William Kidd, also known as Captain Kidd was born c. 1645, at Greenock, Renfrew, Scotland and died on May 23, 1701 in London. He was a 17th century British privateer and semi-legendary pirate who became celebrated in English literature as one of the most colorful outlaws of the time. Fortune seekers have hunted his buried treasure in vain throughout succeeding centuries.
It is believed Kidd went to sea as a youth. After 1689 he was sailing as a legitimate privateer for Great Britain against the French in the West Indies and off the coast of North America. In 1690 he was an established sea captain and shipowner in New York City where he owned property at various times. He was hired by Lord Bellomont, who was then governor of New York, Massachusetts and New Hampshire to rid the coast of enemy privateers.
In London in 1695, mainly on the recommendation of the prominent New Yorker, Robert Livingston, Captain William Kidd received a royal commission from the British King, William III, to apprehend pirates who molested the ships of the East India Company in the Red Sea and in the Indian Ocean. Kidd’s ship, the “Adventure Galley,” was fitted out at the expense of several notable Englishmen, including Richard Coote, earl of Bellomont.
Kidd sailed from Deptford on Feb. 27, 1696, called at Plymouth, and arrived at New York City on July 4 to take on more men. Avoiding the normal pirate haunts, he arrived by February 1697 at the Comoro Islands of East Africa. It was apparently some time after his arrival here that Kidd, still without having taken a prize ship, decided to turn to piracy. Under the term of a privateer’s contract, no pay for captain or crew was provided unless prizes were taken.
In August 1697 he made an unsuccessful attack on ships sailing with Mocha coffee from Yemen but later took several small ships. His refusal two months later to attack a Dutch ship nearly brought his crew to mutiny, and in an angry exchange Kidd mortally wounded his gunner, William Moore.
Kidd took his most valuable prize, the Armenian ship “Quedagh Merchant,” in January 1698 and scuttled his own unseaworthy “Adventure Galley.” When he reached Anguilla, in the West Indies in April 1699, he learned that he had been denounced as a pirate. He left the “Quedagh Merchant,” at the island of Hispaniola where the ship was possibly scuttled. In any case, it disappeared with its questionable booty and he sailed to New York City in a newly purchased ship, the “Antonio” where he tried to persuade Bellomont of his innocence.
In an attempt to avoid his mutinous crew, who had gathered in New York, Kidd sailed 120 miles around the eastern tip of Long Island, and then doubled back 90 miles along the Sound to Oyster Bay. He felt this was a safer passage than the high-trafficked narrows between Staten Island and Brooklyn.
Kidd arrived in Oyster Bay on June 9, 1699, and anchored offshore. Justice White and Doctor Cooper helped to transmit a message to Kidd’s wife in New York, without exposing Kidd and his location. This secrecy was in vain, however, for his location in Oyster Bay was revealed, and just over a month later he was imprisoned in Boston before Bellomont shipped him back to England for trial.
On May 8 and 9, 1701, he was found guilty of the murder of Moore and on five indictments of piracy. Important evidence concerning two of the piracy cases was suppressed at the trial, and some observers later questioned whether the evidence was sufficient for a guilty verdict.
Although Richard Coote, the Earl of Bellomont, had been instrumental in securing Kidd’s commission as a privateer he later turned against Kidd and other pirates, writing that the inhabitants of Long Island were “a lawless and unruly people” protecting pirates who had “settled among them.”
Kidd was hanged at Execution Dock, in Wapping, London on May 23, 1701 where his body was placed in a cage and left to rot for all to see along the River Thames and to serve as a warning against other pirates. Actually, he was hanged two times. On the first attempt, the hangman’s rope broke and Kidd survived. Although some in the crowd called for Kidd’s release, claiming the breaking of the rope was a sign from God, Kidd was hanged again minutes later, this time successfully.
Some of his treasure of gold and gems which he buried on the island was recovered from Gardiners Island at a spot now marked by a bronze plaque. John Gardiner, Lion Gardiner’s grandson, cooperated with the British in surrendering the booty, which some accounts placed at 20,000 pounds sterling, which would be worth millions of dollars in the late 20th century.
Pirate Captain William Kidd’s ship, the Adventure Galley, was anchored off Treadwells Neck in the 1690s, according to reports at the time. Proceeds from his effects and goods taken from the “Antonio” were donated to charity.
In years that followed, the name of Captain Kidd has become inseparable from the romanticized concept of the swashbuckling pirate of Western fiction. Some old maps indicate a point marked as Kidd’s Money Hole. But rumors that some of Kidd’s treasure remains buried on the beach at Fort Salonga have never been substantiated.
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