The History of Pirates in Salem, Massachusetts

January 5, 2024

Salem, Massachusetts is most known for its witch history. But, did you know that the North Shore has also seen its fair share of plundering pirates and privateers?

The Golden Age of Piracy had a tremendous impact on maritime history. Evidence of pirate activity can be found all across the world, including right here in New England. So, today, let’s briefly explore the local pirate history and how you can learn more about this fascinating time period.

When Was The Golden Age of Piracy?


Pirates Picture

The Golden Age of Piracy began in the 1650s and lasted until the 1730s. During this time, thousands of pirates roamed the world’s oceans. They were especially active on the West African coast, the Indian Ocean, the Caribbean, and of course, North America’s eastern coast, including right here on the North Shore.

The rise in piracy was a result of the increased shipping of valuable cargo to and from Europe. Commercial vessels and even military ships were often the targets of history’s most famous pirates as they stalked trade routes.

Were There Pirates In Salem, MA?

Yes! The North Shore’s past is often intertwined with maritime history. As such, there are quite a few infamous pirates that roamed our shores during the Golden Age. 

In fact, you may have heard of them – Captains Blackbeard, Kidd, Bellamy, Low, Quelch, among others all spent time off the coast of Salem and the North Shore region. Many of these pirate captains and their crews spent winters in the tropics and summers in the New England waters.

Examples of Pirates Active Near Salem, Massachusetts


a group of people wearing costumes

Samuel “Black Sam” Bellamy

Let’s start with one of our favorite pirates, Black Sam Bellamy. Black Sam was mostly active in the early 1700s. During his time as a pirate captain, Bellamy captured over 50 ships, including the famous slave ship, the Whydah Gally. Black Sam was known as one of the youngest and richest pirates of all time, earning him the name “Prince of Pirates.” 

Black Sam and his crew ultimately met their end when the Whydah Gally wrecked off the coast of Cape Cod in 1717 during a nor’easter.

It is said that Black Sam’s lover, Maria Hallett, may have played a part in the shipwreck. Local legend has it that Hallett turned to witchcraft after believing herself abandoned by Bellamy, causing the nor’easter that sank the Whydah Gally, ending the pirate’s life. These rumors earned Hallett the name, “The Witch of Wellfleet.”

Edward “Ned” Low

Edward “Ned” Low is known as one of the most vicious pirates to ever sail the seas. Though Low was born in London, he moved to Boston, MA as a young adult. After his wife’s death during childbirth in 1919, Low turned to a life of piracy. 

Low stalked the waters off New England. The pirate captain captured over 100 ships throughout his career, often setting them ablaze. The ruthless pirate was also known for his brutal tactics, including torture and murder. 

One of the most famous local tales of Low’s brutality came from local fisherman Philip Ashton. Ashton, originally of Marblehead, MA, was captured by Low while fishing off the coast of Nova Scotia. Ashton refused to join Low’s crew and eventually escaped when the pirates landed on Roatán Island. Ashton hid in the jungles before being rescued by Diamond, a ship from right here in Salem, MA.

Privateers In Salem, MA

Privateers from Salem, Massachusetts made a tremendous impact during the American Revolution and the War of 1812. These privately owned ships were enlisted by the governing bodies at the time to attack and seize enemy ships.

Over 150 privateers operated out of Salem. These privateers were responsible for the capture of nearly 450 enemy ships – double the amount captured by the colonial navy during the Revolutionary War.

How Can I Learn More About Local Pirate History?


This is just a brief overview of pirate history on the North Shore. Our region is filled with local tales of pirates, privateers, and maritime history. If you wish to learn more about this fascinating time period, be sure to visit us at Real Pirates in Salem, MA!

Here, guests can immerse themselves in the story of Sam Bellamy and his crew. Visitors can also get an up-close look at real pirate treasure recovered from the Whydah Gally shipwreck – the world’s first and only fully authenticated pirate treasure.

So, if you’re visiting Salem, MA, be sure to book your tickets to Real Pirates! Our pirate museum is also group-friendly, perfect for birthday parties, school trips, and other special events.