Ship and gold

Everyone has heard of pirates. 

The Golden Age of Piracy – roughly taking place between the 1650s and the 1730s – inspired plenty of media, from literary giants such as Stevenson's Treasure Island to pop icons such as the record-breaking Pirates of the Caribbean. 

Sailing under the Jolly Roger, there is one figure who truly stood out among this legendary lot and, in a short time, rose to become the most profitable pirate ever.

Later known as “Black Sam" and "Black Bellamy," captain Samuel Bellamy and his crew have earned eternal fame thanks to their deeds, taking ownership of 53 ships and ruling over the Oceans for two years.

In 2008, Forbes ranked him among the top-earning pirates in history.

The Flying Gang was a group of pirates located in Nassau. Alongside the likes of Calico Jack and Charles Vane, "Black Sam" Bellamy and his crew were among them. (Jakob Rosen, Unsplash) 

Black Sam was born in Devon, England, in 1689. He became a sailor as a teenager, travelling to Cape Cod, Massachusetts, in search of fortune and turning to piracy in his mid-20s. 

His career as a pirate only lasted two years, from 1715 to 1717, but the pirate and his crew amassed a few records along the way. 

Bellamy initially joined the crew of Captain Benjamin Hornigold and sailed with him for several years aboard the Marianne. Hornigold’s second in command was another legendary figure in piracy: Edward "Blackbeard" Teach.

After becoming one of Hornigold's lieutenants, Bellamy didn't agree with the captain's decision to not to attack British-flagged ships. 

Bellamy, helped by his friend and quartermaster Paulsgrave Williams, took control of Marianne after Hornigold and Blackbeard were voted out of command during a mutiny.

Aaron Burden, Unspalsh

A notable figure that sailed under Bellamy's colours was the young John King (who died on April 26, 1717, aged between eight and 11), the youngest pirate in history. 

According to the records, Black Bellamy captured the passenger ship Bonetta on 9 November 1716. 

A boy named John King and his mother were aboard the ship, and were taken hostages. 

As reported in a sworn statement dated 30 November 1716 and signed by Bonetta’s captain Abijah Savage, John King was eventually allowed to join Black Sam’s crew and turned to piracy.

Bellamy was known among his fellow pirates for his love of expensive clothes, especially black coats, and for never wearing powdered wigs (in use at the time). 

Regarded as a democratic and well-mannered character, he was famous for his unusual kindness toward crew and hostages: known also with the nickname the “Prince of Pirates”, Bellamy considered himself a Robin Hood-like figure. 

Whenever he had to fight, Bellamy would use four duelling pistols. 

He also kept a sword at his side.

Raimond Klavins, Unsplash

In the time he spent as a captain, he commandeered more than 50 ships – Hornigold's Marianne among them. 

According to Forbes, the pirate amassed a fortune that would be worth around $140 million (£120 million) in today’s money. 

His ultimate and most lucrative seizure was the one of the Whydah Gally (also known simply as Whydah), a three-masted slave ship, which supposedly was carrying more than £20,000 (now £4.1 million; $5 million) of gold and silver on board when it was captured by Bellamy between Cuba and Hispaniola. 

After a three-day chase aboard his two ships, Marianne and Sultana, the pirate conquered the fully rigged Whydah and elected it as his new flagship.

However, Bellamy also left his other ship (the 26-gun galleon Sultana) and a generous amount of gold to the defeated Captain Lawrence Prince, Whydah's previous commander.

However, Bellamy didn’t have too much time to celebrate. 

Just two months after acquiring the Whydah, the ship was caught in a storm and sank off the coast of Massachusetts, USA, on 26 April 1717. 

Black Sam, only 28 at the time, and all but two of his crew perished with the ship and the gargantuan treasure. 

 In 1984, American archeological explorer Barry Clifford first discovered the remains of the Whydah Gally after 260 years spent looking for Bellamy's lost treasure. 

Among the remnants, together with the ship's bell, a small leg bone confirmed the presence aboard of a child between the ages of eight and 11 – likely, the young crew member John King.

In 2018 and 2021, archaeologists and scientists thought they had found the remnants of Black Bellamy himself, but nothing was confirmed.

Bandits and heroes, legendary sailors and freedom-seekers, pirates continue to fascinate the masses, and their popularity keeps growing.

The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, for example, has taken Hollywood by storm and amassed plenty of accolades. 

Overall, Jack Sparrow's story is the:

  • Highest-grossing swashbuckler/pirate movie (earning a whopping $1,066m (£572m) worldwide as of 7 December 2006)
  • Highest grossing pirate movie series ($4,522,062,632 (£3.34 billion) as of 2017)

Interested in pirate records?
Read everything about the Golden Age of Piracy in Guinness World Records 2024.

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