Barnstable’s Old Gaol is a historic colonial jail in Barnstable, Massachusetts. Built c.1690, it is the oldest wooden jail in the United States of America.
The jail served as the Barnstable County jail until c.1820, when a new stone jail was built. The structure, which held about six prisoners, was eventually attached to a barn. In 1968 it was rediscovered, separated from the barn, and moved 100 feet onto the grounds of the Coast Guard Heritage Museum in Barnstable Village.
The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971, and included in the Old King’s Highway Historic District in 1987.
Way back in the 1700’s the jail housed two survivors of Pirate Sam Bellamy’s flagship Whydah Gally which wrecked at Wellfleet, and the seven survivors of his consort ship Mary Anne which wrecked ten miles south at Pochet Island. The jail house is considered one of the most haunted in America and is open to ghost tours at certain times of the year. It is believed to be haunted by Goody Hallett, aka Mary or possibly Maria Hallet, , aka The Witch of Wellfleet,
Here’s a little backstory about Black Sam Bellany and The Witch of Wellfleet…. Full disclosure I borrowed a lot of this from Kinlin Grover Real Estate webpage which for some reason wrote a blog post about this:
Samuel Bellany was Born in Devon, England in 1689, Bellamy left his home for a life at sea at an early age before making his way to Cape Cod in the early 1700’s. In the tiny Cape Cod village of Wellfleet, the young Bellamy met his true love, a blonde teenage beauty named Maria “Goody” Hallett. The young couple soon became inseparable, taking long strolls across the rolling dunes where they talked about getting married and raising a family in their picturesque ocean-side community where a man with a strong knowledge of the sea could support his wife and children through fishing, which was bountiful.
Bellamy had worked on rigged ships for several years and had strived to become a prosperous sea captain. Goody’s father however, believed that his beautiful daughter had more promising prospects for marriage and halted his ambitions. Bellamy was soon driven out of Wellfleet by the elder Hallett who told him to “leave this place and never return”.
Sam Bellamy did leave, but not before making a promise to his love that he would come back to her a wealthy man and build the life they both had dreamed of together. He sailed from Cape Cod to Florida where he tried to earn a living by salvaging treasure from the Spanish silver fleet. This proved to be hard work with little return as other treasure hunters had taken much of the booty before Bellamy had arrived. With no other options to provide him the riches he needed to marry his love, Bellamy joined a band of pirates led by the infamous buccaneer Benjamin Hornigold and his soon-to-be famous first mate, Edward “Blackbeard” Teach.
Sam Bellamy earned the nickname “Black Sam” for his refusal to wear the customarily fashionable powdered wig. Instead, he let his black hair grow long enough to tie with a satin bow. “Black Sam” soon earned the respect of his fellow pirates, who voted to depose Hornigold as their captain for his refusal to attack ships waving a British flag. The crew chose Bellamy as their new captain and they began to successfully seize ships through several epic battles on the high seas. In just over a year, “Black Sam” Bellamy and his men captured a record 53 ships. His kindness and mercy to his prisoners earned him another nickname – The Prince of Pirates. His crew compared him to Robin Hood and called themselves “Robin Hood’s Merry Men”.
In 1717, “Black Sam” Bellamy captured his biggest ship ever – The Whydah Galley, which was filled with precious coins and jewels. But “The Prince of Pirates” still longed to be a good husband and father. Two months after seizing the Whydah, he turned the ship north and set sail for Cape Cod and his one true love – Maria “Goody” Hallett.
While “Black Sam” Bellamy had been away at sea, his love, Goody, discovered that she was with child. The fact that she was not married sparked a scandal in her village. The town elders brought Goody to the local meetinghouse where they voted to banish her from their community.
Like “Black Sam” before her, Goody was forced to leave Wellfleet village in shame. She moved closer to the ocean and became a recluse as she watched the horizon day after day in hope of her lover’s return.
In April 1717, Sam Bellamy found his way home to Cape Cod. But the calm weather he and his crew had enjoyed during most of their journey, suddenly turned when they entered the waters off the Cape. Bellamy, his crew and the Whydah had found themselves caught in a violent gale just 500 feet from shore – just 500 feet from Goody. Just after the clock struck midnight on April 26th, strong winds thrust the ship onto a sandbar in only 16 feet of water – a true shallow grave for any seaman. The Whydah’s sturdy masts snapped in half at the point of impact and the heavily loaded ship capsized in the frothing surf. 143 pirates drowned in the wreck. Only two crewmen survived. The body of “Black Sam” Bellamy was never found.
On the night of the storm, villagers spotted Goody on the top of a bluff, watching in horror as the ship went down. Some later said she shouted into the wind, cursing the storm for taking her love. Others insisted that she had become a witch and created the storm herself through sorcery as an act of revenge against the man who had left her and had shamed her in the eyes of her family. Those who believe this legend also say that villagers chased Hallett, who would later become known as “The Witch of Wellfleet” with torches and pitchforks into a nearby swamp where she died. Still others claim that Hallett reached the Whydah by rowboat and searched desperately for her true love. Unable to find “Black Sam”, Goody loaded the boat with treasure and buried it deep in the dunes of Wellfleet, along the walking trails where she and Sam Bellamy had charted their future together.
The story of “Black Sam” Bellamy lay dormant for centuries beneath the icy waters off Cape Cod until the year 1984, when an American underwater explorer named Barry Clifford discovered the wreckage of the flagship “Whydah”. At the time of its capture in 1717, the Whydah carried more than 30,000 pounds of sterling and massive amounts of gold, ivory and indigo – making it the largest pirate’s booty ever collected. In 1984 a team of divers led by treasure hunter, Barry Clifford dove on the wreck – the first authenticated pirate’s shipwreck ever discovered in North America, and recovered much of its treasure and 200,000 artifacts from the ship which travel on display to museums around the United States through a sponsorship from the National Geographic Society.
Records show an unmarried woman named Mary Hallett living in the area about the right time to have known Bellamy. Born in 1700, she would have been 19 when Bellamy died.
When she died in the 1750′s, Mary Hallett did what any good Congregationalist woman of the time would do – she gave away all her worldly possessions, including the clothes on her back, going to her grave in nothing but a shroud and a necklace with small gold beads. Historians think it is very possible that the necklace came from her one true love Black Sam Bellany.
Goody and Black Same are said to also haunt the Expedition Whydah in Provincetown, as well as Lucifer Land which is an area of land at the top of the Wellfleet cliffs.
The jail is on the route of the Barnstable Haunted Tour lead by members of Cape and Islands Paranormal Research Society and they actually convinced the town of Barnstable to let them take care of the property.
Want to learn more about this and other haunted jails around the Northeast be sure to check out our episode titled “Haunted Jails” available anywhere podcasts can be found or by clicking HERE