Samuel Bellamy
Bornc. (1689-02-23)23 February 1689
Died26 April 1717 (1717-04-27) (aged 28)
Piratical career
Nickname"Black Sam" Bellamy,
"Prince of Pirates",
"Black Bellamy",
"Robin Hood of the Sea"
TypeGolden Age Pirate
Years active1716 – 26 April 1717
RankElected Commodore of pirate fleet
Base of operationsBlanco Islet, Tortola B.V.I. (later re-named Bellamy Cay), Caribbean Sea
CommandsPostillion, Sloop Marianne, Pinque Mary Anne, Sultana Galley, Whydah Gally, Anne, Fisher
WealthEquiv. US$169.8 million in 2023;[1] #1 Forbes top-earning pirates[2]

Captain Samuel Bellamy (c. 23 February 1689 – 26 April 1717), later known as "Black Sam" Bellamy, was an English sailor turned pirate during the early 18th century. He is best known as the wealthiest pirate in recorded history, and one of the faces of the Golden Age of Piracy. Though his known career as a pirate captain lasted little more than a year, he and his crew captured at least 53 ships.[3]

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".[4][5]

Bellamy was born in Devon, England, in 1689, and began sailing for the British Royal Navy as a teenager. After traveling to Cape Cod around 1715, he then went south to the Florida coast in an effort to locate a sunken treasure fleet. From there he made his way to the Bahamas, sailing under Benjamin Hornigold and his second-in-command, Edward "Blackbeard" Teach. After Hornigold and Teach were voted out of command, Bellamy took a captured vessel as his own, before capturing a state-of-the-art slave trade ship, the Whydah Gally, in the early spring of 1717. Two months later, the vessel was caught in a nor'easter storm off the coast of Massachusetts and sank, taking Bellamy and most of his crew down with it. The remains of the Whydah Gally were discovered in 1984, making it the first fully authenticated Golden Age pirate ship discovered in North America.[citation needed]

Early life

Bellamy was born in 1689 in the parish of Hittisleigh on Dartmoor in Devon, Kingdom of England, the youngest of six known children of Stephen and Elizabeth Bellamy.[6] Elizabeth died soon after, and was buried on 23 February 1689, three weeks before Samuel's baptism on 18 March. The future pirate became a sailor at a young age; in his late teens, he joined the Royal Navy and fought in several battles. Though it has been speculated that he may have had a wife and child, there is no definite historical proof of this.

Bellamy traveled to Cape Cod around 1715, allegedly to seek some of his relatives there. According to an abundance of local lore on the subject, it is believed that he took up an affair with a local beauty, Goody Hallett — the "Witch of Wellfleet".[7] Professor Elizabeth Reynard, in her 1934 book The Narrow Land, gave her the name "Maria", and though there is no evidence of her bearing that name, it has nevertheless become a popular name for her. Other modern authors have called her "Mariah" and "Mary". Her age and marital status remain subjects of much debate. Some stories depict her as a young lady between 16 and 25, while others depict her as a very old woman.[8][9][10] In some stories, her parents liked Bellamy, but did not think a poor self-confident sailor was husband material;[5] circumstantial evidence indicates that she may have already been married, confirming some stories that it was Bellamy's intent to seek his fortune and then return, not to marry her, but to take her away.

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 colours." – Thomas Baker (Bellamy's crew)[11]

For whatever reason, he left Cape Cod in early 1716 with a group of men to seek the vast treasures of the 1715 Spanish Treasure Fleet, which had wrecked the previous summer in a hurricane off the east coast of Florida. Wealthy jeweler Palgraves Williams,[12] son of Rhode Island Attorney General John Williams, joined Bellamy and funded their expedition. After Bellamy left the Cape, Hallett was found to be pregnant by Bellamy. It is said that she gave birth to a son and hid the child in a barn for warmth while she foraged for food, and when she returned she found that the child had choked to death on the straw. Some legends say that it was the barn of the notable Knowles family; others claim it was that of Justice Joseph Doane, who had banished Hallett. In either case, she was arrested for the child's murder and imprisoned in the Old Jail of Barnstable, Massachusetts (the oldest wooden jail house in the United States; said to be haunted by her). Her sentence was relatively short, but she was exiled from the town. Afterwards, she waited for Bellamy in Eastham.[5]


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, Edward Teach, who would soon gain fame as the pirate "Blackbeard".[12]

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, it was made into a galley, and with approval of the crew, Bellamy took it as his own and assigned his friend Palsgrave Williams as commander of the Marianne.[12] They sailed briefly alongside Olivier Levasseur, who left early in 1717 to raid South America.[13]

Bellamy's greatest capture came in the spring of 1717, when he spotted the Whydah Gally (pronounced WHID-uh) sailing through the Windward Passage between Hispaniola and Cuba.[12] Built in England in 1715 as a state-of-the-art, 300-ton, 102-foot-long (31 m) English slave ship with 18 guns, and with speeds of up to 13 knots (24 km/h; 15 mph), 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, indigo, Jesuit's bark, ivory and other precious trade goods from the sale of 312 slaves.[12][14][15] Bellamy chased the Whydah for three days before getting close enough to fire. After a single shot, Captain Lawrence Prince surrendered the Whydah by lowering its flag. True to his reputation for generosity, Bellamy rewarded Prince's lack of resistance by trading the Sultana for the Whydah.[12] 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 Charles Johnson (possibly a pseudonym) 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:

Silver recovered from the wreck of the Whydah. Forbes Magazine 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.

