s men to flee.

Grace remarried and was widowed a second time.  This left her vulnerable to raids, as Irish custom did not allow a widow to inherit money or titles.  Thus, O’Malley was presented with two options:  to stay on the defensive and fight off would-be raiders or take the fight to them.  The latter is the path that Grace chose.  This of course caused the authorities to respond, as her raiding quickly got out of control.  The authorities impounded her entire fleet of ships, leaving her territories wide open to attack from rivals.  Fearing she had no recourse with the local government, Grace sought an audience with Queen Elizabeth, who forced the governor to grant her access to her late husband’s money so that she might live out her life in some comfort as a widow.  While this did not end the endemic raiding that was prevalent in the area, it did bring it down to a manageable level as Grace was no longer forced to be overly aggressive to her neighbors and was now a woman of some means with enough financial footing to protect her interests.

If you have an interest in stories like this one, check out my previous posts, or come visit us at the Houston Maritime Museum and see a wide variety of ships, including those used by pirates, on display.

You can also meet several more female pirates in the Real Pirates exhibition at HMNS – now open!

Yo Ho and a Bottle of Rum

Keep warm in the winter weather with a historic rum punch!  Below are several varieties of rum punch recipes and traditional pirate toasts.

The Rum Punch was sampled at “Eat, Drink and Plunder: A Pirate Feast” by festively-dressed HMNS patrons on October 31, 2010. All enjoyed a beautiful sunset aboard the tall ship Elissa docked at Galveston Island. After enjoying appetizers aboard the ship, guests dined on a menu inspired by the foods pirates enjoyed while in port at their Caribbean haunts. The event was produced by the HMNS Adult Education Department as part of the Cultural Feast series with the help of the Texas Seaport Museum, Elissa Crew, Fisherman’s Wharf restaurant and culinary historian Merrianne Timko.

A Pirate Feast! [Real Pirates]
The Tall Ship Elissa, site of the Real Pirates Feast! See the full photo set on Flickr.

Rum Punch Recipes

Admiral Vernon’s Grog (1740)
“You are hereby required and directed … that the respective daily allowance … be every day mixed with the proportion of a quart of water to a half pint of rum, to be mixed in a scuttled butt kept for that purpose, and to be done upon the deck, and in the presence of the Lieutenant of the Watch who is to take particular care to see that the men are not defrauded in having their full allowance of rum… and let those that are good husbanders receive extra lime juice and sugar that it be made more palatable to them.” Source

Sir Hans Sloane’s Description of Rum Punch (ca. 1687)
Rum, water, lime juice, sugar, and a little nutmeg scrap’d on the top.

Century Club Punch
Two parts old St. Cruz rum; one part old Jamaica rum, five parts water; lemons
and sugar ad lib.
Source: Jerry Thomas, How to Mix Drinks (1862)

Rum Punch (Eat, Drink, and Plunder – October 31, 2010)
1 oz. Myer’s Dark Jamaica Rum
½ tablespoon dark sugar syrup (made by combining and heating 1 cup of turbinado raw cane sugar and 1 cup of water until sugar dissolves, then cooling)
½ tablespoon fresh lime juice
2-3 drops Fee Brother’s West Indian Orange Bitters
Stir, and add 1 oz. of cold spring water.

Planter’s Punch
3 oz. Smith & Cross Navy-strength Jamaica Rum
1 oz. fresh lime juice  ½ oz. fresh lemon juice
½ oz. Grenadine   ¼ tsp. superfine sugar
Stir over cracked ice and strain into a Collins glass with cracked ice.
Source: – Smith & Cross

Traditional Recipe for Rum Punch
One of sour (e.g., lime juice), two of sweet (e.g., sugar syrup), three of strong (rum), and four of weak (e.g., water, gin, brandy).

Pirate Toasts
Drink battle, murder, shipwreck and hellfire
For old Friendship’s noble sake
Clear the decks for pleasant action
Let us drain a goblet, clink cannikin and toss a pot to
Here’s to a bloody shirt and the Brotherhood o’ the coast
Fair voyage and success
Take what you can.  Give nothing back
Sluice the ivories, drink deep and drink oft
Here’s to ourselves, and hold your luff, plenty of prizes and plenty of duff
Drink up, me hearties, yo ho
Fill that pretty belly with grog and that’s what makes the world spin on its poles, say, I
I know take off my glasses to
To our fortunate proceedings and good success
To our next merry meeting
Here’s luck and long life to each and all
To all my many shipmates lost at sea
Here’s to a good, hot fight …. And the best dog on top
Here’s to you and me again world and damn all I say
Here’s luck and long life to each and all

Sad you missed this one? Check our Upcoming Cultural Feasts!

Source: George Choundas, The Pirate Primer: Mastering the Language of Swashbucklers & Rogues (2007)