A Ship called Whydah

Hendrick Quintor, a free black man of African and Dutch descent, was considered to be one of the most dangerous pirates of the 1700s. He served on the Whydah with distinction, but few know the story of how his legendary ship, the Whydah, and he, along with the rest of his damned crew, were destroyed.

The Whydah left on her maiden voyage in early 1716, travelling out the English Channel and into the Atlantic, where she then turned south toward Africa. Like other slave ships, she worked her way around the West African coast from modern Gambia and Senegal to Nigeria and Benin, picking up captives along the way. Eventually, she landed in Ouidah (wee-dah)—the slave port from which the Whydah had taken her name.

shutterstock_138637376In late February 1717, Whydah, now under the command of Captain Lawrence Prince, a former buccaneer under Sir Henry Morgan, was navigating the Windward Passage between Cuba and Hispaniola when it was attacked by pirates led by “Black Sam” Bellamy. At the time of Whydah ’s capture, Bellamy was in possession of two vessels: the 26-gun galley Sultana and the converted 10-gun sloop Mary Anne. After a three-day chase, Prince surrendered his ship near the Bahamas with only a desultory exchange of cannon fire.

Bellamy decided to take Whydah as his new flagship; several of its crew remained with their ship and joined the pirate gang. Pirate recruitment was most effective among the unemployed, escaped bondsmen, and transported criminals, as the high seas made for an instant leveling of class distinctions.

In a gesture of goodwill toward Captain Prince who had surrendered without a struggle—and who, in any case, may have been favorably known by reputation to the pirate crew—Bellamy gave Sultana to Prince, along with £20 in silver and gold.

The evening of April 26, 1717 was the same as any other evening—apart from the dense fog that had rolled in. An arctic gale had collided with a warm front moving up towards Canada from the Caribbean, and their confluence produced one of the worst storms ever to hit Cape Cod. As the pirate sailed through Cape Cod, the storm hit the ship with full force. The Whydah was run aground on a sandbar and the mainmast and rigging were snapped. The Whydah rolled over, and most of those on board were killed in the bitter cold of the ocean—even though the beach was only a mere 500 feet away.

Two men survived that night out of 146 who had set sail on the doomed boat.

Quintor himself was not aboard the Whydah when she sank in that night in 1717. He was captured later that year and found guilty of piracy. He was sentenced to death by hanging. His long reign of terror had ended, and the town square was filled for his hanging. As he choked on the rope, the crowd cheered.

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