Samuel Bellamy (c. February 23, 1689–April 27, 1717), aka “Black Sam” Bellamy, was a formidable pirate in the early eighteenth century.
Though his career as a pirate captain lasted less than a year, Bellamy and his crew captured more than 50 ships before his death at age 28. Called “Black Sam” 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 gained him the second nickname of the “Prince of Pirates,” and his crew called themselves “Robin Hood’s Band.”
Born in the parish of Hittisleigh in Devonshire, Bellamy was the youngest of six known children born to Stephen and Elizabeth Bellamy. Elizabeth died in childbirth and was buried on February 23, 1689, three weeks before Samuel’s baptism on March 18. Bellamy became a sailor at a young age and traveled to Cape Cod, where he took up residence with a local girl named Maria Hallett. He soon left Cape Cod to support Hallett by salvaging treasure from ships sunk off the coast of Florida, accompanied by his friend and financier Paul Williams. 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 Mary Anne (or Marianne) with his fellow pirate captain Edward “Blackbeard” Teach
In the summer of 1716, Hornigold was deposed as captain of the Mary Anne and Bellamy took his place. Upon capturing a second ship, the Sultana, Bellamy assigned his friend Paul Williams as captain of the Mary Anne 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 Galley. The Whydah, a 300-ton slave ship, had just finished the second leg of the Atlantic slave trade and was loaded with a fortune in gold and precious trade goods. True to his reputation for generosity, Bellamy gave the Sultana to the captain of the captured Whydah, and, outfitting his new flagship as a 28-gun raiding vessel, set sail northwards along the eastern coast of New England.
If Bellamy’s intention in sailing northwards was to meet again with his lover Maria Hallett, or for some other reason, he never accomplished his goal. The Whydah was swept up in a violent storm near Wellfleet, Massachusetts and driven on to a sandbar where it quickly sank, taking Bellamy and most of his 146-man crew with her. Contemporary accounts relate that only nine men escaped the shipwreck with their lives (two from the Whydah and seven from the other vessels in Bellamy’s fleet). Of these survivors, seven were captured and prosecuted for piracy in Boston, six of them being subsequently executed. The seventh, an Indian, was sold into slavery.
In 1984, Bellamy became famous again when the wreckage of the Whydah was finally discovered, the first confirmed pirate ship recovered in modern times. 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. The discovery of the wreck was made in July 1984 by a diving crew led and funded by treasure hunter Barry Clifford. Clifford subsequently founded a museum on the shore of Provincetown, Massachusetts dedicated to Samuel Bellamy and the Whydah. It houses many artifacts which were brought from the actual wreck, including the ship’s bell.
Bellamy was well-known to his contemporaries and later chroniclers, and was a distinctive figure even among pirates. The following text is excerpted from Appendix C of Hakim Bey‘s Temporary Autonomous Zone, which is a Free text.
|“||Daniel Defoe, writing under the pen name Captain Charles Johnson1, wrote what became the first standard historical text on pirates, A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates. According to Patrick Pringle‘s Jolly Roger, pirate recruitment was most effective among the unemployed, escaped bondsmen, and transported criminals. The high seas made for an instantaneous levelling of class inequalities. Defoe relates that a pirate named Captain Bellamy made this speech to the captain of a merchant vessel he had taken as a prize. Bellamy had wanted to let the captain keep his ship, but his crew had voted to burn the sloop. The captain of the merchant vessel had just declined an invitation to join the pirates.“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?”
When the captain replied that his conscience would not let him break the laws of God and man, the pirate 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.”