Settlers from Plymouth Colony began building houses in Wellfleet, MA in the 1650s. Back then, the settlers called the town “Billingsgate,” after the large fish market in East London. “Billingsgate” was a fitting name, since many early settlers survived off the sea. To this day, Wellfleet, Massachusetts is famous for its oysters, which take center stage at the annual October Wellfleet Oyster Fest. In the early eighteenth century, the infamous pirate ship Whydah wrecked in the shoals off the coast of Wellfleet.
According to legend, at the time of the wreck, the ship’s captain, Sam Bellamy, was headed to Wellfleet to see his love Maria Hallett, known as the “Witch of Wellfleet.” As his ship approached the town, it struck a sandbar and capsized, spilling more than a hundred passengers and more than four tons of treasure into the icy Atlantic.
Just two sailors survived to tell the tale of the Whydah, though they were soon executed for piracy in Boston. In the centuries that followed, the Whydah became a Cape Cod legend. No one was quite sure if the shipwreck was real or folklore until 1984, when explorer Barry Clifford discovered the ship in the water off Marconi Beach. For years, swimmers and ships had passed over the wreck without realizing they were just feet from pirate gold.
The Whydah shipwreck isn’t the only thing that makes Wellfleet’s Marconi Beach noteworthy. This popular beach is also the site of the former Marconi Wireless Station, where the Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi completed the first two-way transatlantic radio transmission in 1903.
Both the station and the beach are named Marconi, who significantly advanced the field of wireless communications with this and other accomplishments. Today, more than two thirds of Wellfleet are protected land, much of it belonging to the Cape Cod National Seashore and the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary.
In these two nature preserves, visitors can explore the rich natural ecosystems that make Wellfleet Bay one of Cape Cod’s most important wildlife habitats. These ecosystems include salt marshes, sandy barrier beaches, and pine woodlands, and are home to threatened shorebirds, sea turtles, diamondback terrapins, and horseshoe crabs.
Town Hall Address: 300 Main Street Wellfleet, MA 02667 Phone: (508) 349-0300
Cost of Stickers: Beach Stickers: $30 taxpayer, $300 visitor Transfer Station Stickers: $25 (pay as you throw) Shellfish License: $60 resident, $210 non-resident