Captain William Kidd

Captain William Kidd is widely considered one of history's most famous pirates. His fame, however, is more directed toward the circumstances that lead to his death than his actual accomplishments as a pirate. Originally employed as a privateer, the Captain had made a well-respected name for himself and had many influential friends. According to history, Kidd eventually turned from privateering to piracy. His political connections, trial, and the suspicion of buried treasure are the primary allure of his tale.

William Kidd's birth took place in 1654 in Dundee, Scotland. There is some disparity regarding his father, as some accounts claim that he was a minister, while others claim that he too was a seaman who eventually became lost at sea. As a young man, Kidd took to the seas where he worked as a crew member of several buccaneer ships. Eventually, he also became the captain of a privateer ship, all prior to 1689. Kidd emigrated to New York where he met and married a wealthy widow by the name of Sarah Bradley Cox. This allowed him to make influential political contacts and to become a prominent member of society. During this time, he was also commissioned to protect English ships in the Caribbean from the French. His ship was called the Blessed William.

In 1695, Kidd returned to privateering with the support of wealthy businessmen and political backers, such as Lord Bellomont, who was to be the new governor of New York. He was commissioned by the king as a privateer to attack both French and pirate vessels. Any spoils were to be split between himself and his backers. With a new ship called the Adventure Galley, Kidd set sail in 1696 to the West Indies.

During his travels he was unsuccessful in finding pirates. He was undermanned due to disease and had lost some of his original crew to the Royal Navy. Much of his remaining crew he had picked up before leaving New York and were of questionable character and had been promised a large percentage of any booty collected. In addition, the Adventure Galley had developed a number of problems, such as leaks. Without pirates to attack, the voyage was turning into a costly failure for himself and for his crew. There are conflicting accounts of the events that happened as a result of these failures. Some say that Kidd turned to acts of piracy, attacking ships that were neither pirate or French. Other claims say that his crew, who had become frustrated and mutinous, turned to plundering ships regardless of their standing. Despite which of these accounts are true, it was his attack on the Quedagh Merchant in 1698 that would have disastrous future consequences.

The Quedagh Merchant was an Armenian ship that carried gold, silk, spices, silver and other valuable merchandise. It was captained by an Englishman and was partly owned by a minister of the court of the Indian Grand Moghul. It, however, carried French passes to ensure safe passage by the French. Because of these French passes, Kidd considered its capture to be in accordance with his commission and therefore claimed the ship. It was, however, not a French vessel, and upon its capture Captain Kidd was not aware that the captain was English.

Later, Kidd came into contact with a pirate named Robert Culliford. At that time Kidd was in possession of his ship the Adventure Galley, as well as the Quedagh Merchant and a third ship that he had captured. A large portion of his crew mutinied and joined Culliford against Kidd. He was able to retain a portion of his treasure, however he lost one of his ships, and the remaining two were stripped. Because of the state of the Adventure Galley, Kidd and his remaining crew of 16 chose to sail the Quedagh Merchant, which he renamed the Adventure Prize. Eventually he made it to the Caribbean where he learned that he had been labeled a pirate and had warrants for his arrest. Hoping to prove his innocence and gain the assistance of New York Governor Bellomont, Captain Kidd left the Adventure Prize with merchants and purchased a ship to take him to New York. Captain Kidd was captured in Boston, arrested and sent to England for trial.

During his trial the French passes of the Quedagh Merchant could not be found, although he had given the documents over upon his arrest. He had hoped that his backers would stand up for him, however, because of their political status, the surrounding controversy and the anti-piracy sentiment of the time, they failed to come forward and instead distanced themselves from any association with him. Captain Kidd was found guilty of five counts of piracy and of murdering one of his crewmen, who had died a day after being hit in the head with a bucket. As punishment for his crimes he was hung in May of 1701 at Execution Dock. His body was left in an iron cage for public display over the River Thames for years. The sight of his rotting body was meant to be a warning to pirates.

Although Captain Kidd was found guilty of piracy, the trial and subsequent verdict has become a controversial one. Some feel that Kidd was innocent, particularly when the missing French passes were discovered some 200 years after his death. Whether he was a pirate or a victim of circumstances and political intrigue, Captain Kidd still remains an infamous symbol of piracy. The belief that he buried treasure has played a part in the vision of him as a pirate. Although the buried treasure has never been found, the remains of the Adventure Prize, or Quedagh Merchant, was discovered in 2007 in the Connecticut River.

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