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Tales of American Witches: Maria Hallett, The Pirate-Witch of Wellfleet
American Witches in Folklore
The belief in witches dates back thousands of years and can be found worldwide. Here in the United States, many of us forget about our beginnings, and often we don't realize just how steeped in folklore our country really is—folklore that was brought from other countries, but also folklore that originates here and is unique to this country alone. The indigenous peoples' legends mixed and melted with the immigrants from Europe and Africa. Some of my favorite stories of witches come from the United States—witches along the shorelines of New England, witches high up in the Appalachian and Rocky Mountains, witches living amongst us.
In this series of articles, I will present to you my favorite and most intriguing tales of American witches in the hopes that it will inspire you and light a spark in your imagination. Some will be called witches, some shamans, and others midwives, grannies, and healers, but all are an integral part of American history and folklore and thus should be appreciated.
Maria Hallett, The Heart-Broken Witch of Wellfleet
Seems like so many stories of women gone rogue begin with their hearts being ripped out of their chests, doesn't it? This American folk tale is no exception to the rule.
We travel to New England, to Cape Cod, where a woman named Maria Hallett fell in love with "Black Sam" Bellamy. Black Sam was a well-known pirate in the early eighteenth century, originally born in England eventually leaving for the Americas. He began as a sailor, graduated to captain, then began pirating with his crew. He was known to have taken over fifty ships and it is said he was the richest pirate in history. He also had a reputation for being kind to his captives and crew, and earned the title of "Prince of Pirates".
During his time in Cape Cod, he met a woman named Maria Hallett. Maria was also known as Goody in the nearby town of Wellfleet, MA. They fell madly in love and before long Goody was with child. Unfortunately, Sam had gone off on his ship to do what he did best - scourging the waters. There was talk of a huge fortune that had washed up on the coast of Florida, so Sam was on a mission to clean up. He wasn't aware of Goody's condition.
When the town discovered Maria Hallett was pregnant out of wedlock, they exiled her. But you see, despite being driven from her family and home, Maria Hallett didn't mind too much. She knew Sam would return to her and the baby. She moved close to the water and watched day in and day out for her soul mate's return by ship. But he never came.
The days turned into weeks, weeks into months, and months into years. Sam didn't return and Maria grew full of sorrow and despair. She began to feel hopeless. There were rumors in town that she was a witch, the Witch of Wellfleet. No one knows if their baby survived. No one even knows what the Witch of Wellfleet's real name was but it was speculated to be Goody Hallet. The name Maria was given to her by an author in the 1930s, but there is no documentation to support the claim.
She continued to wait for Sam to come home, and one fateful night in the year of 1717, a ship known as the Whydah approached the harbor. Black Sam Bellamy had taken the ship and was bringing it home along with a sizable treasure. Sadly, a storm arose seemingly out of nowhere and overturned the ship. Sam and the majority of his crew perished, many of the bodies washed to shore and the town buried them as they received them.
Maria "Goody" Hallet, the Witch of Wellfleet, was in no better shape than she had ever been before. What was left of her heart died along with Sam. Or so the legend goes. Others claim her to have been the cause of the storm that took Sam's life and ship. Witches were known to have powers over weather in those days.
No one knows whether Maria actually existed or if she was merely a fairy tale, though there are those who have researched the name Hallett and claim it was a legitimate name in Cape Cod in the eighteenth century so it is possible.
It seems any woman associated with a pirate in Colonial times was automatically accused of witchcraft.— Nicole Canfield
Another Pirate Witch?
I have noticed a pattern with the folk tales of witches in the United States...a few of them are associated with pirates. It seems that any woman who fell in love with a pirate was automatically accused of witchcraft. Or any woman who associated or did business with a pirate, in the case of the Screecham Sisters (see links below to read their story). Or was it that these women were exiled because of their involvement with pirates? Living on the outskirts of town or away from society nearly always slapped a witch-label on a woman in Colonial times, particularly in growing colonies.
On the other hand, it is possible that pirates befriended known witches in hopes that their magical skills could aid in their wiles on the sea. American witches were said to be able to locate lost items, as well as foretell the future. These are two skills that pirates would have use for. Or maybe it's just that all witches were likely to befriend the outcasts and rebels of society, for they too were outcasts and rebels. Exiles have to stick together, after all.
Tales of American Witches:
- Tales of American Witches: The Witch and the Baker's...
Ever wonder why a baker's dozen is thirteen and not twelve? Maybe you never knew the old Christmas story involved a witch...here is another installment of Tales of American Witches.
- Tales of American Witches: The Screecham Sisters (a....
Learn about some of the infamous American witches from history and folklore. The Screecham Sisters were witches who helped pirates.
© 2017 Nicole Canfield