Samuel Bellamy

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For the English footballer, see Samuel Bellamy (footballer).
Samuel Bellamy
Nickname "Black Sam" Bellamy,
"Prince of Pirates",
"Black Bellamy",
"Robin Hood of the Sea"
Type Pirate
Born c. (1689-02-23)February 23, 1689
Place of birth Hittisleigh, Devon, England
Died April 26, 1717 (1717-04-27) (aged 28)
Place of death Wellfleet, Massachusetts
Allegiance None
Years active 1716 – April 26, 1717
Rank Elected Commander of pirate fleet
Base of operations Blanco Islet, B.V.I. (later re-named Bellamy Cay), Caribbean Sea
Commands Postillion, Mary Anne, Sultana, Whydah Gally
Wealth Equiv. US $131.4 million today;[1] #1 Forbes top-earning pirates[2]

Captain Samuel Bellamy (c. February 23, 1689 – April 26, 1717), better known as "Black Sam" Bellamy, was an English pirate who operated in the early 18th century. Though his known career as a pirate captain lasted little more than a year, he and his crew captured at least 53 ships under his command – making him the wealthiest pirate in recorded history – before his death at age 28. Called "Black Sam" in Cape Cod folklore because he eschewed the fashionable powdered wig in favor of tying back his long black hair with a simple band, Bellamy became known for his mercy and generosity toward those he captured on his raids. This reputation earned him another nickname, the "Prince of Pirates". He likened himself to Robin Hood, with his crew calling themselves "Robin Hood's Men".


Bellamy was probably the youngest of six known children born to Stephen and Elizabeth Bellamy in the parish of Hittisleigh in Devonshire, England, in 1689.[3] Elizabeth died in childbirth and was buried on February 23, 1689, three weeks before Samuel's baptism on March 18. The future pirate became a sailor at a young age; in his late teens, he joined the Royal Navy and fought in several battles. Leaving his wife and child in England, he traveled to Cape Cod to seek his fortune,where, according to local lore, he took up an affair with a local beauty, 15-year-old Maria Hallett — the "Witch of Wellfleet".[4] Her parents liked Sam well enough but didn't think a poor self-confident sailor would make much of a husband.

black flag with traditional skull and crossbones
"...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)[5]

He soon left Cape Cod — allegedly to support Hallett — by salvaging treasure from the Spanish plate fleet sunk off the coast of Florida, accompanied by his friend and financier Palgraves Williams (also recorded as Palsgrave, Paulgrave, Paulgraves, and Paulsgrave). After Samuel went, Maria gave birth to his child who died soon after. This was a scandal that eventually led to her being jailed. Her sentence was relatively short, but she was exiled from the town. Even after that, she still waited for him. The treasure hunters apparently met with little success, as they soon turned to piracy in the crew of pirate captain Benjamin Hornigold, who commanded the Marianne with his first mate, the soon to become famous Edward "Blackbeard" Teach.

In the summer of 1716, the crew became irritated by Hornigold's unwillingness to attack ships of England, his home country. By a majority vote of the crew, Hornigold was deposed as captain of the Marianne and left the vessel with his loyal followers, including Teach. The remaining 90-man crew then elected Bellamy as captain.

Upon capturing a second ship, the Sultana Galley, and with approval of the crew, Bellamy assigned his friend Palsgrave Williams as commander of the Marianne and made the Sultana his flagship. However, Bellamy's greatest capture was to come in the spring of 1717, when he and his crew chased down and boarded the Whydah Gally (pronounced "WID-uh"). Built in England in 1715 as a state-of-the-art, 300-ton, 102 foot-long English slave ship with 18 guns (cannons), and with speeds of up to 13 knots, the Whydah was on its maiden voyage in 1716 and had just finished the second (Africa to Caribbean) leg of the Atlantic slave trade, loaded with a fortune in gold and precious trade goods from the sale of nearly 500 slaves.[6] True to his reputation for generosity, Bellamy traded the Sultana to Captain Lawrence Prince for the Whydah. Removing the captain's quarters and upgrading the ship to 28 guns, Bellamy turned his new flagship northwards along the eastern coast of the Carolinas and on to New England.

