Brass nameplate may be clue there’s more treasure on wreck of pirate ship Whydah

The brass nameplate
The brass nameplateCredit: Center for Historic Shipwrecks

After discovering a small brass nameplate, the team that found an unparalleled bounty of pirate riches submerged off Cape Cod with the ship Whydah three decades ago believes more treasure may be found.

In 1984, Barry Clifford and his diving team discovered the three-masted ship that had been captured by the infamous pirate captain Sam Bellamy off the coast of Wellfleet. The latest discovery is a nameplate bearing the words “Whydah Gally 1713,” which Clifford believes may have been attached to the top of a treasure chest.

“We think we’re very close to the motherlode,” Clifford said. “We still haven’t excavated underneath that area yet. ... So, of course, we’re going back to that area after finding the top of a treasure chest.”

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The ship Clifford discovered in 1984 was built in 1716 for the slaver captain Lawrence Prince and was captured by Bellamy in 1717. But records show that Prince had an earlier ship, also named Whydah, built in 1713, Clifford said.

After seeing the nameplate and the date on it, the team’s historian postulated that it may have been attached to a chest brought from the first Whydah to the second Whydah, possibly by Captain Prince himself.

That would make the nameplate, discovered earlier this month, the first artifact ever recovered from the first Whydah, wherever it now lies, Clifford noted.

The nameplate was found in a heavy concretion — a fused mass of artifacts and sediment — that also contained a large anchor.

The concretion containing the nameplate and anchor was discovered beneath another large concretion, of cannons, Clifford said. That, Clifford said, is another clue that treasure may be in the vicinity.

According to testimony from pirate crewmembers who were captured after the second Whydah sank during a 1717 nor’easter, the vast majority of the crew’s hoard of coins and other valuables was held in decks below a group of captured cannons. Clifford thinks there may be more treasure at hand — and he’s determined to find it.

“What we have here is very much like having the only tyrannosaurus rex,” he said. “It’s the only authentic pirate treasure in the world.”

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