"Black Sam" Bellamy (ca.1689-1717) was an English pirate captain who terrorized the Caribbean for a few months in 1716-1717. He was captain of the Whydah, one of the most formidable pirate ships of the age. A skilled captain and charismatic pirate, he may have done much more harm had his pirating career not been cut short by a violent storm that sank his ship.
Black Sam's Early Life
Records are imprecise, but Bellamy was most likely born on or about March 18, 1689 in Hittisleigh, Devon, England. He chose a life at sea and made his way to England's North American colonies. According to New England lore, he fell in love with Maria Hallett of Eastham, Massachusetts, but her parents did not approve of Bellamy: thus he turned to piracy. The first mention of him in the New World places him among those who scavenged the remains of the Spanish treasure fleet which was sunk in 1715.
Bellamy and Jennings
Bellamy and his friend Paulsgrave Williams made their way to the Bay of Honduras where they engaged in small-scale piracy with a handful of other desperate men. They managed to capture a small sloop, but abandoned it when they were attacked by pirate Henry Jennings, who had a much larger force. Bellamy, Williams, Jennings and a young Charles Vane teamed up to take a French frigate in April of 1716. Bellamy and Williams double-crossed Jennings, however, stealing much of the take from the French vessel. They teamed up then with Benjamin Hornigold, a well-known pirate who refused to attack English ships, preferring French of Spanish vessels. One of Hornigold's officers was a man named Edward Teach, who would eventually gain great fame under another name: Blackbeard.
Bellamy was a fine pirate and rose swiftly in the ranks of Hornigold's crew. In August of 1716, Hornigold gave Bellamy command of the Mary Anne, a captured sloop. Bellamy remained with his mentor for a short time before striking out on his own when Hornigold's crew deposed him for refusing to take English prizes. Bellamy's pirating career got off to a good start: in September he teamed up with legendary French pirate Olivier La Buse ("Olivier the Vulture") and captured several ships in and around the Virgin Islands. In November of 1716, he captured the British trader Sultana, which he converted for use. He took Sultana for his own and gave the Mary Anne to his trusted quartermaster, Paulsgrave Williams.
Bellamy continued to haunt the Caribbean for a few months and in February he made a major score, capturing the slave ship Whydah. It was a lucky break on many levels: the Whydahwas carrying valuable cargo including gold and rum. As a bonus, the Whydah was a very large, seaworthy ship and would make a fine pirate vessel (the Sultana was given to the unlucky former owners of the Whydah). Bellamy refitted the ship, mounting 28 cannons on board. At this point, the Whydah was one of the most formidable pirate ships in history and could go toe-to-toe with many Royal Navy ships.
Bellamy loved the freedom that came with piracy and had nothing but disdain for those sailors who chose life aboard a merchantman or naval vessel. His famous quote to a captured captain named Beer, as cited by Captain Charles Johnson, reveals his philosophy: "Damn my blood, I am sorry they won't let you have your sloop again, for I scorn to do anyone a mischief, when it is not for my advantage; damn the sloop, we must sink her, and she might be of use to you. Tho', damn ye, 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 their 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 one of us, than sneak off after the asses of those villains for employment?" Captain Beer told him that his conscience would not allow him to break thro' the laws of God and man. "You are a devilish conscientious rascal, damn ye," replied Bellamy "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 ... but there is no arguing with such sniveling Puppies, who allow Superiors to kick them about Deck at Pleasure; and pin their Faith upon a Pimp of a Parson; a Squab, who neither practices nor believes what he puts upon the chuckle-headed Fools he preaches to." (Johnson, 587).
Final Voyage of Sam Bellamy
In early April, a storm separated Williams (on board the Mary Anne) and Bellamy (on board the Whydah). They had been heading north to refit the ships and plunder the rich shipping lanes off of New England. Bellamy continued north, hoping to rendezvous with Williams, or, as some believe, to cash in his profits from piracy and carry off Maria Hallett. The Whydah was in the company of three captured sloops, each manned by a handful of pirates and prisoners. On April 26, 1717, another major storm hit: the vessels were scattered. The Whydah was driven onto shore and sank: only two of the 140 or so pirates on board somehow made their way to shore and survived. Bellamy was among the drowned.
Legacy of "Black Sam" Bellamy
The handful of pirates that survived the shipwreck of the Whydah and the other sloops were arrested: most of them were hanged. Paulsgrave Williams made it to the rendezvous, where he heard of Bellamy's disaster. Williams would continue a long career in piracy.
For a brief time in 1716-1717, Bellamy was the most feared of the Atlantic pirates. He was an able seaman and charismatic captain. Had he not met with disaster aboard the Whydah, Bellamy may well have had a long and distinguished career as a pirate.
In 1984, the wreck of the Whydah was located in the waters off of Cape Cod. The wreck has yielded much information about piracy and maritime commerce during Bellamy's time. Many of the artifacts can be seen at the popular Whydah Pirate Museum in Provincetown, Massachusetts.
Today, Bellamy is not as famous as many of his contemporaries, such as Bartholomew Roberts or "Calico Jack" Rackham. This is most likely due to his relatively short life as a pirate: he was in business for only about a year. It was a fine year, though: he went from being a penniless sailor to captain of a small fleet of ships and nearly 200 pirates. Along the way, he plundered dozens of ships and hauled in more gold and loot than he would have seen in several lifetimes of honest work. Had he lasted a little longer, his romantic tale would surely have made him much more famous.
Defoe, Daniel (Captain Charles Johnson). A General History of the Pyrates. Edited by Manuel Schonhorn. Mineola: Dover Publications, 1972/1999.
Konstam, Angus. The World Atlas of Pirates. Guilford: the Lyons Press, 2009
Konstam, Angus. The Pirate Ship 1660-1730. New York: Osprey, 2003.
Woodard, Colin. The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down. Mariner Books, 2008.