Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Meltingpot on the High Seas

I recently had a chance to check out the new Pirates Exhibit at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. The point was to take my seven-year-old son for his birthday, but I think the Spaniard and I got way more out of the excursion than the kid.

This particular exhibit is about a slave ship that was attacked by pirates. Two months later the ship sank off the coast of Cape Cod. Two hundred years later, an American explorer dug the ship up off the ocean floor and it is now on display.

Besides the fact that the exhibit was really well done, with a recreated pirate ship, real treasure to touch and an opening movie with great special effects, I learned so much! Did you know Black men fleeing slavery were welcomed aboard pirate ships as long as they swore an oath of loyalty? And it wasn't just one or two token Black pirates. Their numbers were in the double digits on just about every pirate ship in the 18th century. In fact, it was rare to find a pirate ship that wasn't sporting the diversity flag. Native Americans were also well represented on board.

Apparently the pirate ships were the first examples of a real democracy, where everybody was equal despite the color of their skin. This point was heavily emphasized throughout the exhibit. Against the backdrop of American slavery and virulent racism, the pirate ship suddenly sounds like a floating miracle. But really, it just goes to show once again that America has always been a functioning Meltingpot. The historians just don't want to write about it that way.

The Pirates exhibit will be at the Franklin Institute through November. For those of you who don't live in Philly but want to learn more about this mostly untold aspect of piracy, check out the website here.

Peace and a Bottle o' Rum!

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