"...they spread a large black flag, with a Death's Head and Bones across, and gave chase to Cap't. Prince under the same colors." – Thom. Baker (Bellamy's crew)
A piratical romance, as imagined by the American
author and illustrator |
Howard Pyle in his “Book of Pirates”, posthumously published in 1921
When the War of the Spanish Succession, or Queen Anne’s War, as it was called in the Americas, was over in 1713, the “Golden Age of Piracy” dawned upon a lot of privateers in the employ of the local governors. Having profited from raiding enemy shipping for more than 10 years, privateersmen, captains, mates and their crews, became suddenly very unemployed while the French, Dutch and English authorities, hardly better than robber barons themselves during the war, were made to toe the line by their governments. Royal Navy crews didn’t fare much better when the fleet was reduced to peace-time size and thus, young Samuel Bellamy from Hittisleigh in Devon, formerly of the RN, found himself on the beach in the Royal Province of Massachusetts Bay, in Eastham on Cape Cod, to be more precise. Young Sam had plans, though, of becoming a famous pirate captain. And of getting Maria Hallett between the sheets and being a smart, charismatic lad with a pirate-like West Country accent, he succeeded with both. Of course, he promised Mary Hallett to return when he left for the West Indies to sail with the infamous Captain Benjamin Hornigold, but he took his time. Admittedly, Sam had to win over the crew and assume command of Hornigold’s ship “Marianne” as next step on the piratical career ladder and indeed, in the summer of 1716 he did that and soon became known as Captain “Black Sam”, not for his foul deeds but for his refusal to wear a white-powdered wig over his long black hair. In fact, “Black Sam” Bellamy was one of the more prudent pirate captains, capturing more than 50 vessels in a year, showing considerable skill in naval warfare and seamanship, displaying mercy and generosity towards his victims, fairness in distribution of the plunder and leading within almost democratic structures aboard his ships. In all modesty he called himself the “Robin Hood of the Sea” and his crews were obviously content to play Robin Hood’s merry men. His greatest success though was the capture of the English slaver “Wydah Gally”. Her master, the Dutchman Laurens Prins, a former buccaneer himself and one of the leaders of Henry Morgan’s men during the sack of Panama in 1671, had successfully sold his African captives in Cuba, the “Wydah” was laden with gold and valuables and bound for England when “Black Sam” sighted her in the Windward Passage between Cuba and Hispaniola, obviously well informed about the treasures she had laden as well as about her course. Prins surrendered after a three-day chase, “Black Sam” made the “Wydah” his new flagship and sailed his small fleet of now three ships north towards Cape Cod to claim his Mary Hallett. Or so the story goes.
|A beached pirate, again from Pyles’s “Book of Pirates”|
There is an old sailor song, giving the advice to young ladies to “never let a sailor lad an inch above your knee”. Mary Hallett didn’t quite pay heed to it and found herself left with a boy to dangle on her knee. Quite a slip in local Puritan society, famously. Mary spent a few weeks in jail even though she was absolutely willing to name the father of her child, “Black Sam” Bellamy, the pirate captain. After her release, she was seen wandering the dunes of Cape Cod, muttering curses on “Black Sam’s” head into the wind. In the late April of 1717 then, the “Wydah” and her companions were headed for Provincetown Harbor when she sailed into a fog bank off Chatham and then the wind turned into a violent nor’easter. Around midnight of 26 April, the “Wydah” struck a sandbar, her masts snapped and the storm battered her to pieces. According to the few survivors, the pirate ship was laden with several tons of silver, gold and gold dust, orderly stored between her decks in 180 50-pound sacks. The “moon-cussers”, the local beachcombers, did find nothing of the treasure on the morning, nor could the remains of “Black Sam” be discovered. The wreck of “Wydah” lay under just 14’ of water for the next 260 years until found by an expedition in 1985. She is the first and still one of the very few pirate ships that could be clearly identified so far and about 200,000 individual artefacts were recovered as of yet, exhibited in “Expedition Whydah Sea-Lab and Learning Center“ in Provincetown, Massachusetts. What became of Goodie Hallett remains untold, but that the “Witch of Wellfleet” summoned “Black Sam” and his crew from their wet grave to serve her in her old age is certainly just local folklore.
And more about Captain “Black Sam” Bellamy and the wreck of the “Wydah” on:
The song “Home, Boys, Home” quoted above can be found here in a rendition by Luke Kelly: