America's biggest mass pirate burial ground holds remains of Captain Black Sam Bellamy's crew, say researchers

Investigators think they have found the final resting places of men who joined the 'Robin Hood of the Sea' as he became the highest-earning pirate of all time

Adam Lusher
Thursday 29 March 2018 19:40 BST
Black Sam Bellamy's crew called themselves 'Robin Hood's Men' and their captain urged captured sailors to join them rather than submit to rulers who 'make their laws to rob thee'
Black Sam Bellamy's crew called themselves 'Robin Hood's Men' and their captain urged captured sailors to join them rather than submit to rulers who 'make their laws to rob thee' (Reuters)

America’s largest mass pirate burial ground has been discovered and it contains the remains of the crew of Captain Black Sam Bellamy, the revolutionary “Robin Hood of the sea”, researchers believe.

The site on the shores of Cape Cod may contain the bodies of as many as 102 men whose corpses were washed ashore after their ship, the Whydah, sank while still carrying much of the treasure that had made Bellamy the highest-earning pirate of all time.

“We believe that we have found the largest mass burial ground in the US,” said expedition leader Casey Sherman. “Over 100 pirates washed ashore on Cape Cod, and our team believe we have located [where they were buried].

Mr Sherman said that for now the burial ground’s precise location would have to remain secret, but he hoped it would eventually become a public memorial site.

“It’s very hallowed ground,” he told The Telegraph. “Almost every day we are learning more about what happened 300 years ago.”

It is said that when the Whydah was wrecked in a storm on 26 April 1717, Bellamy, 28, had been heading for Boston, perhaps to start a revolution, perhaps to be reunited with the love of his life, Mary Hallett.

He had been forced to abandon her in 1714.

Hallett’s wealthy, landed father had refused to allow her to marry Bellamy, a lowly Royal Navy sailor who had been left without a job and without a ship after the War of the Spanish Succession had finished.

Bellamy left Boston to make his fortune. But before he did, according to some accounts, he promised Hallett he would return to her as a wealthy man – although it’s possible he might also have had an English wife and child waiting for him in Devon.

The Pirate Empire blog said Bellamy found a handful of men who would follow him and began his buccaneering career with little more than a pair of deep water sailing canoes.

Bellamy’s daring and charisma soon allowed him to rise to become a very different sort of pirate.

The captain of the sloop Bonita, captured in November 1716, testified that Bellamy’s pirates referred to themselves as “Robin Hood’s Men”, as if they were a band of maritime outlaws with contempt for the wealthy “scoundrels” in government.

“They rob the poor under the cover of law,” said Bellamy, “While we plunder the rich under the cover of our own courage.”

He got his “Black Bellamy” nickname by refusing to wear the powdered wigs beloved of 18th-century authority figures, instead tying his long black hair in a ponytail with a satin bow, to go with a deep-cuffed velvet coat, silver-buckled shoes and four flintlock pistols.

When one captured sailor refused to join his band of pirates, he cursed him: “Damn ye, ye are a sneaking puppy, and so are all who admit to be governed by laws [that] rich men have made for their own security, for the cowardly whelps have not the courage otherwise to defend what they get by their knavery.”

For all the ferocity of his rhetoric, however, some say Bellamy never killed a man who surrendered.

And in February 1717, when he captured the Whydah and made it his flagship, he is said to have invited the captured sailors to join his crew with the words: “Ye miserable victims of the earth, who serve kings, princes and lords for a miserly pittance scarce big enough to keep body and soul together…

“They make their laws to rob thee … They banquet in the fine halls of their castles and mansions and leave ye to feed on the few crumbs and the gristle they cannot eat.

“To ye I say I am no slave and as a free man I have the right to make war on them as they do me. To all of ye I say, make one with me against these vultures who look on us as swine and cattle.”

Not even Blackbeard could match Sam Bellamy for the wealth he plundered
Not even Blackbeard could match Sam Bellamy for the wealth he plundered (Getty)

With tactics that also included letting his pirate crew vote on major decisions, and preferring to intimidate rather than fight ships into submission, Bellamy became far richer than his more brutal counterparts like Blackbeard.

Forbes magazine calculated that he was history’s highest-earning pirate, with a career haul that would have been worth $120m (£85m) today, way ahead of Blackbeard, in 10th place with $12.5m, and $5m more than Elizabeth I’s privateer Sir Francis Drake, who came second.

The bulk of Bellamy’s fortune, however, was said to have been on board the Whydah when it sank in a storm off Cape Cod.

It is thought that just over 140 men and one boy were on board when the wind pushed the 300 ton ship onto a sandbank. Only two men survived: the carpenter, Thomas Davis, and John Julian, the pirate crew’s Miskito Indian navigator.

The current investigation team think that more than 100 bodies were found washed ashore and buried by villagers then living in Freshbook, a settlement that was later abandoned.

The corpses of about 40 other pirates, including Bellamy, were lost underwater – along with the treasure.

It wasn’t until 1984 that the treasure wreck hunter Barry Clifford was able to relocate the Whydah, buried beneath 18 feet of sand in just 25 feet of water and only 1,500 feet from the shore.

The gold, silver, 17th- and 18th-century coins, and artefacts so far recovered from the wreck are reported to have been valued at more than $400m.

The team of investigators now believe they have found Bellamy’s remains, lying next to one of his pistols (AP)
The team of investigators now believe they have found Bellamy’s remains, lying next to one of his pistols (AP) (The Cape Cod Times via AP)

Mr Sherman, a bestselling author, bought the film rights to the story in December 2016 and is now working with Mr Clifford.

And last month the investigators finally discovered what they think are the remains of Bellamy himself.

A leg bone was found among underwater sand and debris, next to a pistol said by the researchers to have unique features and symbols that prove it was one of Bellamy’s flintlocks.

Mr Sherman has now revealed: “We’re finding more human remains, including a femur, and we believe these belong to Bellamy too.”

He and his team hope that DNA testing will produce a match between the remains and a man who may be a descendant of the child Bellamy was alleged to have left behind in Devon.

Then, Mr Sherman said, Black Sam Bellamy’s bones will finally be returned home to England.

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