Johnson attributes these speeches to "Captain Bellamy" without naming Samuel Bellamy specifically; other writers like Philip Gosse attribute the speeches to Charles Bellamy, a separate pirate unrelated to Samuel Bellamy.[16] They operated at the same time in the same areas and their exploits are often conflated.[17]


Captain Samuel Bellamy, now known as Black Bellamy, was well known to his contemporaries and chroniclers as a distinctive figure, 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:

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.[18]

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" and themselves as "Robin Hood's Men".[5] Captain Bellamy was also a good tactician. 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.


Samuel Bellamy, Wreck of the Whydah, from the Pirates of the Spanish Main series (N19) for Allen & Ginter Cigarettes MET DP835027
The location of the wrecked Whydah Gally in Cape Cod

Just two months after acquiring the Whydah, as she and the Marianne 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. Bellamy and the Whydah captured several other small vessels in the area, including the Anne Galley, to which he appointed his quartermaster Richard Noland as captain.[19]

If Bellamy intended to revisit his lover Maria Hallett, he failed.[5] The Whydah was swept up in a violent nor'easter storm off Cape Cod at midnight, on 26 April 1717, and was driven onto the sand bar shoals in 16 feet (4.9 m) of water some 500 feet (150 m) 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 146-man crew with her.[20]

104 bodies were known to have washed ashore and were buried by the town coroner, leaving 42 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 convicted on 22 October 1717 and hanged on 15 November 1717.[21] (King George's pardon of all pirates, issued on 5 September, supposedly 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 16-year-old Miskito Indian from Central America, John Julian, was believed to have been sold into slavery to John Quincy, the great-grandfather of U.S. President John Quincy Adams.[22]

Williams waited for Bellamy to rendezvous; when Bellamy never appeared, Williams realized what had happened, and sailed south to Nassau in the Marianne.[23] Noland also searched for Bellamy off Maine; failing to find him, he took the Anne Galley south, raiding ships along the way before accepting a pardon in the Bahamas.[19]


Further information: Whydah Gally

The bell, inscribed, "THE WHYDAH GALLY 1716".

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 amassed roughly 4.5 to 5 tons, including huge quantities of indigo, ivory, gold, and 20,000 to 30,000 pounds sterling, divided into 180 sacks of 50-pound (23 kg) each.[24] The discovery of the wreck was made in 1982 by a diving crew led and funded by underwater explorer Barry Clifford.[25]

The vessel was under just 14 feet (4.3 m) of water and 5 feet (1.5 m) of sand.[25]

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 West Yarmouth, Massachusetts, dedicated to Bellamy and the Whydah. It houses many artifacts which were brought from the 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 went on a six-year tour around the United States under the sponsorship of the National Geographic Society. From May 2017 through 30 July 2017, it was at the Portland Science Center in Portland, Maine.[26] In 2022, Real Pirates opened in Salem, Massachusetts, also displaying information about Bellamy, the Whydah, and artifacts from the wreck.[27]

Suspected remains of Bellamy were found near the wreck of his ship, in February 2018. The bones were near a pistol identified as his, and DNA tests were carried out with a living relative to confirm.[28] In May 2018, tests confirmed that the bones were of an Eastern European man, though not Bellamy.[29]

In February 2021, Clifford announced six more pirates' bones were discovered in concretements of debris, and will be tested for DNA matches once they are extracted.[30]

