Seaborne salvage operations at Cape Cod have recovered the pirate remains of at least six buccaneers who were lost at sea more than three centuries ago. At the time of their watery demise these unfortunate souls were part of a crew of 146 men serving on a pirate ship called the Whydah, which struck a sandbar and capsized before sinking to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean just off the coast from Wellfleet (Massachusetts) in 1717.
Whydah Pirate Remains Continue To Be Found
While searching the wreck of the Whydah during a recent dive, a team of archaeologists and researchers affiliated with the Whydah Pirate Museum in Yarmouth, Massachusetts found several concretions (heavy blocks of sand and stone that congeal on the seabed) embedded with artifacts from the sunken ship.
A model of the Whydah ship that went down off Cape Cod in 1717 with Captain Sam Bellamy aboard. The recently recovered pirate remains might include his skeleton. Source: jjsala / CC BY 2.0
Following the completion of their recovery operation the researchers scanned the concretions with X-rays to see what was trapped on the inside. In 2018 the same team had recovered a concretion that contained the skeletal remains of one lost pirate , they were hoping to find something similar this time—and those hopes were not disappointed.
So far, examinations have revealed the entombed bones of six separate individuals, who were among the 40 remaining Whydah crew members whose remains had still yet to be unaccounted for.
Most of the bodies of the men who drowned on that fateful evening in 1717 washed up on shore shortly thereafter. But among the bodies that have never been recovered is that of Captain “Black Sam” Bellamy , who during his brief yet glorious career captured 53 ships and approximately $130 million worth of treasure (in today’s dollars).
According to Forbes Magazine, Bellamy was the richest of all the legendary pirate captains. But his fortune ran out the night he sailed his unsuspecting crew into the vicious and unforgiving winds of a massive storm (a dreaded nor’easter) that suddenly developed in the treacherous shallow waters off the Cape Cod coast.
Some of the pirate gold initially recovered by Barry Clifford from the Whydah shipwreck off the coast of Cape Cod. (Theodore Scott / CC BY 2.0 )
The pirate remains discovered in 2018 were tested against a DNA sample recovered from a confirmed living relative of the long-lost captain, who was found residing in the captain’s hometown of Devonshire, England. But the results of those tests were negative, leaving the mystery of Bellamy’s exact whereabouts still unsolved.
“We hope that modern, cutting-edge technology will help us identify these pirates and reunite them with any descendants who could be out there,” said underwater archaeologist and Whydah Pirate Museum founder Barry Clifford, who led the expedition that found the recent pirate remains.
“These newly found skeletal remains may finally lead us to Bellamy,” added Casey Sherman, a New York Times bestselling author who has been chronicling the Whydah story for many years.
Captain “Black Sam” Bellamy, who during his brief yet glorious career captured 53 ships and approximately $130 million worth of treasure in today’s dollars. (User:Rambo101 / CC BY-SA 3.0 )
The Robin Hood of the Sea
It was Barry Clifford who found the capsized remains of the Whydah back in 1984. To this day, the Whydah is the only authenticated wrecked pirate ship to ever be discovered, in any waters near any coast.
Over the past three-plus decades, the Whydah has yielded more than 200,000 recovered artifacts, including gold and silver coins, eating utensils, buttons, cufflinks, a pistol, a belt, and also the ship’s bell, which carried the inscription “The Whydah Galley, 1716.”
The Whydah was constructed in England in 1715. It was 102 feet (31 meters) long and weighed 300 tonnes (600,000 pounds) and was loaded with 18 cannons. Originally commissioned as a slave ship for the brutal and notorious Atlantic slave trade , the Whydah was returning from the Caribbean loaded with a valuable cargo of gold, ivory, indigo, when it was chased down and captured by Sam Bellamy and his crew in Bellamy’s original ship, the Marianne.
Impressed by the state-of-the-art design and engineering of the Whydah, Bellamy took the ship as his own, fitting it with 10 extra cannons to make sure it had the firepower he required.
Despite his nickname of “Black Sam,” the 28-year-old Bellamy was a beloved captain who was well known for treating his captives mercifully and his men with consideration and respect. His loyal crew members frequently referred to him as “Robin Hood,” seeing in Bellamy a heroic figure who took from the rich to redistribute to the poor—represented in this case by Bellamy’s crew members and their families.
A master strategist, Bellamy orchestrated his attacks carefully to avoid violent conflict if possible. He generally used two ships to converge on his targets simultaneously, to make it easier to complete a capture without firing a shot.
A ship as fast, strong, and sturdy as the Whydah was ideal for his purposes. With the Whydah occupying the lead position in his pirate fleet, Bellamy might have eventually become the most legendary and renowned of all the captains of the Golden Age of Piracy —if only he had chosen a different course on that one terrible night, when the darkest winds of fate lay in ambush just up ahead along the deceptively tranquil Cape Cod coast.
The galley (dining room) bell of the Whydah pirate ship. (jjsala / CC BY 2.0 )
Despite Samuel Bellamy’s Tragic Demise, His Legacy Lives
Speaking of the discovery that has become his life’s work, Barry Clifford feels blessed to have been associated with such an historic find.
“This shipwreck is very sacred ground,” he told reporters while announcing the discovery of the six new skeletons. “We know a third of the crew was of African origin and the fact they had robbed the Whydah, which was a slave ship, presents them in a whole new light. Their benevolent captain, the legendary Samuel “Black Sam” Bellamy and crew were experimenting in democracy long before the so-called civilized societies had considered such a thing.”
In assessing its scientific value as an underwater excavation and exploration site, Casey Sherman has previously referred to the wreck of the Whydah as “the maritime equivalent of King Tut’s Tomb.”
The discovery of the six pirate skeletons has added a whole new dimension to the story, and if one of these skeletons is eventually shown to belong to Captain Samuel Bellamy that would be analogous to finding King Tut himself.
Top image: Pirate skeleton. Source: Tryfonov / Adobe Stock
By Nathan Falde