WEST YARMOUTH, Mass. — Barry Clifford stood behind a desk amid a few freshwater fish tanks. In each was an orange-colored mass, which drew the curious stares of small children and some adults. In front of him was another one of these masses.

To his right was an X-ray screen, and to his left were what looked like dental tools laid out on a small towel. These masses are concretions, a combination of rock, sand, clay and anything else that is close to metal as it starts to deteriorate in salt water. The concretion in front of Clifford was expected to contain dozens of coins that were once aboard the pirate ship Whydah, the former slave ship that wrecked off the coast of Wellfleet in 1717.

Clifford, 71, has made his living exploring and recovering shipwrecks like the Whydah, and, for the past 10 years, has taken an exhibit of his findings on tour. On June 26, Clifford unveiled his 7,000-square-foot Whydah Pirate Museum off Route 28 in West Yarmouth.

Even on a perfect beach day, people steadily streamed into the museum that used to be the ZooQuarium. Clifford said he put about $2 million into the property and fit the 20,000-square-foot traveling exhibit into its new home.

Around the corner from where Clifford was working, was the beginning of the exhibit – the bell of the Whydah. Black Sam Bellamy was the young captain of the ship and was considered the Robin Hood of the pirate world. Bellamy plundered more than 50 ships aboard the Whydah and became known as the richest pirate in history.

The wealth and multinational arsenal the Whydah accumulated sank long ago in the sand off the coast of Wellfleet. Only two crew members survived the storm that destroyed the ship. The concretion on display Saturday is one of the pieces found farther away from the wreckage, an area Clifford says he plans to search later this summer.


The new museum holds only a fraction of the treasure found by Clifford and his team of divers. Most of it is stored at his laboratory in Brewster.

“We have thousands and thousands of artifacts in Brewster,” Clifford said. “We have enough to keep busy for the next 50 years.”

Near the scale model of the Whydah was an exhibit of pirates enjoying themselves in Captain Black Frog’s Tavern. In front of the exhibit stood Trish Chamberland, her husband, Wayne Woodard, and their 7-year-old son, Steven Woodard, who were visiting from Great Barrington.

“He likes pirates a lot,” Woodard said of his son, adding that the boy liked the new museum better than the former ZooQuarium.

As her grandfather greeted friends and family who were entering the museum, 7-year-old Tallulah Clifford was at work on the concretion her grandfather was showing off earlier in the day. Donning a pirate’s cap and a fake pistol, she was whittling away with a toothbrush and another tool and came across a silver coin.

It was her first-ever find, said her father, Brandon Clifford. Just as he grew up with the recovery of the Whydah, his daughter is now growing up with the museum, Brandon Clifford said.


“He went to work on it when I was 4,” said Brandon of his father. Brandon is now a field archaeologist and splits his time between Provincetown and Colorado.

In the coming years, the museum will continue to expand, with a pirate village planned behind the building, and a new discovery center where people can watch more artifacts as they are recovered. Spaces that used to house tanks in the building’s aquarium days will be used to preserve larger finds like the concretion of seven cannons Clifford recovered recently.

Although he could have made a bigger splash with the museum in a major city, Barry Clifford said he felt it needed to be on Cape Cod.

“It’s the essence of Cape Cod,” he said.

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