Sam Bellamy and the Witch of Wellfleet

December 17, 2022

The years 1650-1726 mark what is referred to as the Golden Age of Piracy, a time when maritime piracy shaped the territories of the Americas, the United Kingdom, the Indian Ocean, and West Africa. This era grew from tensions between the European powers of England, France, Spain, Portugal, and the Dutch over high competition for trade and colonization of the New World. However, the era heightened in relevance during the post-Spanish Succession period of the Golden Age of Piracy, which occurred 1715-1726. At this point, England recently ended a 13-year war with Spain—the War of the Spanish Succession—which resulted in many sailors and privateers losing work. These people who were poor (unemployed or working under brutal conditions for low wages on English merchant ships) often had few skills besides fighting and maritime navigation. Thus, at a time trans-Atlantic trade was highly profitable, many people chose to become pirates to obtain economic success and upward social mobility. 

One such man was Sam Bellamy. Bellamy served the British Navy as a teenager before traveling to Wellfleet, a town in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. There, he met Mary Hallet, who was the daughter of wealthy parents. Bellamy and Hallet fell in love, but their differences in class prevented them from marrying. It was for this reason that news of a sunken Spanish treasure fleet laden with gold, just off the coast of Florida, sounded particularly appealing; the wealth from this expedition would grant Bellamy the status necessary to pursue Hallet. 

For the year he was active as a pirate, Bellamy rapidly earned himself a distinctive reputation. He was known for his democratic leadership style and had the respect of his men who nicknamed him, “Robin Hood of the Seas.” While Bellamy, like many other English pirates, was initially hesitant to attack English ships and only attacked traditional European rivals, eventually he forgoed that notion. He believed the English to be oppressive, which he used to justify his actions. He would often give the men on English merchant ships the opportunity to join him (many did due to the working conditions). Bellamy would also free Africans on slave ships making the journey along the Middle Passage and extend the same offer. In the world of piracy, there was a much greater level of egalitarianism; all of the men aboard the ship, including Africans, were perceived as equals. This attitude is modeled in Bellamy’s leadership where there was an agreement that all men would earn an equal share of profits. For these reasons, Bellamy was perceived as an unlawful hero who challenged oppressive norms and allowed for lower-class people to gain more opportunity. 

Meanwhile, back in Cape’s Cod, Mary Hallet soon discovered she was pregnant with Bellamy’s child following his departure. In Puritan Massachusetts, she was isolated by her community—including her family—due to the social stigma that surrounded conceiving a child out of wedlock. She would have read the abundance of newspaper articles about the notorious “Prince of Pirates,” Sam Bellamy, that gave details of his most recent exploits and demanded his capture. From this, she had hope that they could be reunited; allegedly, she would stare out at the shore, waiting for him to return. 

It is a cruel twist of fate that Bellamy would never come. In the spring of 1717, only a year after leaving Massachusetts, he had his greatest capture of the slave ship Whydah Gally (a state-of-the-art ship with intimidating weaponry) filled with gold and profitable trade goods. He followed the speedy ship for three days and fired a single shot. The ship was promptly surrendered. Bellamy seized the Whydah and granted his now former ship to the captain of the Whydah. Then, he set sail towards Wellfleet, Massachusetts to reunite with his beloved, Mary Hallet. A harsh storm overtook the ship and killed many aboard. Samuel Bellamy included. 

At this point, Hallet’s baby was already born. Tragically, they died suddenly, which lead many to accuse Hallet of murdering her child. She was publicly flogged. As even more of a public disgrace, she learned of Bellamy’s death and was woeful. Locals deemed Mary Hallet the “Witch of Wellfleet” as they believed Hallet to have caused Bellamy’s ship to crash out of heartbreak from Bellamy’s departure.

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