Pirates on Cape Cod: A Captivating History

pirates on cape cod

history of pirates on cape cod

Pirates on Cape Cod? While most people do not typically associate Cape Cod with pirates, there was a large presence of buccaneers on the Cape Cod coast in the 17th and 18th centuries.

In this post, we look at the history of pirates on Cape Cod, including a deeper dive into some of the infamous pirates who roamed the Cape Cod waters and the Whydah shipwreck.

Were There Pirates on Cape Cod?

Pirates are commonly associated with the Caribbean and Central America; however, like many vacationers today, some pirates like to spend their winters in the south and then travel up to the areas around Boston during the summer.

Pirates played an important part in the transport of goods and currency, even if it was not through legal methods. That is why, prior to the Revolutionary War, places like Cape Cod encouraged pirates to come to their waters.

Pirates on Cape Cod did not always come from faraway lands. In fact, Palsgrave Williams, a pirate known for sailing with the famed Sam Bellamy, was born in Newport, Rhode Island.

What Were Pirates on Cape Cod Like?

Modern-day society has romanticized the idea of what pirates in the 17th and 18th centuries were like. While it is fun to think of jolly gangs of men sailing the seas in search of treasure, the reality is that pirating was a deadly business in which most venturers never gained wealth.

Those who were able to manage success almost certainly did not have chests of buried treasure lying around, with treasure maps leading them back to their hordes of gold. Most plundering was of merchant vessels carrying perishable goods. Those goods had to be sold quickly at port, and any profit was often put into the next pirating venture.

Famous Cape Cod Pirates

history of pirates on cape cod

While it is not always easy to pinpoint when and where Cape Cod pirate raids happened, it’s clear that there were several notable pirates roaming the seas off the coast of Cape Cod shores. While not every pirate occupying the waters of New England is known to have stepped foot on Cape Cod, they almost certainly sailed the seas in and around the Cape.

Captain “Black” Sam Bellamy

One pirate who we know certainly inhabited Cape Cod is “Black” Sam Bellamy, also known as the “Prince of Pirates” or the “Robinhood of the Sea.” Bellamy is known as one of the wealthiest pirates in recorded history and for sailing the famed Whydah. He is often pictured wearing lavish black coats and four dueling pistols firmly attached to his body with a sash.

Bellamy was born in Devon, England, but traveled to Cape Cod in 1715, apparently seeking some relatives. However, in 1716, he left on an expedition in search of the 1715 Spanish Treasure Fleet on the Marianne, which was captained by Benjamin Hornigold and the soon-famous Edward “Blackbeard” Teach.

After failing to find the treasure, the crew of the Marianne ousted Hornigold and Teach, electing Sam Bellamy as the captain. Bellamy and the crew quickly turned to piracy and captured a second ship known as the Sultana.

Bellamy and his crew were not in possession of the Sultana for long, as in the Spring of 1717, they captured the much larger Whydah. Due to the lack of resistance to Bellamy’s attack, Bellamy left the captain and crew with the Sultana and sailed off to rob in plunder with the Whydah and Marianne.

Unfortunately, Black Sam’s control of the Whydah did not last long either. While sailing back to Cape Cod in April 1717, the ship capsized, killing Bellamy and all but two crew members.

Before he passed, Black Sam Bellamy was accredited with capturing at least fifty-three ships, earning him a place in the history books as one of the most famous pirates to sail the seas of Cape Cod.

Paulsgrave Williams

Paulsgrave Williams was a jeweler from Rhode Island who helped fund and sailed on the initial treasure-finding mission that led to Sam Bellamy’s baptism into piracy. Williams served as Bellamy’s sidekick and sailed Marianne after the capture of the Whydah.

After hearing the news of Bellamy’s death, Williams sailed to the Bahamas and sold the Marianne. He then took a pardon in 1718 for pirating but allegedly began pirating again off the coast of Africa in 1720.

Other Famous New England Pirates

While Sam Bellamy and Paulsgrave Williams are the two most commonly associated with pirates on Cape Cod, the following pirates were also active in the New England area and perhaps at some point sailed past Cape Cod:

  • William Kidd
  • Blackbeard
  • Jack Quelch
  • Rachel Wall

Discovering the Whydah

history of pirates on cape cod

In 1984, the wreckage of the famous flagship of Samuel Bellamy, the Whydah Gally, was discovered off the coast of Cape Cod. This became the first authenticated discovery of a pirate shipwreck in North America.

Among several other artifacts, the ship was found to be carrying copious amounts of indigo, ivory, and gold. Many of the artifacts discovered can now be found in Cape Cod at the Whydah Pirate Museum Cape Cod.

Pirate Activities on Cape Cod

For more swashbuckling pirating fun join the Cape Cod Pirate Festival the first two weekends in June this year in Yarmouth. There will be bucaneer theme days, plenty of pirating games, demonstrations and pub sings.

If visiting the Whydah Pirate Museum has you and your kids wanting to hit the open seas look no further than Hyannis! Setting sail from the Hyannis Harbor is a pirate-themed boat cruise with opportunities for kids to participate in several pirate-themed activities. If you’re an adult looking for a more relaxing way to experience the open seas, check out some of the other boating excursions in Cape Cod.




Please feel free to share your favorite Cape Cod experience about this topic with our audience!

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