If you’re from New England, especially Massachusetts, you’ve probably heard of “Black Sam” Bellamy and his ill-fated romance with Maria Hallett. If not, you’ll likely agree with the slack-jawed conclusion I came to when I uncovered their story whilst researching for a novella collection—this pirate romance has all the makings of a big screen movie.
Today, we’ll look at the bright-eyed beginnings of this young couple. In my March post, I’ll tell you the briny tale (har-har, *chews on pipe*) of their tragic end.
The youngest of six, Samuel Bellamy grows up in the late 1600s in Plymouth, England. His mother dies when he’s born, and he joins the queen’s merchant fleet as a teen, but the royal navy is cut back when war with Spain ends. In the seventeen-teens, Sam visits his uncle, Israel Cole, on Cape Cod and meets Maria Hallett, called “Goody.” The blonde, blue-eyed daughter of a wealthy farm family turns her ear to Sam’s plans of joining treasure hunters, seeking sunken Spanish gold ships.
Indeed, Sam convinces local jeweler Paulsgrave Williams to lend him money to buy a ship, with Williams signing on as quartermaster who’ll be in charge of divvying finds among a crew of thirty. But when they arrive in Florida, they learn that the Spanish had hired native divers, and only tiny bits of treasure remain. They fall in with an English privateer who decides to relieve a nearby Spanish fort of its booty, making off with a quarter million. Sam explains to his crew that they can either spend their lives working off their debts for the ship or “go to the account” … become pirates. A crew member sews the infamous black flag.
Meanwhile, a pregnant Maria suffers the rejection of her family and community. She moves into a hut near Eastham on Marconi Beach, only coming out at night, and by all accounts, gives birth in the barn of a neighbor. When the baby dies, she’s taken to jail for pregnancy out of wedlock and neglect of the child. The jailer pities her and leaves the door open, not once but twice. Eventually, people leave her to her lonely life. Many speculate she becomes a witch.
Is Sam coming back to save her? He’s fallen in with pirate Benjamin Hornigold and his first mate, none but Edward Teach, who is known for lighting his beard on fire during fights. But Hornigold won’t attack British ships, so the men of the ten-gun sloop Mary Ann mutiny and select Sam as their captain. Tall, spurning any wig to cover his dark hair, clad in a dark coat with four dueling pistols in his sash, he becomes known as “Black Sam, Prince of Pirates.” The band goes on to capture more than fifty vessels in the Caribbean and Atlantic. By February 1717, they had taken the twenty-six-gun Sultana and the Whydah, a 102-foot English slaver. Black Sam gives the captain of the Whydah the Sultana and twenty-five pounds of silver for surrendering without a fight. His motto: “I scorn to do anyone mischief when it is not to my advantage.” He makes the Whydah his flagship.
By April, Sam, now twenty-eight years old, is sailing north along the Atlantic coast. Along the way, his crew captures the pink Mary Anne and the sloop Fisher. The trio of ships press toward Cape Cod in dense fog, then a storm descends. Despite the danger, Sam stays close to land. Seeking port. Seeking Maria? But soon the clash of Arctic cold and Caribbean warmth make it impossible to return to sea, pushing them west. Seventy-mile-per-hour winds create swells of thirty feet. The dreaded cry rings out: “Breakers, breakers!”
Some people say they saw Maria Hallett standing on Marconi cliffs, calling curses down on the foundering Whydah. Or were they prayers? Learn more in March …
|Model of the Whydah
To learn more/sources: Expedition Whydah by Barry Clifford; “The Wreck of the Whydah Gally,” The History Guy, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2GZgf1j1n78