The Tragic Story Of Black Sam Bellamy And The Witch Of Wellfleet

The Golden Age of Piracy has become a stage of infinite storytelling capacity. The free-thinking pirates have been so glorified that some even forget how awful they were in reality, engaging in heinous acts and sheer brutality that would make anything shiver their timbers. But there was hope and goodness in the world of pirates too, particularly aboard the ship, where we see early signs of democracy, with all men treated equally. All had an equal say in the comings and goings of the ship, and a code protected all pirates from all other pirates. All told, it wasn't such a bad system.

Out of this fertile soil rose legends like Blackbeard, Henry Avery, and more. Many — if not all — fall into the category of having a few positive qualities, but all in all being truly horrible people who did awful things that pirate fanatics tend to ignore. 

But not all pirates were cruel and barbarous. Not all wantonly shot their crewman to keep them on their toes, a la Blackbeard, and not all engaged in slave trading, a la Henry Avery. There were some, albeit a minority, like Black Sam Bellamy, who killed few, was never cruel, and did everything he did out of love for Maria Hallett. Together, they have become a Romeo and Juliet story of heartbreak set against the plunder of the Golden Age of Piracy. Here's the story of the pirate and the witch, true loves to the end. We think. 

Who was Sam Bellamy?

Once you become a pirate, you more or less lose everything you were before. And part of that is because piracy is like a clean slate. Who was Henry Avery before he was a pirate? Most don't care, but the facts are scant anyway. Sam Bellamy had a life before piracy and unlike most, he didn't turn to piracy because he was trying to escape from anything, or become something else. He did it for love. 

Before that though, Bellamy was just like any other British cast-off come to America in search of opportunity. According to Sara Schubert's "Piracy, Riches, and Social Equality: The Wreck of the Whydah off Cape Cod," he was just 24 when he arrived in 1714, and he had family already in Cape Cod who gave him a launching point to build a life for himself. In his social endeavors, he came to befriend Paulsgrave Williams, who would play an important part in his journey. Even as a teenager, before his move to America, Bellamy had worked on the sea, in the queen's merchant fleet. 

"Bellamy's Bride" by Kathleen Brunelle describes Bellamy as bold and daring, which his actions as a pirate would later reinforce. He was always going to do something big — it was just a matter of what. His sole motivation in coming to America at all was to make something of his life. He would do that. Just not exactly as he would have expected.

Who was the Witch of Wellfleet?

Believe it or not, she was not born "The Witch of Wellfleet," but came to that title later in life. Born Maria Hallett, she had a much different nickname early in life: Goody. She came from a background much different than Sam Bellamy, which is what leads to the Romeo and Juliet narrative that their shared (and far too short) life would become. Barely 16 when Bellamy touched down in Cape Cod, Hallett came from a very well-to-do family with significant money and reputation, according to "Piracy, Riches, and Social Equality: The Wreck of the Whydah off Cape Cod." 

Unfortunately for both Hallett and Bellamy, that would be the primary obstacle for their love. This was not a world ready to allow love for love's sake. 

According to "Bellamy's Bride," Hallett was a known beauty from a young age, courted by many, and set up to be a bargaining chip with which the Hallett family would secure even more status and fortune through an opportune marriage. They were wealthy farmers eager to up their standing in a class-driven society, but much to their chagrin, Hallett was reportedly just as independent as she was beautiful. She found all the local "crop" of marriage prospects dull and sought a life of excitement and adventure. She found that prospect in Bellamy.

Love at first sight?

The coming together of Sam Bellamy and Maria Hallett sounds like something out of a fairytale, and part of the reason why is because history can't exactly verify if the two even officially knew each other, according to "Bellamy's Bride." But local lore has spun a story that is so truly romantic that no one would bother doubt it. The story goes that Bellamy was walking by a cemetery when he saw her sitting under an apple tree. While most will point to the overly romantic overtures of an apple tree being the spot of their meeting, perhaps the true foretelling is the cemetery.

