Monday, October 28, 2013

The Wreck of the Whydah

As Sam Bellamy and his newly captured flagship, the Whydah headed north toward Cape Cod, a successful pirating season seemed assured.

Bellamy, his ship laden with cannons and small arms stolen from previously captured vessels, continued to collect prizes along the way. He captured and held the Anne, the Mary Anne, and the Fisher, smaller vessels that that tagged after Bellamy and the 300 ton, 28 gun Whydah. The huge pirate vessel housed 130 pirates and 16 captives, captains and officers of the captive ships. 

Bellamy may have been planning a revolution. Or he may simply have been heading north to see his old flame, Mary Hallett. For whatever reason, he was off the coast of Cape Cod on April 26, 1717, when one of the worst storms ever recorded hit the Atlantic Coast.

A Nor’easter from Canada met a warm front moving up from the Caribbean, and the resulting waves ran the Whydah hard aground on a sandbar, snapped her masts like twigs, and swamped her boats. Finally, the raging seas picked up the enormous ship and rolled her upside down. Though the beach was only 500 feet away, the frigid, turbulent waters were a death trap. Only two of the pirates aboard the Whydah made it to shore alive. Bellamy was not one of them. The two survivors, kidnapped carpenter Thomas Davis and Native American navigator John Julian were quickly arrested.

The much smaller consort ships had fared better. The Fisher was damaged badly enough that she had to be abandoned, but her small crew of 5 pirates survived and transferred to the Anne. They joined the 19 crew aboard that ship and sailed away, hoping to find Sam’s friend Paulsgrave Williams and the Maryanne, which had missed the storm.

The Mary Anne survived the storm, but lost all of her masts and rigging. The sailors aboard, several who were visiting the ship from the Whydah, were devastated to learn of the loss of the larger ship and most of their friends and companions. They were also afraid of being caught themselves. Abandoning their crippled vessel, they headed off on foot.

They might have gotten away, had they not stopped at a tavern to toast their fallen comrades. They were arrested by sheriff’s deputies and hauled off to Boston for trial, along with their two comrades.

It would be 7 months before these men, still wearing the clothes in which they weathered the storm, were tried for piracy in Boston. During that time the fire and brimstone minister, Cotton Mather, visited them in prison and recorded their stories. When they faced the judge, three men escaped the death penalty for robbery and piracy.

Thomas Davis successfully convinced the judge that he had been pressed into service by pirates who needed his carpentry skills. John Julian, the Native American was sold as a slave. The rest, Thomas South, Peter Cornelius Hoof, John Shaun, John Brown, Thomas Baker, Simon Van Vorst, and Hendrick Quintor, a free black man who had signed aboard Bellamy’s ship, were sentenced to be hanged.

The sentence was carried out in Charleston on November 15th. Cotton Mather, who accompanied the men to their hanging, published a pamphlet about their lives called “The End of Piracy,” though piracy certainly did not end with Sam Bellamy.

John Julian was sold to John Quincy, grandfather of President John Quincy Adams, who became a staunch abolitionist. “Indian John” as he was called, never made a good slave. He was unruly, and tried multiple times to escape. He was finally killed in an escape attempt in 1733.

The remaining free members of the Whydah’s crew sailed north until they met up with Paulsgrave Williams. They joined his crew and headed back to the Caribbean.

All of the pirates had spoken of the great treasure contained in the Whydah’s hold, but efforts to reach it turned out to be futile. Thirty feet of water was simply too much for the technology of the time to overcome. So the treasure remained on the ocean bottom. Cotton Mather’s pamphlets and notes were put away. Knowledge of Sam Bellamy and his magnificent ship the Whydah faded into local legend. It was said, in the area around Cape Cod, that a local girl, Mary or Maria Hallett, had been betrothed to a man who became a pirate.

