Successful pirate Samuel Bellamy commandeered numerous ships during his career including his flagship, the Whydah, a 300 ton galley slave ship, the Mary Anne, and the Sultana. His life as a pirate was cut short by a storm which wrecked his flagship and left his wealth on the sea floor.
Bellamy was born in England, on a date unknown in the late 1600s, but reports indicate Devonshire in 1689. Known to have been a sailor as a teenager, he sailed to the United States and took up residence on Cape Cod. While living in Massachusetts he reportedly met and impregnated a fifteen-year-old girl named Maria Hallett from Eastham. The significance of this relationship is that he left Cape Cod to pursue wealth to support her by salvaging the wreckage of a Spanish treasure fleet sunk off the coast of Florida. Bellamy arranged for financing from Paul Williams for the salvage mission.
Rumors state that a conflict arose between friend and financier Paul Williams and Bellamy, however after abandoning the salvage mission they continued to pirate together for the next two years. The nickname "Black Sam" developed out of Bellamy's rejection of the powdered wig, which was fashionable at the time. Instead, he tied his long black hair with a black bow, thus becoming known as "Black Sam." Captain Benjamin Hornigold welcomed "Black Sam" and his friend aboard the Mary Anne, where Bellamy served alongside Edward "Blackbeard" Teach. In the late summer of 1716, a change of power occurred on the Mary Anne, when Captain Hornigold was ousted and Bellamy made captain. There are disputing reports about how the change occurred. Some reports say the crew voted to depose Hornigold and replace him with Bellamy, because "Black Sam" would rob any ship on the sea, unlike Hornigold who avoided robbing English ships. Although other reports indicate there was no vote, rather "Black Sam" may simply have taken over command. Either way, these events were the beginning of a lucrative summer of pirating.
The next major conquest of "Black Sam," came in the form of a new ship, the Sultana. After making Paul Williams the captain of the Mary Anne, he now had two ships working for him for the remainder of 1716. As the new year came and went, so did a variety of valuables from ships sailing throughout the Caribbean. In the spring of 1717, a chase took place, with the Sultana and Mary Anne both pursuing a 300-ton galley named after the port Ouidah in West Africa, called the Whydah. This slave ship, at the time Bellamy captured her, was full of goods such as ivory, Spanish coins, weapons, gold bars, and sugar. The ship had already completed two legs of the triangular journey that most slave ships of the time took: Take goods to Africa and trade for slaves, sail with slaves to the caribbean and trade for items such as sugar and indigo, and then return to England with the profits of the voyage. Bellamy outfitted the Whydah with additional weaponry converting it from a profitable slave ship to a 28-gun pirate ship. In the process, he generously gave the Sultana to the former captain of the Whydah, and acts like this earned "Black Sam," another nickname, the "Prince of Pirates." Now as finely equipped as he had ever been, Bellamy headed Northward. There is speculation that he was returning to his mistress Maria Hallett of Eastham, and that he was satisfied with wealth he obtained as a pirate, but for whatever reason he decided to sail North it would be his last journey. On one of two dates, either April 26 or May 17, 1717 the Whydah struck a sandbar in bad weather. Some reports indicate fog, rain and wind, or possibly a nor'easter, but ultimately the ship sank and "Black Sam," and 143 other pirates sank with it.
On that sandbar off of Cape Cod the Whydah's cargo and "Black Sam's" remains rested for 267 years, until Barry Clifford came for it. Clifford found the wreckage of the Whydah, the first known pirate ship in U.S. waters, and began excavation and salvage of the cargo. Since then he's recovered coins, over fifty of the ships big guns, gold bars, nuggets, and dust, and even the ship's bell, which was engraved with the ship's name. The Expedition Whydah Sea Lab and Learning Center is a museum in Provincetown, Massachusetts which Clifford dedicated to "Black Sam," and which houses the objects recovered from the shipwreck. The recovery project has continued into 2006 with ongoing regular finds. The legend of "Black Sam's" romance with his mistress, which may have been the cause of his sailing northward and the wreck, has also been fictionalized in a novel by Danelle Harmon titled, "Pirate in my arms," and his persona was fictionalized by the author Daniel Defoe.