The Fateful Selections that Introduced Spanish 1715-Fleet Treasure to the Shores of Cape Cod
by Daniel Frank Sedwick
Born in England in 1689, Samuel Bellamy turned a sailor early in life and fought for the Royal Navy throughout Queen Anne’s Conflict (Struggle of Spanish Succession). Like so many different sailors, he was at unfastened ends after the struggle, so he determined to go to Cape Cod, in all probability to hunt employment, in the spring of 1715. In July of that very same yr, the Spanish misplaced an immeasurable fortune in the 1715 Fleet catastrophe, whereby many hundreds of cash and ingots from Mexico, Peru and Colombia went to the reefs and shores of japanese Florida in a hurricane. Such information was irresistible to an unemployed however skilled sailor like Bellamy, who quickly shaped a gaggle of fellow adventurers to hunt their fortunes chasing the treasures of the 1715 Fleet. This was his Fateful Choice #1.
After the sinking of the Spanish 1715 Fleet on July 31, the survivors despatched longboats to St. Augustine and Havana to acquire aid. Simply two weeks later the Spanish launched a rescue and salvage operation that continued into the yr 1718. With out correct defenses, nevertheless, the salvage websites have been sitting geese for fortune-seekers, and information shortly unfold to the two largest Caribbean privateers of that point, Henry Jennings of Jamaica and Benjamin Hornigold of the Bahamas. It was not lengthy earlier than each of those well-known pirates met Sam Bellamy.
Bellamy, alongside together with his chief monetary backer and second-in-command, the New Englander Paulsgrave Williams, arrived on the east coast of Florida to seek out that the Spanish had already begun salvage work and the treasure was not merely there for the taking as that they had thought. The straightforward stuff was already salvaged by the Spaniards and being guarded onshore. Enter the pirates: After the information reached Jamaica in November, the English privateers Henry Jennings and John Wills sped to Florida and raided the salvage camps to return away with a reported 120,000 pesos in treasure. This huge fortune prompted fairly a stir again in Jamaica and launched a political battle between England and Spain that in impact gave rise to unabashed piracy based mostly in the Bahamas, the place ultimately the King had no selection however to grant a basic pardon in 1718 for any pirates who turned themselves in.
Sam Bellamy, in the meantime, confronted having to return to New England empty-handed and reply to the buyers who financed his salvaging enterprise, or as an alternative flip to piracy. This was his Fateful Determination #2, and it introduced him and his males to the Central American coast, the place they exchanged their salvage vessel for 2 smaller and a lot quicker boats generally known as periaguas (like big canoes however able to dealing with the seas). For a number of months they plundered ships off the Mosquito Coast, including to their crew alongside the means. Whereas heading to the higher goal of Cuba, Bellamy encountered the likes of Henry Jennings, recent off his return to Jamaica with the 1715-Fleet loot. The timing was proper for this veteran privateer to grow to be Bellamy’s first pirate mentor. Collectively they attacked Baya Hondo, on the north coast of Cuba, on April three, 1716, overpowering a French ship and taking its 28,500-peso windfall in the type of what have been little question 1715-Fleet cash, which the Spanish in Cuba had simply traded for illicit items from the French. Phrase of one other wealthy French vessel to the east attracted Jennings’ consideration, though his scouts quickly discovered that his rival Benjamin Hornigold had crushed him to it. The over-assured Jennings determined to go after Hornigold, and in a extreme lapse of judgment, he left Bellamy with the loot in Baya Hondo. Now generally known as “Black Sam,” Bellamy took the treasure and ran, which was his Fateful Choice #three.
Jennings didn’t discover Hornigold, however one way or the other Bellamy did, with a special function. Hornigold was not simply well-known for privateering but in addition for mentoring different buccaneers, most prominently Edward Train, higher often known as “Blackbeard,” who was Hornigold’s second-in-command by the time they met Bellamy. Hornigold beloved the incontrovertible fact that Bellamy had tricked Jennings, and he gave his new scholar the sloop Marianne. All through the summer time of 1716, the pirate flotilla carried out profitable raids, however more and more the pirates grew uninterested in Hornigold’s coverage of not taking British ships or cargo. Throughout a careening cease, it was determined that Black Sam Bellamy can be the new grasp, and Hornigold, alongside together with his protégé Blackbeard, was despatched packing. (As a aspect word, Hornigold quickly retired from piracy, profiting from the aforementioned pardon in the Bahamas in 1718, whereas Blackbeard continued his adventures in one among his prizes, which he named Queen Anne’s Revenge, later misplaced off the coast of North Carolina in 1718, and was killed by the British Navy in November of that very same yr.)
Bellamy, nonetheless in the Marianne, proceeded to ransack the Caribbean, taking up 50 ships alongside the approach in a really brief period of time. In December of 1716, off Guadeloupe, Black Sam captured the ship Sultana, made her his new flagship, and put in his second-in-command Williams as captain of the Marianne. In February of 1717, someplace between Cuba and Haiti, the pirates noticed a brand new, 300-ton slave galley and chased it for 3 days earlier than lastly taking her and not using a battle. Her identify was Whydah, and she was on the homeward journey after simply having exchanged her cargo of slaves for what once more needed to be Spanish cash from the 1715 Fleet. Bellamy and his males counted the treasure on board—20,000 to 30,000 kilos sterling in worth—and divided it into 180 shares, one for every of the 180 pirates in the crew. Additionally divided have been luggage of gold from Africa, together with gold mud and Akan gold jewellery, and reportedly East Indian jewellery as nicely. With all this treasure, and contemplating her newness and agility, Bellamy determined to make Whydah his new flagship and container for all the pirate loot, amounting to some four-and-a-half tons of silver and gold divided into 180 shares, to not point out different items and an arsenal of cannons. In return for not resisting, Bellamy graciously allowed the former captain of the Whydah to sail away on the Sultana, leaving Bellamy and his pirates with simply the Whydah and the Marianne.
