FREEPORT — The Freeport Historical Society is teaming up with the Portland Science Center to tell the story of pirating – both illegal and legal.
The science center in May opened National Geographic’s exhibit “Real Pirates” at 68 Commercial St.
“It tells the story of real pirates,” sales and marketing director Matt Stone said. “Not the one you find in Disney movies.”
“Real Pirates” consists of artifacts held on a pirate ship know as Whydah, which sank off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, about 300 years ago. According to Stone, its remains were found about 33 years ago by underwater archaeological explorer Barry Clifford and John F. Kennedy Jr.
The public can walk amid chests of gold and silver coins, cannons, and other artifacts. But Stone said that something was missing: a full-length sword.
That’s where the Freeport Historical Society comes in.
For the first time, the society is loaning an artifact, which will be displayed at the science center for the remainder of the exhibit’s run.
According to Stone, Whydah carried treasure from more than 50 ships its crew had captured. About five tons of “prized booty” has been recovered so far, with more still being brought up.
The society’s artifact is a cutlass recovered from a vessel named Dash, which sailed during the War of 1812.
Dash was built at Porters Landing in Freeport in 1812 by master builder James Brewer for Seward, Samuel and William Porter. The Porters were all born and raised at Porters Landing and were part of a family that included 12 brothers.
Weighing about five pounds, the iron cutlass is engraved with a Royal British symbol just above the sword’s guard.
Holly Hurd, collections manager and curator at the historical society, said the cutlass is “invaluable.”
A unique aspect of the War of 1812 was the government licensing of private armed vessels to find and seize pirate ships – known as “privateering.”
“(Pirating and privateering) are essentially the same thing,” Stone said. “Only one is legal and one is not.”
The cutlass is thought to have been taken as “prize booty” from a ship called Thinks I To Myself, an American ship out of Castine that was captured by the British.
Some of Dash’s gun ports were painted black to make enemies think the ship was more heavily armed than it actually was. Consequently, Thinks I To Myself quickly surrendered.
Dash’s first commander was a privateer named George Bacon, and at least part of her crew was from Freeport. Later commanded by John Porter, Dash seized a total of 15 prize vessels without injury to a single crew member.
According to Hurd, Dash was known as one of the most successful privateering ships of the War of 1812.
The historical society also cares for and displays a “hawk’s nest half-hull model,” which was used as a model when the Porters built Dash.
These treasures were handed down from Capt. Joseph Porter to his great-great-grandson Philip Means and are on long-term loan to the society.
Stone and Hurd hope to add the cutlass on Sept. 7 to represent the history of “legal pirating.”
Stone said the science center hasn’t released an exact date yet, but “Real Pirates” will be closing this fall. Both he and Hurd hope their collaboration will continue.
“They’re all about preserving history and educating people, which is what we aim for as well,” Stone said. “It works perfectly for both of us.”
Holly Hurd, Freeport Historical Society collections manager and curator, holds a cutlass recovered from a 1812 privateering vessel. It will be loaned to the Portland Science Center and displayed as part of the center’s “Real Pirates” exhibit.