Courtesy of Shaquille Brissett and GainesvilleCoins.com ……….
Beneath the waters of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, the sea floor is laden with gold, like the streets of heaven, only a bit more macabre. An estimated 400,000 silver and gold coins are submerged within its black waters. Meanwhile, tools, jewelry, weapons and a young boy’s leg are strewn about the remnants of a mangled wooden carcass. This is the site of the only authenticated pirate shipwreck to date. It is a site ripe with legend and intrigue. Because within the murky waters rests the body of the Whydah.
The tale of the Whydah begins in the Atlantic trade triangle where the slave ship set sail on its maiden voyage, traveling the Windward passage, a strait in the Caribbean sea between Cuba and Hispaniola. The ship was being led by Captain Lawrence Prince, a former privateer under the infamous Captain Morgan. Upon the third leg of its journey, its occupants noticed two predatorial vessels speeding through its wake. One can only imagine the faces of the men aboard the ship as reminiscent of the central of figure in Edvard Munch’s The Scream and fraught with terror. The ship was subsequently conquered by two vessels, the Sultana and the Mary Ann. Amidst the oceanic mist and chaos, a man known as Black Sam made his entrance.
According to reports, Samuel “Black Sam” Bellamy was born in Devonshire, England in 1689. Samuel was the youngest of Stephen and Elizabeth Bellamy’s six children. And unfortunately, Elizabeth died giving birth to him. She was buried a few weeks before the boy’s baptism. At age 13, during the War of Spanish Succession, the impoverished Bellamy became a ship’s boy. Bellamy eventually transitioned to England’s Royal Navy, where he purportedly gained a great deal of combat experience. Upon being endowed with the requisite fortitude needed for any true adventurer, Bellamy’s travels brought him to Massachusetts. It is in Eastham, Massachusetts where he meets Maria Hallett, a woman whose entangling influence will provoke his rise and fall.
Bellamy regaled the blue-eyed woman with tales of his childhood, war and seafaring adventures. The two fell in love. However, Hallett’s well-to-do parents did not approve of her marrying the then-poor and struggling sailor. Having been enthralled by the young woman, Bellamy had no choice but to rectify this.
With the aid of friend Palgrave Williams, Bellamy turned treasure hunter, sailing the seven seas in hopes of finding shipwrecks. In 1715, news of a sunken Spanish treasure fleet had made its way to the two men. The fleet had been destroyed in a hurricane, leaving millions of dollars in gold lying on the sun drenched coast of Florida. Treasure hunters from all across the globe met in Florida to excavate the riches. However, claiming this treasure proved more arduous than they had hoped. Much of the ship and its contents lay too far submerged to be easily accessed. And with the barrel of a gun pressed to their heads, many slaves were coerced into swimming to these perilous depths to salvage the treasure. The slaves died of decompression sickness and drowning, while others were sent in their place. On land, competition between the treasure hunters escalated. Many of these individuals assimilated into opposing factions, and upon the arrival of the Spanish military, tensions reached a boiling point. Fist fights evolved into full-on battles. A clamor of gunfire, virulent war cries and desperate screams emanated from the picturesque beach, as spills of blood sullied its ivory sands. The turbulent landscape afforded Bellamy no fortune and he reluctantly rescinded his efforts and left the beach. Rather than return to his beloved, Hallett, empty-handed, a stubborn Bellamy and a band of disenfranchised men turned to piracy.
Throughout his campaign, Bellamy espoused his hatred of the exploitative merchant system of his day. Bellamy believed merchants used the veil of law to rob the poor, and he intended to use unlawful means to return the favor. It is no wonder why he was dubbed the “Robin Hood of the Sea.” One of the wreck’s two survivors, Thomas Davis, said that spoils were equally distributed amongst “Robin Hood’s men,” Bellamy’s multicultural crew comprised of former African slaves, English men and other ethnicities. Bellamy made sure his egalitarian ethos was not limited to his crew. Each and every person taken captive by Bellamy was spared their life. Captives were either released or afforded the opportunity to join his crew. The merciful captain was also known to relinquish captured ships and cargo loads to their owners if he discovered he did not need them. The Sultana, for example, was given to the former Captain of the Whydah as compensation. Nevertheless, Bellamy’s name echoed about the seas like the siren’s song whilst sailors wallowed in fear. The strategic implementation of both the Whydah, which possessed an array of 28 cannons and surprising speed for its size, and the incredibly swift Mary Ann, allowed Bellamy to muscle all passersby out of their riches.
Bellamy’s entire piracy career spanned little more than a year. However, during this time, he and his crew looted over 50 ships. Bellamy amassed a fortune equivalent to 129 million dollars in today’s money, making him the wealthiest pirate to ever live. Unfortunately, Bellamy never got the opportunity to share his newfound wealth with his love.
According to legend, it was a fateful April morn on which the 28-year-old Black Sam sailed to reunite with his beloved Maria Hallett. While traversing Cape Cod’s choppy waters, Bellamy’s fleet, which now contained the Whydah and three other captured ships, was scattered about the seas by a powerful Nor’easter.
Surely, only an angered god could have been responsible for commissioning the tumultuous flurry of wind and rain that rocked the 100-foot ship. Dark clouds swallowed the skies in a show of disgusting gluttony while monstrous waves pounced onto the ship’s deck. The ship’s crew experienced maddening disorientation as the ship was tossed about the swirling seas. An apex of terror was reached when the vessel was sent careening into a sandbar. Upon impact, the ship’s bow and stern were mercilessly ripped apart.
The souls of over 100 pirates, “Black Sam” Bellamy among them, were buoyed about the agonizing skies as their lifeless bodies floated amongst the wreckage of the Whydah.
Want more pirate stories? Visit the Whydah Pirate Museum, located at the end of Macmillan Pier across from the ferry terminal in Provincetown, Massachusetts.