Naturally, the worldly Bellamy saw this beautiful young woman and immediately went about chatting her up, according to Schubert's "Piracy, Riches, and Social Equality: The Wreck of the Whydah off Cape Cod." She was quickly enamored by his, let's call it "different-ness." He wasn't like all the boys in her community that all looked, talked, and acted the same. Bellamy was essentially a poor vagrant who was living with family as he tried to make something of himself. He had stories of poverty, of things Hallett knew nothing about. 

It was an immediate connection. Hallett saw in him a drive and ambition she had not seen before, and Bellamy saw the same in her. They continued to spend time together at the remote Great Island Tavern, where they would help tend to the locals and just spend time together. It was a genuine connection, the kind of thing the class-barriers of the world they lived in didn't take kindly to.

To be, or not to be?

Sure, "to be or not to be" comes from "Hamlet," not "Romeo and Juliet," but the notion is the same in regards to Sam Bellamy and Maria Hallett. This connection they found in each other was not something that would be easily severed, and this caused a great deal of frustration to the Hallett family, whose biggest bargaining chip to up their worldly status was being swept away on delusions of grandeur — also known as a man of lesser standing. 

According to "Piracy, Riches, and Social Equality: The Wreck of the Whydah off Cape Cod," even as a friend, the Hallett's were not fans of Bellamy. They knew what he represented, how he could be a wrench in their plans, and they wanted Maria far away from him. She defied their wishes, continued to spend her every moment with Bellamy, and they saw this as her spurning her lot in life, forsaking the family by choosing to lower herself. 

The persistence of Bellamy and Hallett makes it seem like it was always destined to be, but things were not that simple. Depending on the source, the Halletts either banished Bellamy, or he impregnated Maria, but whatever the case, the need for money was more pressing than ever. Bellamy needed to provide for Hallett and the family he was suddenly going to have. And if ever there was any hope of being legitimately accepted by the Halletts. it would have to come on the back of significant wealth. 

The price of love

Finding significant wealth quickly has never been an easy thing to do, but if there was a surefire way to do it, the stage was set for piracy. Sam Bellamy may not have had this on the front of his mind yet, but he did have another plan to get rich, according to "Piracy, Riches, and Social Equality: The Wreck of the Whydah off Cape Cod." Rumor had it a Spanish treasure fleet had sunk during a storm off the coast of Florida. His plan was to get a ship, sail down there, and claim the gold for himself. Seems simple enough. Unfortunately for Bellamy, he didn't have the funds for a ship, which is where Paulsgrave Williams comes into the equation. 

According to the New England Historical Society, it was with the financial backing of Williams that Bellamy was able to set sail at all. He used Williams' investment to secure a small ship and sailed with Williams for Florida, only to find that someone else had gotten to the wreckage first. It was, after all, a bunch of gold just sitting in the shallows. The hunt for that gold was nothing short of crowded.

Which left Bellamy in a conundrum. He could go home empty-handed, or he could figure out another way to get rich fast and come home with the money he hoped would secure the future that Hallett deserved, as well as getting her family on his side. His answer: piracy.

When to come home

The thing about being a pirate was that it's not really something you do timidly. Those who are bad at it, well, they die. And those who are good at it make an absolute killing. For Sam Bellamy, he was very much the latter. After linking up with Benjamin Horningold and serving alongside the likes of Edward Teach, aka Blackbeard, Bellamy took his own flagship, the Whydah, and used it to accomplish so much that he is now the richest pirate of all time, according to Forbes

What's great about Bellamy the pirate is that he operated much like Bellamy the non-pirate. He wasn't cruel or bloodthirsty. Some question if he ever killed anyone at all (via the New England Historical Society). He treated everyone equally, freed slaves, and if ever there was a "good guy" pirate, it was him. He was the Robin Hood of the sea, after all, robbing from the rich and giving to the poor.

But the question that must have been eating at his mind the whole time is, "when was enough enough?" He had set out to raise money to take care of Hallett, and he did that. Better than any pirate ever had. According to the Whydah Museum, he only operated for a year, so it's not like he was overindulgent in his successes, but could he have come home sooner? Probably. 

Awaiting Sam's return

While "Black" Sam was off raiding the Atlantic ocean and making a certifiable fortune from aboard the deck of his Whydah, Maria Hallett was not having a great time back home as she awaited the fabled return of her one true love. Remember, she thought he'd just head to Florida, pick up a whole mess of gold, come back, and they'd live happily ever after. He couldn't exactly text and tell her that didn't work out. 

