Pirate mystery off Cape Cod may soon be solved, thanks to DNA testing

Whydah Pirate Museum

A broken femur bone was found at the shipwreck site of the Whydah.

By Globe Staff 

When Captain Samuel “Black Sam” Bellamy’s pirate ship hit a sandbar and wrecked off Cape Cod on April 26, 1717, many men lost their lives. Some bodies washed up on shore. Others, including Bellamy, disappeared into the sea, never to be seen again.

But new evidence recently unveiled at the Whydah Pirate Museum in West Yarmouth may provide answers to a centuries-old mystery, as archeologists extricated a human bone recovered from the wreck and sent it to a lab to undergo DNA testing.


The piece of femur bone, which measures almost a foot long, was displayed for the first time at the press conference. Forensic science professors at the University of New Haven are working to extract a high-quality DNA sample from the bone in the hopes of proving it belonged to Bellamy.

“We think it could be him because the skeletal remains were found close to an ornamental pistol we believe belonged to Bellamy,” said Casey Sherman, an author who is making a movie about the shipwreck.

Sherman said he will travel to the United Kingdom to retrieve a DNA sample from one of Bellamy’s living descendants. If the DNA test shows the bone belonged to Bellamy, arrangements can be made for a burial.

“This pirate has been at sea for 301 years,” Sherman said, “and we would like to take him home for burial in Devon, England, and return him to his family.”

If the bone turns out not to be Bellamy’s, Sherman hopes to find the site in Wellfleet where 100 of the other shipwrecked pirates were reportedly buried after their bodies washed up on shore. That mass grave has yet to be found, Sherman said.


The bone fragment had long been encased in a hardened mass known as a concretion. Christopher Macort, director of exhibits at the museum, said it took 300 hours to remove the bone from the concretion, which weighed 3,600 pounds an d helped protect and preserve the bone. “They’re literally time capsules,” Macort said.

Macort said DNA test results should be ready in five to six weeks.

Barry Clifford, who discovered the Whydah shipwreck site in 1984, can’t wait to see what the DNA reveals.

“Was he Bellamy?” Clifford said. “Was he Native American? Was he African? We don’t know.”

Emily Sweeney can be reached at