GALVESTON — It’s about to become a little easier to find pirate booty on Galveston Island. You just need to buy a ticket to Moody Gardens.

On Saturday, Moody Gardens will open a new exhibit featuring treasure and artifacts removed from the Whydah Gally, a 18th century ship that sank in a storm off the coast of Cape Cod, Mass., in 1717.

The Whydah, which in its time also served as a slave ship, was found in 1984. To this day, archeologists are recovering artifacts from a part of America’s colonial history that is still not largely known.

“This is the only pirate shipwreck that’s ever been discovered,” said Chris McCort, a pirate historian and expedition specialist and member of Expedition Whydah, the group that discovered and excavated the ship. “This is the only place you’re going to see real pirate artifacts, real pirate treasure, the real deal. It’s kind of like we have the only Tyrannosaurus Rex in the world, and we have it right now.”

The Real Pirates exhibit features more than 150 artifacts recovered from the Whydah site, including cannons, coins (including honest-to-goodness pieces of eight) and jewelry. The exhibit also aims to teach visitors about what life was like aboard a pirate ship. The exhibit highlights the life of some of Whydah’s crew members, particularly the captain, Samuel “Black Sam” Bellamy.

McCort said despite his criminal actions — Bellamy was known to capture ships and add them to his pirate fleet — Bellamy ships were actually models of popular government.

“A pirate ship was a floating democracy,” McCort said. 

“That’s one of the things that really bothered the people back in London and Parliament. They didn’t want people voting.”

Piracy, in addition to being a way for lower class men to earn more money, was also a kind of counterculture movement in its day. The flamboyant dress that some pirates are known for — think Jack Sparrow — was a way to disrespect the aristocracy.

Despite its fame as a pirate wreck, neither Bellamy nor the Whydah were actually pirates for long. His career lasted for about a year, and the ship was sunk by a storm four months after it was captured.

Recovering the Whydah was no easy task. After going untouched for more than 200 years, the ship was found 150 feet off the shore of the cape, buried under 20 feet of sand. The team excavating the site, which covers a square mile, has to use specialized equipment to clear the sand and to get to the artifacts under the water.

“There’s so much stuff,” McCort. “We keep finding more and more artifacts.”

The exhibit, produced by The National Geographic Society, features traditional museum displays as well as movies and interactive exhibits to tell its story. As part of the exhibitions, Moody Gardens will hold a series of special events over the summer.

The Real Pirates exhibition will be in place at Moody Gardens’ Discovery Pyramid through September. Tickets start at $9.95. They can be bought individually or as part of a Moody Gardens day pass. 


Contact reporter John Wayne Ferguson at 409-683-5226 or

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