Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Massachusetts: The Witch of Eastham

Wax statue or Bellamy
at the Provincetown
Pirate Museum
This story is part truth and part legend. It is one of Cape Cod’s favorite ghost stories. 

In the early1700’s in a village in Eastham, a young girl by the name of Goody “Maria” Hallett fell in love with a local treasure hunter, by the name of Samuel Bellamy who eventually became an infamous pirate. 

What transpired next depends upon which story you hear or read--there are many versions. 

An article in the National Geographic in 1975  presented one version of this story. In doing research for this post, I read and heard over seven variations.

“Black Sam” Bellamy was a real person, and he did become a pirate. In fact, he was mentored into the trade by an experienced pirate, Benjamin Horngold, who had recently trained Edward Teach, who became known as “Black Beard.” 

Maria Hallett's story, in contrast, is mostly lost to history, so whether she actually lived or is just a legend, remains a mystery. Regardless, this tale has endured and become very popular.

Maria was the local Eastham village beauty. When she met Sam Bellamy, the two fell in love quickly. But Bellany announced in 1715, that he was to travel with a friend to the Florida coast. 

He wanted to salvage the sunken Spanish Fleet that had over 2000 chests of newly minted coins aboard. Bellamy promised Maria he would return to claim her once he had this fortune in hand. 

Once in Florida, Bellany found there was too much competition for these coins--including divers sent by the King of Spain. Running short of supplies he and his friend gave up. This was when Bellamy became "Black Sam," the pirate.

Maria Hallet left behind, discovered within months that she carried Bellamy’s child. To be unwed and pregnant in the 1700s was more than scandalous. Maria managed to keep her condition a secret until after she gave birth. 

But the other villagers eventually found her out, when she left her baby in a barn, and it strangled to death on a piece of straw. She was imprisoned for neglect. 

Another mark against her was she had lain down with the devil in the flesh--Bellamy.

She escaped her imprisonment--most likely because a guard took pity on her. But with this escape, she was accused of witchcraft.

In Cape Cod, those accused of witchcraft were not hung; instead, they were imprisoned. Maria’s father convinced the village council that Maria was not a danger to the community--it did not hurt that he also gave them a sizeable monetary bribe. 

Maria was released but banished from the village. She took up residence in a shanty across a poverty grass, which has become known as “Goody Hallett’s Meadow.”

Now a marked witch, Maria became known for weaving the most beautiful fabrics in the colony of Massachusetts. Although people were forbidden from visiting her, many risked being stoned and crossed the grass to purchase her beautiful materials. 

It is said Maria lived in this shanty the rest of her life. But she was never to see Samuel Bellamy again.

Since Maria's death, her ghost is seen wandering the patch of ground around her little shanty. It is for this reason this ground is called, Lucifer Land and Devil’s Pasture today. This area is now a part of the National Seashore. 

Maria’s ghostly figure has also been seen by witnesses walking the cliffs above the ocean. She is seen peering out to sea, still waiting for the return of her lover’s ship.

After two successful years as a pirate Bellamy now the captain of a ship he had captured in the Caribbean, called the Whydah, * did sail north up the coast to Cape Cod in 1717. His boat was loaded with 4.5 tons of gold, silver and an assortment of other precious treasure. 

True to his word, he was headed back to claim, Maria, his love. 

Bellamy reached Wellfleet just as a spring nor’ easter hit the area. This violent storm sunk the Whydah. Only two crew members survived. Bellamy was never seen again.

Replica of Whydah
at Pirate Museum

In a 1975 National Geographic article the most fanciful version of this story is told. 

It states that Maria was actually recently married to a man named John Hallett when she meets Bellamy and has an affair with him. She is left pregnant, but in this version, she waits on the shore for Bellamy to return always wearing her favorite red shoes. 

This version states she ties lights to the tails of whales to warn ships of impending danger. At one point she is pulled out to sea by one of these whales, and it swallows her. Later, when this whale is opened, her red shoes are found.

Most versions of this story mention that Maria continues to practice witchcraft after the villagers ban her. Instead of welcoming Bellamy home, she actually exacts her revenge on him for leaving her unwed with a baby. 

These stories often mention that she kills her baby outright. 

The storm that sinks the Whydah is stated to be a curse that Maria places as she stands on the bluff above the sea waving her arms as Bellamy's ship approaches. After this, the villages descend upon her with torches and pitchforks and chase her into White Cedar Swamp where she dies.

* In 1984 Barry Clifford found the remains of the Whydah off the coast of Wellfleet near Marconi Beach. This was the first authentic pirate ship found in history. 

He also found a fortune in gold bullion. The Provincetown’s “Expedition Whydah Sea Lab and Learning Center” is a great place to find out more about this discovery.

1 comment:

Ben said...

Great story. Thank you.