Samuel Bellamy and the Treasure of Whydah
Samuel Bellamy was one of the most famous pirates of the Caribbean Sea. He was also lucky to finish his life on the sea on the ship which carried the greatest treasure discovered by the pirate.
Starting a Search for Treasure
Samuel Bellamy was born in 1689 in Devonshire, England. Most of the information about his early life has been lost through the time. It's known that in his late teens, he joined the British navy and fought in several battles. He was married, but he left his wife with a child and sailed to the coast of Florida to look for sunken Spanish treasure.
While traveling, he stopped at Eastham Harbor, Massachusetts and met 15-year-old Maria Hallett who became his lover. Her parents liked Samuel, but the sailor wasn't good enough for their daughter. Nonetheless, Maria gave birth to his child, who died a few days after. Bellamy, with his friend Paulsgrave Williams, who was a sponsor of this new treasure hunt expedition, left to search for a Spanish treasure.
After many months with no success, they decided to join Captain Benjamin Hornigold's pirate crew. Benjamin Harnigold was famous for his codex about attacking only French and Spanish ships and his generosity to prisoners, however in June 1716 the crew decided to attack an English ship against the Captain's opinion. They then revolted against him.
Due to the crew's decision, Samuel Bellamy became the new Captain and Paulsgrave Williams became a Quartermaster. During just one year, they robbed more than fifty ships in the Atlantic and the Caribbean area.
Bellamy and Others Pirates, Exhibit Picture (dreampunk)
As a Captain Samuel became known as a Black Bellamy. History remembers him as a tall, strong, well-mannered and very tidy man. His flagship was the Sultana, famous for its many powerful cannons. Bellamy had one more ship – the Mary Anne – which was very fast and had good balance. Due to his talents as a good strategist, they managed to capture more ships without damaging them.
Apart from being known as ‘the scary wolf of the Atlantic,’ Bellamy was also famous for his attention to expensive clothes, especially black coats. He always carried his favorite weapons in his sash - four dueling pistols. As a Captain he was almost democratic and the crew liked to call him “Pirate Robin Hood.”
The Cursed Whydah
In February 1717, Bellamy's crew managed to capture the English slave ship Whydah Galley (commonly known as Whydah). The ship was on the way to Jamaica, packed with gold, silver, ivory and indigo. It was the greatest treasure Bellamy could imagine, so he decided to keep the Whydah for himself, and gave the Sultana to the crew of Whydah.
The Whydah was commissioned in 1715 in London. It belonged to Sir Humphrey Morice, a member of the British Parliament. It was a square-rigged three-masted galley ship. It measured 34 m (111.5 feet) in length, with a tonnage rating of 300 tons, and could travel at speeds up to 13 knots (24 km/h). The name of the ship came from the West African slave trading kingdom of Ouidah.
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Model of the Whydah Galley (CC BY 2.0)
The Whydah was designed as a slave ship, and represented the latest technology of the day. It was equipped with the most modern weapons and had a three-masted sailing ring. The lower decks could hold more captives and had large galleys with provisions to feed them. There were not too many ships like this -not only on Caribbean Sea, but also all over the world.
Bellamy was very lucky with his actions until April 1717 when the weather turned into a violent storm, which forced the vessel dangerously close to the shoals of Cape Cod, USA. At midnight the ship hit a sandbar in 5 m (16.4 ft) of water about 152 m (498.7 ft) from the coast of Marconi Beach. The cannon, which was Bellamy's glory, ripped through the overturned decks of the ship and quickly broke it apart, scattering parts of the ship over the length of the coast.
In the morning Mary Ann had been sunk too. According to surviving members of the crew – two from Whydah and seven from Mary Anne – at the time of sinking Whydah carried five tons of gold, gold dust, silver, jewelry and other treasures.
The location of the wrecked Whydah Galley in Cape Cod (Public Domain)
Black Bellamy didn't survive the storm. Most of the survivors were sentenced to death by hanging. Two carpenters were acquitted of all charges and spared the gallows. The 16-year-old Indian navigator, whose name was Miskito (Bellamy called him John Julian) was sold into slavery.
A New Chapter of the Whydah's Story
Sam Bellamy and his crew became famous again after the announcement by a team of researchers who discovered the wreckage of his flagship Whydah in July 1984. It was the first authenticated pirate shipwreck ever discovered in North America. The Whydah was also the largest pirate prize ever captured in the area. The treasure in its hold amassed roughly 4.5 to 5 tons, including huge quantities of indigo, ivory, gold, and 20,000 to 30,000 pounds sterling.
The vessel was first discovered in 1982 by a diving crew led and funded by underwater explorer Barry Clifford. When it was found, it was under 4.3 m (14.1 ft) of water and 1.5 m (4.9 ft) of sand. Archeologists discovered about 200, 000 artifacts, including the famed cannons, gold, precious stones, jewelry, and other artifacts. The most common items discovered in the wreck were bits of bird shot and musket balls, designed to clear decks of defenders.
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Silver recovered from the wreck of the Whydah (CC BY 2.0)
Clifford's team also discovered many pieces of pirates' weapons, clothing, gear, and other artifacts which belonged to pirates like metal buttons, cuff links, collar stays, rings, neck chains, and square belt buckles. Additionally, underwater archeologists discovered and identified the partial remains of the youngest known pirate. His name was John King and he was just 9 years old. He was the owner of the small shoe, silk stocking and a short leg bone found in the sand. John had been taken from the ship attacked by Bellamy. He was sailing with his mother in 1716 as a passenger from Jamaica to Antigua - the pirates didn't force him to join the crew.
In 1985, Clifford recovered the ship's bell upon which were the words "THE WHYDAH GALLEY 1716". Having so many artifacts to exhibit, he founded The Whydah Pirate Museum on MacMillan Wharf in Provincetown, Massachusetts. This museum is fully dedicated to Samuel Bellamy and the Whydah and houses thousands of artifacts which were brought from the actual wreck.
The bell, inscribed, "THE WHYDAH GALLEY 1716" (CC BY 2.0)
Featured image: Pirate Bellamy sailing in search of treasure (The Richest)
Woodard, Colin. The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down. 2007
Snow, Edward R. Great Storms and Famous Shipwrecks of the New England Coast. 1946
Konstam, Angus. The Pirate Ship 1660-1730. 2003.
Konstam, Angus. The World Atlas of Pirates. 2009