Did a Mysterious Witch Murder Pirate Sam Bellamy?

“Pirates Burying Treasure. Howard Pyle.”

Golden-haired maiden. Radiant young mother. Seasoned jailbreaker. Feared outcast. Talented healer and sympathetic goodwife—and last but not least, murderous witch. In her years upon this earth, the mysterious Maria Hallett of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, lived a startling number of lives. But were any of them true?

Growing up with the legend of a beautiful young woman who was seduced by a dashing British privateer—code for you-know-what—author Kathleen Brunelle spent years trying to figure out just who was this enigmatic figure in Massachusetts history, a figure about whom scant reliable information exists (as we’ve seen before). As Brunelle attests in her book Bellamy’s Bride: The Search for Maria Hallett of Cape Cod, the parade of Hallett’s biographers draw as much from hearsay, folklore, and rumor as much as they do from historically verifiable sources.

 “Maria Hallett under the apple tree. Illustration by Olivia Englehart.”
“Maria Hallett under the apple tree. Illustration by Olivia Englehart.”

Take, for instance, the accounts of Hallett’s deal with the devil. After her pirate lover had sailed south from Massachusetts, leaving her only with vague promises of return and a rapidly swelling belly, she was forced into an impossible position. Outcast from home, without a named husband to the child (in Puritan New England, not just scandal but crime), and living in desperate circumstances, at Hallett’s giving birth the townsfolk found the baby had not survived. Was it stillborn? Or had Hallett had a hand in its demise?

It didn’t matter. Off to the whipping post, and then to jail she went, where somehow this humiliated, traumatized young woman managed to escape multiple times. According to Hallett’s chroniclers, this was only thanks to a visit from Old Nick: “Bellamy was gone,” Brunelle writes, “her child was dead and she stood accused of fornication and infanticide. The people also suspected her of witchcraft. The devil, then, represented her only hope. How could the desperate girl refuse?”

Read the full story of Maria Hallett’s deal with the devil.

Bellamy Returns to Cape Cod

Hence the problem: no one has any idea where any of this came from, and yet, the tale of Hallett’s supernatural encounter has been repeated nearly every time her story is told. Another problem still? Nearly every aspect of her life—from her chance meeting with Bellamy, to her seclusion on the Cape Cod coast, even to her death—only exists in multiple versions. For every tale, a counter-tale; for every square on the quilt of her life, a ripped stitch, a crossed pattern.

The fog of historical time grows thick, but one fact gleams it through like a lighthouse: the fact that in April 1717, against all odds, Bellamy returned to Cape Cod at the helm of the Whydah, a treasure-laden galley he had seized two months earlier—and sailed directly into a raging storm. One legend has it that Hallett, furious at her ex-lover for having abandoned her and her infant child, either caused the storm to sweep up and sink the ship, or at the very least, led it willfully astray as it was trying to come to shore. Hell hath no fury…, as they say.

“The advertisement posted by Captain Cyprian Southack as a warning to Cape Codders who had already picked the Whydah wreckage. Massachusetts State Archives.”
“The advertisement posted by Captain Cyprian Southack as a warning to Cape Codders who had already picked the Whydah wreckage. Massachusetts State Archives.”

The location of the Whydah was in doubt for decades, but all speculation was laid to rest in 1984, when marine explorer Barry Clifford finally found it underwater. Hailed as one of the great archaeological discoveries of the century—and indeed, laden with spectacular amounts of plunder—the wreck has yielded unparalleled insights into what is called the Golden Age of piracy.

And Hallett? Ironically, the historical attestation for an itinerant, vagabond pirate is more complete than that for a woman who lived in the same exact community for the whole of her life. If, that is, she even existed. According to Brunelle, the woman known as Maria Hallett may well have been a composite of several different women over time, woven together from folklore, long-lost families, and pure, wistful invention—the need to spin a great yarn.

Or perhaps—just perhaps—her obscurity was one of the last enchantments that she cast, ensuring that none of us would ever know the truth.

“Pirate Ghost. Howard Pyle.”
Pirate Ghost. Howard Pyle.”