Investigation Into Whydah Remains Heads to England

HYANNIS – The Whydah Pirate Museum in West Yarmouth is attempting to identify remains found at the wreck site as the famous Captain Samuel “Black Sam” Bellamy – and the next step is taking them across the pond.

Investigative journalist and author Casey Sherman is traveling to Hittisleigh, England this week to obtain the DNA of a descendant of Bellamy in hopes of matching it to a sample being retrieved from bones by forensic scientists.

Sherman said the trip is about more than just getting a DNA sample.

“I want to learn more about the Bellamy family history so that we can use that as an educational tool for the museum moving forward,” he said.

Sherman will meet with the family to learn more about Bellamy and explore his native village.

“They are very involved and eager to participate in this exploration,” Sherman said.

Sherman said the descendent he located is fascinated with this story, his lineage and family lore.

“They don’t know as much as I think we know here on Cape Cod about him,” Sherman said.

Hittisleigh does celebrate Bellamy each year with a masquerade ball.

Sherman did have to tell the family they can’t lay claim to the treasure because the riches were stolen treasure.

“The only one who can lay claim to it is Barry Clifford, who prospected the site back in the 1980s,” he said.

Clifford and his diving crew, which included John F. Kennedy Jr., discovered the Whydah off the coast of Wellfleet in 1984. The pirate ship sank off the coast of the Outer Cape town in 1717.

Clifford has recovered millions of dollars worth of gold and silver, along with 60 canons and thousands of artifacts. The only authenticated pirate treasure ever discovered is on display at the Whydah Pirate Museum on Route 28 in West Yarmouth.

Sherman said museum officials believe the remains found belong to Bellamy because of their proximity to ornamental pistols wrapped in a red sash which belonged to the captain.

The bones were removed from a concretion at the museum last month and turned over to forensic scientists from the University of New Haven, who had previously helped Sherman with an investigation into the Boston Strangler case.

Professor Timothy Palmbach, the chair of forensic science at the school says getting a DNA profile will be a tough task.

“We have difficulty sometimes getting DNA profiles from victims that are a week or a month old if they are in adverse conditions,” Palmbach said. “So to go 300 years below the sea is a challenge.”

The process to extract DNA from the bone includes several steps.

The bone will be sanded down and all contaminants from the surface will be removed.

External DNA from that might have gotten onto the sample from the collection, preservation and transportation of the bone will also need to be removed.

“We need to dig down deep into the bone and we need to break it open,” said Forensic scientist and professor Clair Glynn. “With ancient DNA we face even further challenges with getting any sort of good quality and some good quantity of DNA from that bone.”

The scientists will drill into the larger rounded end of bone and extract a chunk.

To extract the DNA, the bone will be pulverized and it will be cryogenically preserved.

Several kits will then be used to measure the quality and quantity of DNA recovered.

If the remains are positively identified as Captain Bellamy, they will be returned to his native England for burial.

“This is a pirate that has been at sea for 300 years and it is really time to bring him home,” Sherman said. “If we do that it will be a major world news event and something very important to the townspeople there to have their namesake, if you will, lying in rest with his family.”

Bellamy was listed by Forbes magazine as the most successful pirate who ever lived.


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