SCIENCE

300-Year-Old Pirate Skeletons From Fabled ‘Black Sam’ Crew Found Off Cape Cod

The remains may include those of the legendary pirate himself, Samuel “Black Sam” Bellamy, a.k.a. "The Robin Hood of the Sea."

The skeletal remains of six pirates who likely served under the legendary Capt. Samuel “Black Sam” Bellamy have been discovered off the coast of Massachusetts.

According to the Whydah Pirate Museum, one set may even be those of the famed pirate himself, one of the many who perished when his ship, the Whydah Gally, sank off Cape Cod in a storm in 1717.

“We hope that modern, cutting-edge technology will help us identify these pirates and reunite them with any descendants who could be out there,” explorer Barry Clifford, who found the wreck in 1984, told local media including Boston TV station WHDH.

The remains are encased inside “concretions,” or hard masses that form around remains and artifacts, such as this one from the same wreck:  

In this 2016 file photo, archaeologist Marie Kesten Zahn works to remove silver coins from a concretion recovered from the wr
In this 2016 file photo, archaeologist Marie Kesten Zahn works to remove silver coins from a concretion recovered from the wreckage of the pirate ship Whydah Gally at the Whydah Pirate Museum, in Yarmouth, Mass.

The New England Historical Society said Bellamy thought of himself as the “Robin Hood of the Sea” and called his crew “Robin Hood’s men.” His other nickname, “Black Sam,” came from his signature look: Instead of the powdered wigs in style at the time, he grew out his own black locks. 

“Black Sam Bellamy ran his pirate operation democratically,” the society noted. “His men were slaves and Indians and sailors pressed into service. Bellamy treated them equally and let them vote on important decisions.” 

The Whydah itself was a captured slave ship, something noted by Clifford in his announcement of the new discovery. 

“This shipwreck is very sacred ground,” Clifford said, “We know a third of the crew was of African origin and the fact they had robbed the Whydah, which was a slave ship, presents them in a whole new light.”

The New England Historical Society said there was no record of Bellamy ever killing a captive even though he took 53 ships and became one of the wealthiest pirates of all time. But that distinction didn’t last: He died about a year into his career as a pirate captain.

The wreck was found in 1984 and identified by recovered objects, including the ship’s bell:

In this 2016 file photo, a museum visitor walks by a display of a bell once belonging to the pirate ship Whydah Gally at the
In this 2016 file photo, a museum visitor walks by a display of a bell once belonging to the pirate ship Whydah Gally at the Whydah Pirate Museum, in Yarmouth, Mass. 

Scientists thought they had identified some of Bellamy’s remains in 2018 when they found a skeleton with a pistol and a pocketful of gold, but DNA tests came back negative. Those remains likely belonged to a member of the pirate crew.  

“That bone was identified as a human male with general ties to the Eastern Mediterranean area,” author Casey Sherman said in the statement. “These newly found skeletal remains may finally lead us to Bellamy as we now have his DNA.”

The wreck site continues to yield new finds, much of which are on display at the Whydah Pirate Museum on Cape Cod. 

“At the time of the wreck, she was carrying the picked valuables from over 50 other ships captured by Bellamy’s pirates,” the museum’s website stated. “The Whydah collection, therefore, represents an unprecedented cultural cross-section of material from the 18th century.” 

Last month, The Cape Cod Times described how the finds from the wreck site were examined at the museum, which also displays a replica of the Whydah’s hull:

A life-size replica of the hull of the pirate ship Whydah Gally is displayed at the Whydah Pirate Museum, in Yarmouth, Mass.
A life-size replica of the hull of the pirate ship Whydah Gally is displayed at the Whydah Pirate Museum, in Yarmouth, Mass.
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Graveyard for Pirates