This got me thinking about the last Captain of Whydah - Black Sam Bellamy - and how ironic it is that his ship should be the focus of this enormous salvage operation. Its one of those serendipitous coincidences that makes history so fascinating.
Samuel Bellamy was born in Devonshire, England and, although little is known of his youth, it is probably safe to say that he went to sea as a boy or very young man. At some point he made his way to the Caribbean and the general consensus among historians is that by 1715 he was working off the coast of Florida in what was known as the "wracking trade". These operations generally worked out of Port Royal, Jamaica and involved hiring pearl divers who had escaped from the pearl farms in Venezuela. The men, who could hold their breath for extended periods, were taken aboard ship to the last known position of a wreck - a Spanish treasure galleon in Bellamy's case - and the salvage of valuables began.
Bellamy fell out with the commander of the operation and turned to piracy. The same year he was aboard Benjamin Hornigold's sloop Mary Anne along with another historical legend - Edward Teach. Hornigold wasn't aggressive enough for Bellamy and the future Blackbeard, however, and by August of 1716 Teach had his own ship and Bellamy had been elected Captain of Mary Anne.
Bellamy liked to trade up as far as ships were concerned and, as he took larger prizes, he moved in to them and either abandon his prior flagship or turned it over to a subordinate. Eventually, he had a small pirate squadron in tow. In February of 1717, Bellamy and his crew took Whydah, an 18 gun English slaver commanded by Lawrence Price. She was on the third leg of the slave triangle and carrying all the spoils of her miserable business back to England. Along with hard coin that would amount to approximately three million in modern dollars, she also carried ivory, sugar, indigo and gold dust. Quite a haul indeed.
Sam moved right in to Whydah and - after generously giving Captain Price and his crew his previous ship and even some cash to see them home - he turned for Virginia. A storm blew Whydah north again but it was nothing like what they would encounter off the coast of Cape Cod. The evening of May 17, 1717 a hard nor'easter struck New England. Bellamy's pirate squadron was decimated including his treasure laden Whydah. She struck a sand bar and began to break apart, finally capsizing in the heavy surf. All but two of her 145 souls, including Bellamy, drown. The smaller ships suffered a similar fate with only five other pirates surviving. Six of the seven were hanged in Boston later that year.
Barry Clifford - himself in the "wracking trade" - discovered the wreck of Whydah in 1984. Much of what has been returned to land so far is on display at Provincetown in Cape Cod. More information about the National Geographic field museum is at this terrific site. Be sure you have a little time to really check it out. There's a lot to see and read.
Clifford and Bellamy. Two treasure hunters separated by 250 years. One wonders how the conversation would go if they could sit down over a jug of rum. I'd like to be a fly on that wall.