We took our four kiddos to a truly amazing exhibit about the pirate ship Whydah. My youngest son, who is seven, awoke this morning, dressed himself in his pirate costume (a bit small – it was Halloween from two years ago) and fed himself, all before the rest of us even knew the sun was up. He woke his oldest sister, face painting kit in hand, asking her to paint a mustache, beard and gold earring on him – “quick, ‘cause we’re leaving any minute!”
The exhibit exceeded every expectation. We tied knots, walked through a life size model of the ship, raised the pirate flag, looked at real cannon and REAL pirate treasure, last touched by REAL pirates, whose names we now knew. There were costumed interpreters as well: a period pirate with attitude and a proper Boston matron. After talking with them about Boston in 1717 the matron asked my sons about where they lived. The boys then spent a full fifteen minutes trying to explain the wonders of modern technology to the matron. My ten-year-old son tried explaining electricity:
“It’s like lightning, traveling along wires. And we hold the wires up in the air on big wooden poles.”
“Heavens above!” cried the Matron, “That sounds terribly dangerous!”
My seven year old walked away shaking his head in wonder, “I guess they really didn’t have cars or electricity back then,” he said.
There was a healthy dose of serious history as well. The Whydah had left Britain as a merchant marine with money and goods used to buy slaves in Africa. From Africa it went to the Caribbean to trade slaves for sugar and tobacco. Then back to Britain to sell the new world goods and start the circle all over again. But then pirates captured her! We found that pirate ships were run as a democracy, albeit a violent one, with men of all colors and cultures elected to positions of authority by their peers. British navel vessels at the time were strictly hierarchical based on class; the lower classes usually treated like dirt.
We got to the room where we saw the ship capsize in a fateful storm and sink to its 300-year resting place. My seven year old sat next to me on a bench. The light was blue, dim and flickering; we might well have been sitting quietly at the bottom of the sea.
“Mom,” he said, “I think that the pirates actually got all their money from stealing.”
“Yup,” I answered.
“Stealing is not a very good thing to do.”
“You’re right,” I said.
“But the other guys were selling people to be slaves.”
“Yup,” I answered again.
“That’s not a very good thing to do either.”
“You’re certainly right about that,” I said.
He sat silently for a minute, then turned and looked at me. His face was so solemn I felt my heart twinge.
“Mom, now I’m not sure who were the good guys.”