If Jerathmiel Peirce and Aaron Waite had named their 342 ton East Indiaman the Revenge, the Sea Witch, or the Black Joke, her replica would be the most visited attraction in Salem today. The Friendship is the stuff of swashbucklers, a three masted, square-rigged beauty, all pepper and pirates and anchored at Derby Wharf in the heart of downtown Salem. Unfortunately, her name doesn’t exactly invoke high adventure, and visitors too often miss one of the best attractions in the Witch City.
Along with the Federal mansions flanking the common and lining Chestnut Street, the Friendship is a vivid reminder of the brief, glittering moment when Salem was the richest city, per capita, in America.
Her replica was built from a model made by her original crew and gifted to her owners, now at the Peabody Essex Museum. She sailed to Canton, Jakarta, Indonesia, Madras, Venezuela, London, and Russia, among other places, before being captured by the British during the War of 1812.
It would be nice if the National Park or the City did more to sell her for what she was and is: a ticket to adventure. Sailing in the 18th century was deadly dangerous, high risk and high reward. New England seaman traveled the world, many of them visiting more distant countries than any of us are likely to today. Some of them died far from home at the hand of pirates or foreign powers or in the grip of disease. And some of them made fortunes overnight.
But there’s only so much you can do with a name like the Friendship, and in a town rife with sensationalized history, a little creative license would go a long way.
Like most National Park properties, the Friendship is usually guided tour only except for special hours, and you’ve got to sign up in advance at the visitor center. It’s worth the minor inconvenience. Drop in to the NPS shack on Derby Street, pick up one of their excellent Salem Maritime brochures, then cool your heels at Jaho Coffee until tour time.
During the off-season, you’re sure to get an experienced, entertaining guide. During tourist season, NPS rangers are often pulled in from other less popular regional sites, and might not be able to offer the same level of detail. Try to get a Salem park guide if you can, but if you can’t, take the tour anyway. Twenty minutes aboard the Friendship and you’ll want to sign aboard and venture “to the furthest port of the rich east.”