Bone Recovered from Whydah Wreck Not That of Legendary Pirate

YARMOUTH – A femur bone extracted from the Whydah shipwreck off Wellfleet is not from famed pirate Samuel “Black Sam” Bellamy.

But researchers said their mission to identify his remains will continue despite DNA findings released on Thursday.

The bone fragment was taken from a concretion at the Whydah Pirate Museum in West Yarmouth earlier this year and examined by forensic experts at the University of New Haven.

Scientists said the remains come from a human male with general ties to the Eastern Mediterranean area.

New X-rays and thermo-imaging have also revealed more of the pirate’s skeleton, partially clothed, and believed to be carrying what appears to be treasure in his pocket.  

The Whydah went down off Cape Cod in 1717. Bellamy has been listed by Forbes Magazine as the most successful pirate in history.

“We haven’t found “Black Sam” Bellamy yet, but phase one of our investigation has yielded significant results,” said Casey Sherman, leader of the Whydah investigative team.

“We now have Bellamy’s DNA to test against future discoveries and we have shed new light on the only remains of an 18th century pirate discovered in North America,” he said.

“Whydah archeologists will continue to examine the large concretion we now refer to as the Tomb of the Lost Pirate, while Whydah divers search for more remains in the shipwreck itself.”

After the bone was removed from the concretion and taken to Connecticut, Sherman traveled to England where he obtained DNA from a documented relative of Bellamy.

“The dive site is hallowed ground for us,” said renowned explorer Barry Clifford in a statement.

Clifford discovered the Whydah Galley in 1984.

“It’s not only the site of a shipwreck, but it’s a burial ground for Captain “Black Sam” Bellamy and members of his crew,” he said.

Clifford said a third of Bellamy’s crew was of African origin and the fact they had robbed the Whydah, which was a slave ship, presents them in a whole new light.

“Bellamy and crew were experimenting in democracy long before the so-called civilized societies had considered such a thing. We will continue to handle this investigation with sensitivity and respect while understanding the full historical significance of what we are doing,” said Clifford.

He and his team, including son Brandon Clifford and Chris Macort, will continue their search of the Whydah shipwreck in the coming weeks.

Researchers said the investigation broke new ground for forensic scientists at the Henry C. Lee College of Criminal Justice and Forensic Sciences at the University of New Haven, led by Professor Tim Palmbach, Dr. Claire L. Glynn, and Dr. David San Pietro.   

“The sample provided to us from the Whydah pirate ship presented challenges on several levels. As it is a bone fragment approximately 300 years old, from the bottom of the ocean, it had been exposed to various environmental conditions which affected the integrity of not just the bone, but also the DNA contained within it. The extraction process proved to be quite challenging as the outer layers required a lot of sanding and cleaning in order to remove surface contaminants and expose the bone,” said the team in a statement.

Once inside the bone, researchers said it was clear that many areas were very heavily degraded, and were quite brittle and discolored.

In order to isolate any human DNA for analysis three different extraction methods were employed; each requiring varying methods of sample preparation and incubation periods.

In the end, the last extraction method bore some usable material.” the team concluded.

The Whydah Galley, loaded with the treasures from 54 seized ships, sank during a nor’easter in April 1717 killing Captain Black Sam Bellamy and members of his crew.

Clifford has recovered millions of dollars in gold and silver of the estimated $120 million buried treasure along with 60 cannon and thousands of rare artifacts from the site.



About NewsCenter

The award-winning NewsCenter provides the Cape Cod community with a constant, credible source for local news. We are on the job seven days a week.
737 West Main Street
Hyannis, MA 02601
Contact Us | Advertise Terms of Use 
Employment and EEO | Privacy