Until Barry Clifford, researching this legend, found some notes, an old pamphlet and a map in the back storage of his local library…

Monday, October 21, 2013

A Pirate's Manifesto

Sam Bellamy, who referred to the core crew of his pirate ship as “Robin Hood’s men,” and was dreaming of starting a pirate revolution, had just taken on 130 additional crew, pirates who had been left behind when their ship was destroyed by the HMS Scarborough. Well supplied with crew, and in control of two ships, the Sultana and the Marianne, Bellamy needed time to organize and hide out form the January storms. He decided on a bold move.

He was near the British Virgin Islands, and decided to attack their capital, Spanish Town. Though the home of the governor, the island had only 325 inhabitants, most of them children who had been born there. When Bellamy, with two pirate ships, and 210 pirates arrived, the authorities had no choice but to surrender.

Bellamy and his crew treated the city as if were a captured ship, going where they pleased and taking what they wanted. There wasn’t much. The pirates enjoyed fresh food, and Bellamy received gifts of money from the less reputable colonists (a fact which outraged the governor.) When the pirates sailed away two weeks later, several servants and bond slaves went with them.

Bellamy headed for the Windward Passage in the northeast Caribbean, where he hoped to ambush a larger more powerful vessel to serve as his flagship. The one he found was the Whydah.

Built only a year before, and intended for the slave trade, the Whydah was a huge ship, 300 tons, heavily armed and built for speed. Nonetheless, the captain ordered his ship to flee. The pirates gave chase. Three days and 300 miles later, they caught up.

As with his first pirating venture, Bellamy was facing a larger ship that was prepared to fight. Once again, he decided to use terror before force. He instructed all of his crew to dress as wildly as possible. The pirates donned stolen coats and wigs, jeweled cuff links, expensive hats and fine linen shirts, then lined up along the ship’s rails. On these hardened, weather beaten men, the fine clothes cold only be seen as what they were – the spoils of war. The pirates screamed out their war cries and brandished pistols, cutlasses, and primitive hand grenades. Even more frightening were the 30 former African slaves, armed and assimilated into Bellamy’s crew.

The Whydah, an 18-gun ship much larger than either of Bellamy’s vessels, surrendered without a fight.

The pirates boarded their prize to find her under the command of Lawrence Prince, a man whom Bellamy may have known personally. Prince was relieved to find the pirates in an excellent mood, and feeling generous. They planned to take his ship, but agreed to leave him the Sultana, some supplies, and £20 cash in exchange. Prince also asked for and received all the cargo the pirates found too bulky or troublesome to transport to their new ship.

The exchange took several days, and during it, the pirate bragged that they had £30,000 in gold. The merchant sailors were amazed to see that the plunder was not secured in any way. The pirates simply left bags of cash in an open room, trusting each other to ask the quartermaster to get them whatever funds they needed and keep account of the shares.

The Whydah was not carrying slaves. Bellamy, who had been kidnapping skilled carpenters from the ships he plundered, added ten cannons to the ship’s armament, stripping the Sultana of her guns. He then cut the raised platforms from the front and rear of the ship. Like a young man souping up a hot-rod, Bellamy cut away the parts of his new ship he didn’t need, making her lighter and more streamlined. As a slaver, the Whydah had needed secure, raised areas from which armed men could police the living cargo. Bellamy wanted a vessel where no man stood above another.

He also moved the ship’s bell forward. Though not immediately apparent to modern readers, this was a radical move. Ships carried their bells near the wheel, the steering apparatus, which was located on a raised quarterdeck.  This was officer’s territory, and the bell gave the men their orders, marking time for beginning and ending work shifts, meals and special assemblies. When Bellamy changed the location of the bell, he changed the location of the ship’s heart, from the stern, where the officers worked, to the bow, where common sailors worked and played.

When the Sultana sailed away, the pirates held an assembly to decide what to do with their new ship. It was decided to sail north. The ship’s quartermaster, Paulsgrave Williams, had family in Rhode Island. He wanted to visit them, give them his share of the plunder, and possibly persuade them to act as fences for stolen items. Sam wanted to go back to Mary Hallett in Boston. They intended to rob ships along the way. 

