Captain Kidd

(William Kidd)


William Kidd was a privateer from Scotland whose narrative is shrouded in fiction: was he truly a notorious pirate, or a wrongly accused sailor merely serving the English government? The young Kidd moved to New York in 1650 after the death of his father, but he was then lost to history until forty years later, when he reappeared among a crew of European pirates who sailed throughout the Caribbean. Kidd and his fellow seamen ousted the captain and took control of the ship, which they renamed the Blessed William, before sailing to the English island of Nevis. There they met with Governor Christopher Codrington, who was at that time in the practice of hiring skilled sailors to defend the island from French invaders. Because he did not wish to pay them for their services, however, Codrington insisted that they take their dues from the French. Kidd was named captain of the Blessed William, and he and his crew quickly attacked the French island of Mariegalante, looting its sole town. Kidd continued to put his skills to good use, capturing an enemy privateer during the War of the Grand Alliance and steering it himself through the Caribbean. In 1691, he married Sarah Bradley Cox Oort, a wealthy young woman already twice widowed.

Captain Kidd
In December 1695, Kidd was approached with a request: to hunt down and attack many of the known pirates in the area, along with any enemy French ships. Kidd agreed, and he purchased the Adventure Galley, a ship equipped with 34 cannons and weighing 284 tons. He had a strong crew as well, but most of these men were soon pressed into naval services, so Kidd employed instead a medley of hardened criminals and former pirates to steer his ship. Almost a third of this crew perished soon after, in an outbreak of cholera, and Kidd, still unable to attack any pirate ships, soon grew desperate for a way to cover the cost of his enterprise. Of the sailors that had survived the pandemic, many of them deserted Kidd, while the rest made constant threats of mutiny. With this overwhelming pressure, the captain grew violent, even killing one of his own men. His crew as well began taking greater risks, attacking a trading ship and an Armenian merchant ship. Soon after this, the Adventure Galley reached Madagascar, where much of Kidd’s men deserted him for another pirate stationed on the island. He and his remaining sailors, thirteen in all, finally gave up their venture and set sail for New York.

Before his arrival in the city, Kidd learned that he was a wanted pirate, so he rid himself of his vessel and continued to New York aboard a sloop. One of Kidd’s original investors, hearing of the charges against the privateer and afraid that he might be convicted as well, lured the captain to Boston and ordered him arrested so as to clear his own name. Kidd’s wife Sarah was imprisoned as well, and the two waited for a year before he was finally sent to England for questioning by Parliament. Kidd was ordered to reveal his patrons, but he refused to talk, believing that they might come to his aid. Instead, he was found guilty of murder and five charges of piracy, and he was hanged at Execution Dock on May 23, 1701.

Key events during the life of Captain Kidd:

Moved to New York.
Mutinied aboard a pirate ship and ousted the captain before sailing to Nevis.
Married Sarah Bradley Cox Oort.
Given the duty of hunting down any local pirates and enemy French ships.
Killed a member of his crew with an iron bucket.
Attacked an Armenian ship.
Returned to New York.
  Arrested, along with his wife, for piracy.
Hanged at Execution Dock in London.

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Pirates!  in  This Country of Ours  by  H. E. Marshall
Pirate of the Buried Treasure  in  Buccaneers and Pirates of Our Coasts  by  Frank R. Stockton

Image Links

The Pirates
 in Massasoit

Two of the pirates went down into the hole
 in Buccaneers and Pirates of Our Coasts

Short Biography
Rene La Salle Dauntless adventurer who followed the Mississippi to its mouth, and claimed all for France.
Count Frontenac Governor of New France from 1672 to 1698. Expanded fur trade, and fought with British.
Blackbeard Notorious pirate of the Spanish Main who haunted the Coast of North Carolina and the West Indies.
Stede Bonnet Respectable colonial merchant who decided to become a pirate.