Captain Samuel Bellamy, now known as Black Bellamy, was a tall, strong, well mannered and very tidy man. He liked expensive clothes, especially black coats. His favorite weapons were four duelling pistols that he always carried in his sash. As captain, his leadership style was almost democratic. His crew was very fond of him, sometimes even referring to him as "Robin Hood of the Sea". Captain Bellamy was also a good strategist. Usually, he had two ships under his control. His flagship was powerful with many cannons and the second one was light but fast, which made a good balance. With coordinated attacks, they managed to capture ships easily without harming them.

Bellamy was well-known to his contemporaries and to later chroniclers, and was a distinctive figure, even among pirates:

"He made a dashing figure in his long deep-cuffed velvet coat, knee breeches, silk stockings, and silver-buckled shoes; with a sword slung on his left hip and four pistols on his sash. Unlike some of his fellows, Bellamy never wore the fashionable powdered wig, but grew his dark hair long and tied it back with a black satin bow."[7]

Captain Charles Johnson, a pseudonym,[Note 1] wrote what became the first standard historical text on pirates, A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates. That source relates the story of the Whydah overtaking a sloop commanded by Captain Beer. Bellamy had wanted to let the captain keep his ship, but his crew had just voted to burn it, and the captain of the merchant vessel had just declined an invitation to join the pirates. Bellamy is attributed with making this now-famous speech:

Gold recovered from the wreck of the Whydah. Forbes ranked Bellamy #1 in its list of "Top-Earning Pirates".[2]

"I am sorry they won't let you have your sloop again, for I scorn to do any one a mischief, when it is not to my advantage; damn the sloop, we must sink her, and she might be of use to you. Though you are a sneaking puppy, and so are all those who will submit to be governed by laws which rich men have made for their own security; for the cowardly whelps have not the courage otherwise to defend what they get by knavery; but damn ye altogether: damn them for a pack of crafty rascals, and you, who serve them, for a parcel of hen-hearted numbskulls. They vilify us, the scoundrels do, when there is only this difference, they rob the poor under the cover of law, forsooth, and we plunder the rich under the protection of our own courage. Had you not better make then one of us, than sneak after these villains for employment?"

     [Beer replied that his conscience would not let him break the laws of God and man, and Bellamy continued]

"You are a devilish conscience rascal! I am a free prince, and I have as much authority to make war on the whole world as he who has a hundred sail of ships at sea and an army of 100,000 men in the field; and this my conscience tells me! But there is no arguing with such snivelling puppies, who allow superiors to kick them about deck at pleasure."

— Captain Bellamy, quoted by Captain Charles Johnson (1724) , A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates

The location of the wrecked Whydah Gally in Cape Cod


Just two months after acquiring the Whydah, as she and the Mary Anne approached Cape Cod, Williams told Bellamy that he wished to visit his family in Rhode Island, and the two agreed to meet up again near Maine.

If Bellamy intended to revisit his lover Maria Hallett, he failed. The Whydah was swept up in a violent nor'easter storm off Cape Cod at midnight, and was driven onto the sand bar shoals in 16 feet of water some 500 feet from the coast of what is now Wellfleet, Massachusetts. At 15 minutes past midnight, the masts snapped and drew the heavily-loaded ship into 30 feet of water where she capsized and quickly sank, taking Bellamy and all but two of the Whydah's 145-man crew with her.

One hundred and three bodies were known to have washed ashore and were buried by the town coroner, leaving 41 bodies unaccounted for. The Mary Anne was also wrecked that night several miles south of the Whydah, leaving seven more survivors. All nine survivors from the two ships were captured and prosecuted for piracy in Boston, and six were hanged in October 1717 (King George's pardon of all pirates, issued the previous month in September, having arrived in Boston three weeks too late). Two were set free, the court believing their testimony that they had been forced into piracy. The last, a Native American from the Miskito tribe in Central America, John Julian, is believed to have been sold into slavery to John Quincy, the grandfather of U.S. President John Quincy Adams.[8]

Later fame[edit]