Williams was now in charge of the Marianne. It was now March of 1717, and a profitable pirating season seemed assured. They agreed that, if they were separated, they would meet on Damariscove Island in Maine.

The pirates took their first ship almost immediately, and added a French crew member who wanted to be a pirate. Their next prize was captained by a man named Beer. The pirates plundered his small sloop in under two hours, while Beer was held captive on the largest pirate ship he had ever seen. Despite Bellamy’s wishes, the pirate crew voted to burn the little ship. Beer later recorded Bellamy’s words.

“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 to my advantage. Damn the sloop, we must sink her and she might have been use to you.”

Then, referring to Beer’s refusal to join the pirates, Bellamy went on. “Damn ye, ye are a sneaking puppy, and so are all who admit to be governed by laws 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 as a pack of crafty rascals. And you (captains and sailors) who serve them, a passel of hen-hearted numbskulls! They vilify us, the scoundrels do, where there is only this difference: they rob the poor under the cover of law, while we plunder the rich under the cover of our own courage.”

Bellamy turned his gaze back to Beers and added, “Would you not better make one of us than to go sneaking after the asses of those villains for employment?”

It took a long time for Beers to answer. He replied that he “could not find it in himself to break the laws of God and man.”

Bellamy seemed disgusted. “You are a conscientious rascal, damn ye,” he said. “I am a free Prince, and I have as much authority to make war on the whole world as he who has a hundred ships at sea and 100,000 men in the field. And this my conscience tells me…” He broke off. “There is no arguing with sniveling puppies who allow superiors to kick them about the deck at pleasure and who pin their faith upon a parson, a squab who neither practices nor believes what he tells the chuckle-headed fools he preaches to.”

Bellamy had stated his manifesto, a declaration of war against the world, its authority figures, and the ministers who claimed to represent God. And it had been written down, one of the few times a pirate’s words were recorded at the height of his power.

Next week… Storm on the horizon.

Monday, October 14, 2013

How to Make a Pirate Shirt

Halloween is right around the corner, and I wanted to give all you pirate fans a chance to make a pirate shirt in time for the holiday.

This would be a fine project for a person with just a little sewing experience. Shirts from this time were made much differently than modern dress shirts. There doesn’t need to be much cutting. Almost all the lines are straight, so you can just tear the fabric to get a perfectly straight line.

You will need:
4 ½ to 5 ½ yards of woven fabric in cotton or linen (depending on how large a shirt you will make)
A long sleeved, button down shirt that fits the person you are making the pirate shirt for.
Needle and thread
Sewing machine (if possible)

An off-white color looks more pirate-y than a pure white shirt. Calico is also appropriate for a truly period shirt. Sailors also wore red shirts at this time, although a historically correct color would be a tomato red, rather than a blood red. Black also looks good for a pirate, or dark brown, though neither were actually used at the time.

Cut a front and a back, which are the same size. You may use the old shirt for guidance. Otherwise, measure the diameter of the wearer at the widest point (shoulders, bust or tummy) and add 12”, then divide by 2. This is your width. Length is about 30”

Cut 2 sleeves. Use the shirt to gauge length, but make then 30” wide.
Cut a collar piece, 20” long by 6” wide.
Cut 2 cuffs, each 10” long by 4” wide.
Cut 2 gussets, each one a 4” square.
Cut 1 more 4” square, and then cut it on the diagonal, to make 2 triangles.

The basic design is a straight front, and a back that his gathered at the neckline. The shoulders extend past the wearer’s natural shoulder. The sleeves are very wide and gathered at the top, where they join the shirt. Notice that the front of the shirt doesn’t open all the way down. Also notice that this shirt does not have a button closure on the sleeve cuff. Make sure the wearer can get his hand through the opening, and if necessary, cut another cuff piece and make a wider cuff opening.