For no matter purpose—be it the wants of a New England carpenter to return to his household, or the goal of beginning a brand new “pirate kingdom,” or just to make repairs, Bellamy steered the Whydah and Marianne up the east coast and northward to the faraway shores of Maine. Regardless that every of his 180 pirates now had extra wealth to his identify than a typical lifetime of earnings for an trustworthy man of that age, the captures didn’t cease, and the convoy added two extra ships, the Mary Anne, which offered the gleeful pirates with a cargo of effective Madeira wine, and the small sloop Fisher, which gave them the advantage of an area navigator in the foggy and treacherous waters of the northeast (the destiny of the Marianne at this level is unknown). Drunk from the wine and feeling assured in his means to securely navigate, Bellamy made his Fateful Choice #four, which might be his final: The ships steered towards Cape Cod.
The historic report doesn’t specify that Bellamy meant to cease at Provincetown at the northern tip of the Cape, however the reality is that he turned his ships that means when he ought to have turned extra to the east if he was nonetheless headed to Maine. Romantics consider the purpose for the return to Cape Cod—ignoring the dangers of seize and prosecution—was a lady. Her identify was Maria Hallett. Sam Bellamy met her accidentally simply earlier than he left for the Florida coast in 1715, and the two fell in love instantly. Upon his departure, Bellamy informed her he would return with huge treasures, marry her and begin a brand new life together with her as prince and princess of some island in the West Indies. Some even say she was pregnant when he left, and bore Bellamy’s son in his absence, solely to have that son die beneath mysterious circumstances, all with out Bellamy’s information. It’s arduous to see Bellamy’s navigation towards Cape Cod on that fateful April night time—and certainly the whole northward trek—as lower than an try and see his beloved. Naturally the story continues with Hallett watching from the shore as the Whydah went down, and in fact pining for Bellamy endlessly after. However as with all good love story, the details have commingled with fictitious romance, and we’ll in all probability by no means know the fact behind Bellamy’s remaining fateful choice to steer towards Cape Cod and lose every thing.
What Bellamy didn’t know, nevertheless, was that a storm was bearing down on the three ships and quickly would wreck all of them in the shallow sands off Cape Cod. For numerous causes, most of the pirates and their captured artisans survived from the different ships, however solely two aboard the Whydah lived to inform their story. The pirates have been quickly captured and tried for piracy. These trials, the truth is, present many particulars about Bellamy and the Whydah that we might not know in any other case. In the finish, every of the condemned pirates was goaded into penitence by the well-known Puritan minister Cotton Mather earlier than execution. Whether or not dying on the wreck or on the gallows, every pirate missed out on the common pardon of 1718 by just some months.
The subsequent well-known determine on this story is Captain Cyprian Southack, the Boston official answerable for retrieving as a lot of the wreckage as potential. By his account, the Whydah lay in 13 ft of water simply 500 ft from shore—however the chilly water and poor circumstances made it unimaginable to dive the wreck, to not point out the proven fact that the ship had capsized and sank into the sand upside-down, with all the treasure subsequently buried deep under the ballast and cannons and the whole lot else. His efforts to recuperate washed-ashore elements of the ship have been rebuffed by the beachcombing locals, and he even acquired caught with the invoice for burying all the lifeless pirates.
However Southack was an skilled cartographer, and it was his knowledge that made it potential for the Whydah to be present in trendy occasions by Barry Clifford, whose sleuthing pinpointed the wreck website at extra like 20 ft of depth a further 1000 from the coast, as a result of erosion and rising sea ranges that had even sunk a close-by city that Southack had used for reference. Clifford’s efforts have been roundly criticized by the archeological group till his group recovered a big bronze bell with the precise identify of the ship on it. Since then, Clifford and his group have recovered 48 cannons (plus twelve extra nonetheless on website) and actually tons of treasure, together with round 15,000 silver cash and tons of of small items of Akan gold, with lots of extra nonetheless encased in but-to-be conserved concretions—however the “mother lode” at the backside has but to be reached.
It’s staggering to think about what riches from the 1715 fleet are but to be discovered on the Whydah—intriguingly, there are gaps in dates and forms of cash recovered from the 1715 Fleet in trendy occasions that the Whydah as an alternative might account for. Already we’ve got seen amongst the Whydah recoveries many silver cash from the mints of Lima and Potosi which might be scarcely represented in the 1715-Fleet finds of recent occasions. In gold cash from the Whydah we’d anticipate to see Lima gold cobs of the yr 1714, that are uncommon from the 1715 Fleet (to not point out the controversial date 1715, which can or might not have been attainable from the 1715 Fleet for Lima). Most tantalizing of all are the a whole lot of Mexican gold “Royals” (spherical presentation items) which might be talked about in modern paperwork however that exist solely in small numbers so removed from the 1715 Fleet recoveries. Barry Clifford and his firm proceed to look and salvage the Whydah website. When—not if—they discover the “mother lode,” it is going to be a brand new day for the collectors and researchers of 1715- Fleet cash!
Clifford, Barry (with Peter Turchi). The Pirate Prince: Discovering the Priceless Treasures of the Sunken Ship Whydah. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993.
Clifford, Barry (with Paul Perry). Expedition Whydah: The Story of the World’s First Excavation of a Pirate Treasure Ship and the Man Who Discovered Her. New York: HarperCollins, 2000.