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Skeletal remains from the pirate ship Whydah Gally inside a mass of hardened sand and stone.

Pirate’s Crossed Bones Rise from Ghost Ship – Are They the Remains of Notorious Pirate Samuel Bellamy?

Scientists in Massachusetts will soon know if bones discovered in a pirate shipwreck belong to one of the most notorious Pirates of the Caribbean that ever sailed the seven seas - Captain Samuel “Black" Bellamy. In 2008, Forbes reported that during his time as a pirate, Bellamy amassed the equivalent of “$120 million” in today’s money.

This story unfolds like a Hollywood movie and it began in 1982 when underwater explorer Barry Clifford discovered a shipwreck 20 miles off the coast of Cape Cod. Then, in 1985 he recovered the ship's bell - “THE WHYDAH GALLY 1716” - sounding a ‘gong’ on the first authenticated pirate shipwreck ever discovered in North America.

The bell of the Whydah recovered from the wreck, inscribed, "THE WHYDAH GALLY 1716".

The bell of the Whydah recovered from the wreck, inscribed, "THE WHYDAH GALLY 1716". ( CC by SA 2.0 )

Built in England in 1715, The Whydah Gally was a 300-ton, 102-foot-long (31 m) English slave ship and was fitted with 18 cannons, but Bellamy beefed it up with 10 more. The ship could reach speeds of up to 13 knots (24 km/h; 15 mph) and under the command of Bellamy it plundered 54 ships in the Caribbean in 1716 and 1717. Historical reports detailing her inventory when she went down recorded “about four or five tons of silver and gold, indigo, Jesuit's bark, ivory and other precious trade goods.” Now, conservationists at the Whydah Pirate Museum in West Yarmouth have discovered “part of a skeleton of a crew member,” said Chris Macort, an archeologist and director of the museum’s ship exhibition, according to a report in the Boston Globe. It’s the only pirate ship found anywhere with its stolen treasure, said Macort. The report revealed that filmmaker Casey Sherman is now creating a movie about Clifford’s discovery and he is “helping the museum coordinate with forensic experts at the University of New Haven to compare DNA found in the remains with that of a known descendant of Bellamy living in England.”

Silver recovered from the wreck of the Whydah

Silver recovered from the wreck of the Whydah ( CC BY 2.0 )

Talking of this incredible piece of historical conservation work, in a statement released on Wednesday Sherman said “The Whydah site is the maritime equivalent of King Tut’s Tomb…divers continue to find Bellamy’s astounding treasure and now there’s a strong chance that we’ve located the remains of the Pirate Prince himself.”

Until the DNA results come in, no-one can be sure, but having a look at the subjective evidence it looks very much like they have their pirate!

It is known that  the “ Whydah sank in a violent nor'easter storm off Cape Cod at midnight, on April 26, 1717, taking all but two of the  Whydah's 145-man crew with her.” Reports at the time account for “103 having been washed ashore and buried” leaving 42 bodies unaccounted for. Conservationists at the Whydah Pirate Museum found several items encased in a “3,500-pound mass of hardened sand and stone -- pulled from the wreck site several years ago,” the Boston Globe reported. The items listed are “human remains, a pistol, cuff links, a belt, and other personal items.”

Model of the Whydah Galley

Model of the Whydah Galley ( CC BY 2.0 )

Now, let’s look at historical descriptions of Bellamy, the charismatic, swashbuckling pirate. A May 2015 National Geographic article described him as “always wearing a long deep-cuffed velvet black coat.” He was known to chroniclers as a “distinctive figure, a tall, strong, well-mannered and very tidy man,” and “rather than wearing the fashionable powdered wig, he grew his thick dark hair long and tied it back with a black satin bow.” (Tattersall, 2012)

We have 41 missing seamen and their captain, “a smart man, always well dressed and fashionable.” Surely it can only be, that the bones of the man twisted around "cuff links, belt and pistol” are those of the “long black coat” wearing captain.” Of course, this is speculation but Sherman told the Globe “there is strong reason to think this is Bellamy.”

Macort admits there are “years’ worth of work ahead of them, but also said “the treasure for us is really uncovering the story of the Whydah…it’s like a giant jigsaw puzzle, and in 30-odd years of working on the site, we have barely scratched the surface.” The Whydah Pirate Museum in Provincetown, Massachusetts displays many of the 200,000 artifacts so far recovered from the wreck including a “cannon found to be stuffed with precious stones, gold and artifacts.” The bones will be displayed during a Feb. 19 press conference at the museum,” Sherman said.

Top image: Skeletal remains from the pirate ship Whydah Gally inside a mass of hardened sand and stone. Credit: Whydah Pirate Museum

By Ashley Cowie

Tattersall, Jill.  "Black Sam Bellamy" British Virgin Islands Welcome . British Virgin Islands: BVI Welcome Tourist Guide. Archived from  the original  on 31 December 2012. Retrieved 20 January 2013.

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