Step 1
Take the front and back pieces and lay them together, one on top of the other. Pin and sew the top edges together along the shoulders, from the outside in, for seven inches only. This will leave a very wide neck hole.

Step 2 Designate one Piece the front. On this piece only, find the center, and cut a straight line from the top edge down 10 inches. This will be the front of the neck opening.

Step 3
On each sleeve, sew a gathering seam 1/2" from the edge, along one of the long (30") sides.
On the opposite side, sew another gathering seam, 12" long, centered on that side.

Step 4
Gather the long seam and attach the cuff. Repeat on the other sleeve.

Step 5
Starting at the cuff, pin the raw edges of cuff and sleeve together, closing the sleeve into a tube. Leave 4" open at the side opposite the cuff.

Step 6
With the sleeve still  inside-out finish the cuff by rolling the outer raw edge back, and hand stitching it to the seamline where the cuff meets the gathered edge of the sleeve.

Step 7
Open the 4" unsewn area at the other end of the sleeve. Pin the 4" side of the square gusset to one side, and the adjoining 4" side of the gusset to the other side, as shown. Sew.

Step 8
Gather the top of each sleeve, using the 12" gathering seam inserted in step 3

Step 9
With the sleeve right side out and the body of the shirt inside out, put the sleeve inside the shirt. Line the top of the open sleeve edge (opposite the gusset) up with the shoulder line of the shirt and pin the opening of the sleeve to the shirt. Stitch the sleeve in place. Repeat with the other sleeve. Now, when you turn the shirt right side out, the sleeves will be properly placed.

Step 10
Sew a gathering seam all along the back of the neck hole, from shoulder to shoulder, and draw in the backof the neck.

Step 11
Finish the 10" cut down the center front by rolling the edges under and stitching them down.

Step 12
Stitch one of the triangular reinforcements over the end of the center cut, tucking the edges under for a finished look. (This is easier to do by hand-sewing.)

Step 13
To attache the collar, pin the center of the collar piece to the center of the gathered back neck opening. Pin the front edge of the collar to the finished edge of the front opening, leaving 1/2" of collar for hemming. Pin the length of the collar along the neck opening, adjusting the gathering at the back so that the collar fits the neck opening. Repeat on other side.

Step 14
Hem the sides of the collar. Turn collar right-side out and roll the unfinished edge under. Whip stitch the open side of the collar to the shirt neck.

Sew the sides of the shirt closed, and hem the bottom.

Well, there we have it, instructions for making your own pirate shirt! Please leave feedback in the comments, and I'll try to clarify anything that's hard to understand. I'm also uploading a video of this shirt to YouTube. Click here to see it. Please watch and comment. (But be easy on me this is my first instructional video!)

Next week: Back to Sam Bellamy's exploits in the Caribbean.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Sam Bellamy - A Pirate King Rises

It was 1716, and Sam Bellamy had just committed himself to a career as a pirate.

Having assisted in robbing a French merchant, and escaped from fellow pirate Henry Jennings with the bulk of the treasure, Bellamy looked up Jennings’ nemesis, Benjamin Hornigold, who had just captured the French ship’s consort, the Marianne.

Bellamy may have left Jennings’ company because Jennings had engaged in torturing the French merchant’s crew. Hornigold had captured the Marianne without a fight and treated her crew civilly. This dovetailed with Bellamy’s own goals. Increasingly, Sam saw himself as a freedom fighter, battling for the rights of common sailors in conflict with merchant captains, ship owners, even kings.

In spite of his youth and inexperience with pirating, Bellamy was impressive enough that Hornigold made him captain of the newly captured Marianne, promoting him over more experienced pirates, including a young man named Edward Teach, who would later be known as Blackbeard.