In popular culture


  1. ^ 1634–1699: McCusker, J. J. (1997). How Much Is That in Real Money? A Historical Price Index for Use as a Deflator of Money Values in the Economy of the United States: Addenda et Corrigenda (PDF). American Antiquarian Society. 1700–1799: McCusker, J. J. (1992). How Much Is That in Real Money? A Historical Price Index for Use as a Deflator of Money Values in the Economy of the United States (PDF). American Antiquarian Society. 1800–present: Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. "Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–". Retrieved 29 February 2024.
  2. ^ a b Woolsey, Matt (19 September 2008). "Top-Earning Pirates". Forbes Magazine. Retrieved 5 February 2013.
  3. ^ "Top-Earning Pirates". Forbes. 19 September 2008. Retrieved 14 October 2015.
  4. ^ Johnson, Charles (1724). The history of the pyrates: containing the lives of Captain Mission. Captain Bowen. Captain Kidd ... and their several crews. London: T. Woodward. Retrieved 26 July 2017.
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  6. ^ Woodard, Colin (2007). The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down. New York: Harcourt. pp. 28–29. ISBN 978-0-15-603462-3. Archived from the original on 4 January 2020. Retrieved 6 December 2008.
  7. ^ "The Whydah Museum". The Whydah Museum Official Site. Historic Shipwrecks, Inc. Archived from the original on 8 October 2012. Retrieved 8 October 2012.
  8. ^ Brunelle, Kathleen (2011). Bellamy's Bride. The History Press.
  9. ^ Fitzgerald, Michael (1912). 1812: A tale of Cape Cod. The Register Press.
  10. ^ Kincor, Kenneth J. Whydah source book. Whydah Pirate Museum.
  11. ^ "The Pirate Ship Whydah: Pirate strategy". "Real Pirates" museum exhibit website. Chicago, Illinois: The Field Museum. 2009. Retrieved 21 January 2013.
  12. ^ a b c d e f Dow, George Francis; Edmonds, John Henry (1923). The pirates of the New England coast, 1630–1730. Argosy-Antiquarian. pp. 116–131. ISBN 9780486290645. Retrieved 26 May 2015.
  13. ^ Humanity, History of. "Infamous Pirates | Olivier Levasseur". Retrieved 1 June 2017.
  14. ^ Woodard (2008), pp. 156–158.
  15. ^ "The Slave Ship Whydah: A Slave-Based Economy". "Real Pirates" museum exhibit website. Chicago, Illinois: The Field Museum. 2009. Retrieved 12 October 2012.
  16. ^ Gosse, Philip (1924). The Pirates' Who's Who by Philip Gosse. New York: Burt Franklin. pp. 47–49. Retrieved 23 June 2017.
  17. ^ Horwood, Harold (2011). Plunder & Pillage: Atlantic Canada's Brutal and Bloodthirsty Pirates and Privateers. Halifax NS: Formac Publishing Company Limited. pp. 92–96. ISBN 9780887809491. Retrieved 12 October 2017.
  18. ^ Tattersall, Jill. "Black Sam Bellamy". British Virgin Islands Welcome. British Virgin Islands: BVI Welcome Tourist Guide. Archived from the original on 4 December 2012. Retrieved 20 January 2013. Alt URL
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  20. ^ Snow, Edward R. (1946). Great Storms and Famous Shipwrecks of the New England Coast.
  21. ^ Privateering and Piracy in the Colonial Period: Illustrative Documents, ed. by John Franklin Jameson (Macmillan, 1923) p.303
  22. ^ Dow, George Francis (1988) [1935]. Every Day Life in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Courier Dover Publications. p. 221. ISBN 0-486-25565-4.
  23. ^ "Early American Criminals: Samuel Bellamy's Treasure". Early American Crime. 21 December 2011. Retrieved 16 July 2017.
  24. ^ "The Whydah's Loss: The Pirate's Trial". "Real Pirates" museum exhibit website. Chicago, Illinois: The Field Museum. 2009. Retrieved 21 January 2013.
  25. ^ a b Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. Maritime Underwater Surveys, Inc., 403 Mass. 501 (Mass. Supreme Court 1988).
  26. ^ Sun, The Conway Daily. "The Portland Phoenix". The Conway Daily Sun. Archived from the original on 5 March 2016. Retrieved 8 March 2018.
  27. ^ "Real Pirates Museum Brings Authentic Pirate Treasure and Stories to Salem claim". 8 April 2022. Retrieved 13 September 2023.
  28. ^ Sabur, Rozina (19 February 2018). "Possible remains of world's 'richest pirate' Captain Black Sam Bellamy to be compared to English descendant's DNA". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 12 January 2022. Retrieved 28 July 2020.
  29. ^ "Bones found in shipwreck don't belong to infamous pirate". New York Post. Associated Press. 25 May 2018. Retrieved 28 May 2018.
  30. ^ Travis, Anderson (10 February 2021). "Six skeletons unearthed from wreck of pirate ship Whydah off Cape Cod coast". Boston Globe. Retrieved 21 March 2021.
  31. ^ Silverman, Rebecca (5 February 2016). "The Real Pirates of One Piece". Anime News Network. Retrieved 13 March 2018.
  32. ^ Martin, Liam (25 November 2013). "'Assassin's Creed Pirates' release date announced for December". Digital Spy. Hearst Magazines UK. Retrieved 13 March 2018.
  33. ^ Clover, Juli (10 July 2014). "'Assassin's Creed Pirates' Named App of the Week, Available for Free". MacRumors., LLC. Retrieved 13 March 2018.

Further reading