According to "Piracy, Riches, and Social Equality: The Wreck of the Whydah off Cape Cod," Bellamy had been gone for a whole seven months when Hallett gave birth in a barn, all on her own. She had been given lodging in by John Knowles, a Cape Cod local who took pity on her when the rest of the community had scorned her for being unwed, with child, and in leagues with someone as poor as Sam Bellamy. She elected to keep the baby secret by covering it in hay after feeding it, so her family and the town wouldn't take the baby, or worse. 

Tragically, one time Hallett came home to find the baby dead, having choked on a piece of hay. Emotionally fraught, she was picked up by the town sheriff for being thoroughly inconsolable and locked in jail for two crimes — "pregnancy out of wedlock and neglect of her child." However, she was let free by the gaoler, who took pity on her. 

Not to be

The tragedy only got worse for Maria Hallett, and for Sam Bellamy too, though (spoiler), Hallett would be the one who had to live with it, not Bellamy. When finally "Black" Sam had his fill of riches and decided to head home, he had a simple enough voyage to make — the opposite of that initial voyage he made in a much simpler ship. All he had to do was go back up the eastern United States seaboard and harbor in Cape Cod. He had the wealth, now he could use it to fund the life he wanted in the first place.

Bellamy made it all the way to the coast of Wellfleet, Cape Cod, when he was hit by one of the worst storms in New England history, according to the Whydah Museum. It eviscerated the flotilla of ships and the Whydah in particular. Just two hundred yards from shore, the ship was undone by a sand bar, according to "Piracy, Riches, and Social Equality: The Wreck of the Whydah off Cape Cod." The crew of about 200 was destroyed, and their bodies washed to shore, their fortune buried in the ship that helped them achieve so much. Only a few survived; none were Bellamy. His body was never recovered. 

This is when the question of "did he wait too long to come home?" really started to take a toll. Had he come home sooner, with slightly less riches, would he have made it safely home to reunite with his true love, to console her in her grief? Probably. But it was not to be. 

Hallett the Witch

Maria Hallett's reputation around Cape Cod had already taken a turn for the worst with multiple arrests following the death of her infant. While her gaoler continued to release her, for pity's sake, the community began to chatter about her transformation from beautiful young woman destined to high society, to unwed mother with a hidden child whose death spun her further down the dark hole she was headed down. 

According to "Piracy, Riches, and Social Equality: The Wreck of the Whydah off Cape Cod," Puritans accused her of openly conversing with the devil and locals avoided her altogether in order to prevent the risk of being bewitched or cursed. But wait, it gets worse. Apparently the cabin in the woods that Hallett lived in by herself was within sight of where the Whydah wrecked. Meaning she would have seen it all. Legend even has it, according to local folklore, that Hallett trawled the beach looking for Bellamy's body, but never found it. 

The stories of her being a witch only escalated from there. The Cape Cod Times cites numerous legend related to her powers, including that she sold her soul to the devil in her grief, rode on the back of a whale with a glass-eyed goat, a black cat, and a lantern, essentially becoming a siren determined to pull more ships into the sandbar that wrecked her love. That seems more than a tad outlandish, but it's a fun image regardless. 

Separating myth and history

This story has definitely been ripened by myth and folklore. Some sources will even contend that Sam Bellamy and Maria Hallett never met, and that Bellamy was just a good pirate whose motivation was his own. Still other sources, according to "Piracy, Riches, and Social Equality: The Wreck of the Whydah off Cape Cod," claim that Bellamy had a wife and kids in England, and never even came to Cape Cod. 

If your'e a sucker for happy endings, however, you may not be wholly out of luck. According to the Cape Cod Times, one theory claims that Bellamy may have survived after all, but suffered a serious head injury. He still visited her every year, despite his debilitating wound. The fuel to this theory is that when Hallett died, she gave away all her worldly possessions — except for a necklace of pure gold beads. 

If you're wondering where she got that necklace, given the scope of her life, you're not alone. Perhaps it was her dear old Sam after all.