Further information: Whydah Gally

In July 1984, Bellamy became famous again when the discovery of the wreckage of his flagship Whydah was announced, and would soon become the first authenticated pirate shipwreck ever discovered in North America. At the time of its sinking, the Whydah was the largest pirate prize ever captured, and the treasure in its hold included huge quantities of indigo, ivory, gold, and over 30,000 pounds sterling (approximately 4.5 to 5 tons). The discovery of the wreck was made in 1982 by a diving crew led and funded by underwater explorer Barry Clifford.[9]

The vessel was under just 14 feet (4.3 m) of water and 5 feet (1.5 m) of sand.[9]

The bell, inscribed, "THE WHYDAH GALLY 1716"

In 1985, Clifford recovered the ship's bell upon which were the words "THE WHYDAH GALLY 1716", the first incontrovertible evidence of his find. He subsequently founded The Whydah Pirate Museum on MacMillan Wharf in Provincetown, Massachusetts, dedicated to Samuel Bellamy and the Whydah. It houses many artifacts which were brought from the actual wreck, including a cannon found to be stuffed with precious stones, gold and artifacts. A portion of the some 200,000 artifacts so far recovered are currently on a six-year tour around the United States under the sponsorship of The National Geographic Society.

In popular culture[edit]

Museum Exhibitions
  • An exhibition entitled "Real Pirates: The Untold Story of 'The Whydah' (from slave ship to pirate ship)" is touring the U.S. and Canada. The exhibit's list of appearances includes 2014 dates.
Historical novels
  • Samuel Bellamy is the main character of the historical novel, "Master Of The Sweet Trade: A Story of the Pirate Samuel Bellamy, Mariah Hallett, and the Whydah", by author Elizabeth Moisan, published by iUniverse Books, Bloomington IN, 2010.
  • Samuel Bellamy appears as one of the main characters in the time travel historical novel, "House Call to The Past", by Janet Elaine Smith, published by Star Publish LLC, (3rd Edition, 2007).
Video - documentary
Video - fiction
  • Sam Bellamy is the subject of a song by The Musical Blades.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ It is currently believed that Defoe was not in fact the true author of the General History, but rather Ronald Quattrocche;
    see: P. N. Furbank and W.R. Owens (1994). Defoe De-Attributions : A Critique of J.R. Moore's Checklist. London: Hambledon Press. ISBN 1-85285-128-7.


  1. ^ Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–2014. Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Retrieved February 27, 2014.
  2. ^ a b Woolsey, Matt (September 19, 2008). "Top-Earning Pirates". Forbes Magazine. Retrieved February 5, 2013. 
  3. ^ Woodard, Colin (2008). The republic of pirates : being the true and surprising story of the Caribbean pirates and the man who brought them down (1st Harvest ed. ed.). Orlando, Fla.: Harcourt, Inc. pp. 28–29. ISBN 978-0-15-603462-3. 
  4. ^ "The Whydah Museum". The Whydah Museum Official Site. Historic Shipwrecks, Inc. Retrieved 8 October 2012. 
  5. ^ "The Pirate Ship Whydah: Pirate strategy". "Real Pirates" museum exhibit website. Chicago, Illinois: The Field Museum. 2009. Retrieved 21 January 2013. 
  6. ^ Woodard (2008), pp. 156–158.
  7. ^ Tattersall, Jill. "Black Sam Bellamy". British Virgin Islands Welcome. British Virgin Islands: Archived from the original on 31 December 2012. Retrieved 20 January 2013. 
  8. ^ Dow, George Francis (1988). Every Day Life in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Courier Dover Publications. p. 221. ISBN 0-486-25565-4. 
  9. ^ a b Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. Maritime Underwater Surveys, Inc., 403 Mass. 501 (Mass. Supreme Court 1988).
  10. ^ Oda, Eiichirō (2002). "Chapter 222 "大型ルーキー"". One Piece 巻二十四 "人の夢", Volume 24. Shueisha. ISBN 4-08-873282-0. 
  11. ^ Oda, Eiichirō (2002). One Piece 巻二十五 "一億の男", Volume 25. Shueisha. ISBN 4-08-873313-4. 
  12. ^ The Musical Blades (2010). "Sam Bellamy". Musical Blades Lyrics. Retrieved February 25, 2012.