The Marianne was an ocean going sloop, a perfect pirate vessel, with only one problem. She had no cannons. Sailing together, Hornigold and Bellamy began to search for armed ships they could rob.

But instead of prey, they found another pirate. Olivier La Buse was a hardened French pirate, and meeting him caused a conundrum for Hornigold, who considered himself an English patriot, and made a habit of attacking ships of counties hostile to England, while letting English ships go free. Bellamy, however, believed that all pirates were on the same side, and he brokered an alliance. The three ships formed a squadron and began hunting.

They captured several small prizes, then spent some idyllic time on shore cleaning marine growth off their ships bottoms and feasting off wild game and tropical fruit. Then, with Horingold in the lead, they headed for New Providence, in the Bahamas, a location that had been completely taken over by pirates, hoping to sell their plunder.

On this paradise, Bellamy met and talked with other rebels. New Providence was a hotbed of smugglers, escaped slaves, former privateers, and, most of all, pirates. Bellamy and his friends sold off the cargo they had captured, and Hornigold sold his flagship, the Benjamin, which had been badly damaged by shipworms.

When they left port a month later, the balance of power within the little group had changed. Hornigold, now in a smaller ship, was now subordinate to Bellamy, who had acquired cannon for the Marianne. Within a short time, Hornigold’s policy of not attacking English ships became his downfall. While he retained captaincy of his new sloop, most of his crew transferred to Bellamy’s ship, and Hornigold was forced to leave the group.

Bellamy and La Buse loafed along, making a tour of the islands and picking off small ships along the way. They attempted to capture a large French frigate, a forty-gun warship, but were driven off.
In November they came across a large English ship, the Bonita. While Bellamy attacked, La Buse raised a huge black flag with a skull and cross bones, one of the few times the classic “jolly roger” was actually used by pirates. The Bonita pulled over without a fight. Bellamy’s men plundered the ship for fourteen days.

The Bonita was carrying passengers, and fortunately for them, Bellamy’s men were not inclined to rape or torture. Instead, the pirates wanted to use the manpower of the captured ship to clean and overhaul their own boats.

The captain of the Bonita, Abijah Savage, later filled out a lengthy deposition, describing how Bellamy’s pirates referred to themselves as “Robin Hood’s Men.” Bellamy, who spoke constantly of the need for a more egalitarian society, was an impressive individual. Already, he had earned his nickname of “Black Sam” for refusing to wear the powdered wig associated with authority figures. Unlike other captains, Bellamy wore only his own dark hair, in the pigtail favored by common sailors.

One of the Bonita’s passengers was especially taken with the pirate’s rhetoric. John King, nine years old, turned his back on his mother and the comfortable middle-class life she represented, and joined the pirates of his own free will.

Capture of the Bonita seems to have inspired both Bellamy and La Buse. Or perhaps they had simply hit more profitable waters. They quickly took the Sultana, a ship of twenty-six guns which Bellamy claimed as his flagship. The older and more experienced La Buse was clearly in the shadow of the young upstart with the revolutionary ideas.

Three more ships fell to the pirate squadron in less than a month. But La Buse was growing tired of his association with the more charismatic man. He and Bellamy parted ways. Sam took the Sultana northward, toward the Windward Passage. He was hoping to capture an even bigger vessel. One that would permit him to take on the Royal Navy.

Bellamy needed more men as well, and he gained them in a most remarkable way. Stopping at a deserted island to take on water, Bellamy's crew were greeted by a hundred castaways, crew of a pirate ship that had been sunk by the HMS Scarbourgh. The pirate captain and his officers had escaped in the longboat with most of the treasure, leaving his men to await the return of the authorities.

The castaways were more than happy to join Bellamy’s crew, but the sudden introduction of over a hundred new men were also a cause for concern. Would the newcomers be won over to Bellamy’s fight for freedom, or would they overpower Bellamy’s crew and take his accumulated treasure, much as Bellamy had done to Jennings less than a year before? Only time would tell.