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The Stuff of Daysdreams
I spent much of my childhood following my uncle Bill around Cape Cod. He was a child at heart and didn't mind having me as a constant companion. My mother said that he had money and smarts, but I liked him because he never acted as though he had too much of either. Bill was a Cape native who made a living doing a bit of everything, from fishing to carpentry, and I learned a lot iust by being with him. The times I enjoyed most, though, were spent talking in the fishing shack.
Uncle Bill's fishing shack was an escape from reality. It was a weathered wood structure that leaned from the weight of the honeysuckle vines that had been growing over it for nearly twenty years. Inside were boxes of tools, a couple of chairs, and a pile of ancient fishing net that gave off heat as it rotted away to nothing in the hot sun.
It was there, as I lay on the rotting net and listened in awe to the stories he told, that I first heard the tale of Black Sam Bellamy and Maria Hallett.
I was maybe nine years old when he first told me the story. Bill was standing at the wooden bench working on an engine part when he asked if I had ever heard of Sam Bellamy, the pirate.
"No," I said, turning my full attention to Bill.
"Did you know that Cape Cod was teeming with pirates in the 1700s?" he asked.
Visions of treasure chests being hauled ashore by swarthy and dangerous men flashed through my mind. I wanted to hear more.
"It's true," he said, looking at me matter-of-factly. "In the 1700s there was hardly anybody living on the Cape, just a few hearty souls who, for one reason or another,didn't want to live in Boston or any of the other big cities. It was a perfect place for pirates and all other types of misfits and outcasts to live."
Uncle Bill lit up an unfiltered Camel cigarette and filled the room with a white cloud of smoke that looked like salt haze. He thought a moment and then sat down in one of the creaky chairs. He said nothing until I was leaning forward with anticipation.
"The legend of Black Sam Bellamy and his lover Maria Hallett is a dark version of the Romeo and Juliet story," he said. "It is a story that has captivated people for hundreds of years because it is about love, pirates, a shipwreck, and buried treasure. Best of all, it's true."
Bill took another drag and eyed me through the cigarette smoke that poured from his mouth. The veil of smoke was creepy to me because I could see human shapes in it the way some people see faces in cumulus clouds. I conjured images of pirates in the smoke and held my breath as Uncle Bin took me back in time.
There were always more pirates on the Cape than anywhere else in America. None of them was more respected and feared than Black Sam Bellamy.
He was called Black Sam only after he became a pirate and began to sail under the black flag. Before that, he was just Sam Bellamy, an unemployed seaman from Plymouth, England, who moved to Cape Cod looking for work in the New World.
Bellamy was from the bottom rungs of English society, the abused class, and was forced to work hard just to survive. His mother had died when he was born, and he had probably been out of the house and working hard from the age of ten. I guess Bellamy finally had enough of the English class system and left for America to get a fresh start.
Bellamy arrived in Cape Cod in 1714, when he was twenty-four yearsold. He had relatives here and moved in with them long enough to get on his feet. During this period he met the two people who would change his life. One of these was Paulsgrave Williams, the jeweler who would lend him the money necessary to buy a ship. The second was Maria Hallett, the woman he would love until the day he died.
Maria was a beautiful woman, with long hair the color of straw and eyes as deep and blue as a freshwater pond. Sam met her one perfect June day as he was walking past the cemetery in the town of Wellfleet. She was sitting underneath an apple tree covered by a white mist of apple blossoms. He slowed and then stopped. Wherever he was going was no longer important. He had to meet this girl.
Bellamy introduced himself and soon the two were talking like oldfriends. Maria was only sixteen and excited by the worldly stories that this young Englishman told her. He told her of his difficult childhood in Plymouth, and how hard it was to be raised only by his father. He talked of going to sea in his teenage years to work in the queen's merchant fleet, and how thousands of seamen had been laid off because the war with the Spanish had ended and the size of the navy was cut back.
He told her of his hopes and dreams in the colonies, where a man could work his way to success instead of just work himself to death. Then he told her of another plan, a plan to get rich.
As many as a dozen Spanish ships loaded with chests of gold and silver had sunk in a storm near Florida. The wrecks were supposedly in shallow water, and rumor had it that the gold was available to anyone who could beat the Spanish to the spot. The news was causing a minor gold rush in the colonies, with ships leaving Atlantic ports daily and heading south to the wreck site. There was a good chance that a man could get rich if he got there quickly. It was a chance Bellamy wanted to take.
Maria liked what she saw in Bellamy. He was cocky and not ashamed of being poor. Though her clothing made it obvious that she was from a family with money, Bellamy talked proudly of his lower-class upbringing in England. He was confident and seemed to be driven to succeed, and Maria Eked those qualities. From this first meeting Maria could ten that she wanted to see more of this forthcoming young man.
Maria's parents were not happy with their daughter's new friend. They were successful farmers with high hopes for their beautiful daughter. They thought her interest in this sailor--someone who would be gone at sea most of his life-meant she was deciding on a life of solitude.
Still, against her parents' wishes, Maria continued to see Sam Bellamy. He spent a lot of time at the Great Island Tavern, an establishment that was more than a tavern. Located on an island about two miles from Wellfleet... Expedition Whydah. Copyright © by Barry Clifford. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.