Cape Cod Feature
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Cape Cod's Pirate Ship Whydah
Amid the gently swaying dune grasses and beneath the waves of the Atlantic waft the whispers of a legend. It's a classic tale with all the key ingredients—true love, pirate treasure, and a storm-wrought tragedy—and for nearly three centuries it has inspired fanciful embellishments and lustful searching. Though she was wrecked in a treacherous storm back in April 1717, the pirate ship Whydah still has the power to captivate.
Pirate Sam Bellamy
As with any great legend, there are several conflicting versions of the Whydah tale. Many say the story began with an innocent love, when a dark, ambitious sailor named Sam Bellamy met the beautiful Maria Hallett in Wellfleet. From their brief acquaintance blossomed love, grand promises, and a child (the latter unknown to the wayward Bellamy), and the sailor gave his word that he would return, armed with riches.
He set off for England in hopes of finding fortune in shipping, but he soon realized that piracy was far more lucrative. Black Sam Bellamy, as he became known, and his men were wildly successful, taking over dozens of ships. On a pirating jaunt in the Caribbean, Bellamy and his men captured a beauty—a slave ship loaded with gold and silver. Wealthy beyond their dreams, the men headed north with Bellamy at the helm of this exciting vessel, called the Whydah.
Maria Hallett's Story
While the sailors grew rich and famous, young Maria Hallett was banished by her family because of her pregnancy. She fled to a small cabin in Eastham, awaiting the birth of her child and the return of her lover. She had a son, but he died in infancy, and the discovery of the dead child landed Maria in jail. Reputations were made swiftly in those days: it wasn't long before the townspeople decided Maria was a witch who had made an unholy pact with the devil. She suffered in isolation as Bellamy made his way back to Wellfleet.
The Ship's Wreck and Remains
Mariners have long feared the dangerous shoals, sandbars, and temperamental weather of the waters off Cape Cod. On the night of April 26, 1717, a sudden fierce storm interrupted Bellamy's homecoming, and the once sleek and swift Whydah was no match for the fury of the sea. Blasted by wave and wind, she met her demise in the form of a sturdy sandbar—nearly all hands were lost, and the ship lay broken, exposed to the tides.
In 1984 modern-day pirate Barry Clifford and his crew uncovered some of the Whydah's remains, but the promise of grand treasure has yet to be fulfilled. In Provincetown, at the Expedition Whydah museum, you can see some artifacts from this ship and other historic wrecks.
And what of poor Maria? Some say her ghost still wanders among the dunes, wailing and cursing all sailors. Listen closely on a foggy and ominous evening, and decide for yourself.
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