Captain William Kidd, privateer in West Indies and Colonial America with records concerning his trial filed in Charleston
Madagascar, an island in the West Indies where Pirates resided during the 17th and 18th centuries.
Captain William Kidd was born in Dundee, Scotland sometime around 1654, however, resided in Massachusetts where he owned a large house and first began his career as a privateer. Privateers were not pirates, but licensed fortune hunters for various countries and dominions, including the American Colonies. Thus, Kidd took to the sea and soon made a name for himself as a skilled, hardworking seaman. It was during 1689, sailing as a privateer, that he took his first prize, a French vessel. Subsequently, the ship was re-named the Blessed William put under the command of the Governor of Nevis. He sailed into New York just in time to save the governor there from a conspiracy. While in New York, he married a wealthy widow. Not long afterwards, upon visiting England, he became friends with the Lord of Bellomont, who was to be the new Governor of New York. Now he was well-connected and as rich as any skilled seaman and it looked like the sky was the limit for the young captain. For the English, sailing was very dangerous at the time. England was at war with France, and piracy was common. Lord Bellomont and some of his friends were influential in suggesting that Kidd be given a privateering contract which would allow him to attack pirates or French vessels. The suggestion was not accepted by the government, but Bellomont and his friends decided to fund the adventure and thus establish Captain Kidd up as a privateer who was privileged to attack French vessels or pirates but he had to share his earning with the investors. For this adventure, he was given the 34-gun Adventure Galley and he set sail for the first time as privateer during May of 1696.
After about 18 months on the high seas, Kidd and his crew, unable to capture a French vessel, were distrought. There was a talk of mutiny. On January 30, 1698, the luck of Captain Kidd finally changed. He captured the Queddah Merchant, a treasure ship heading home from the Far East. It was not really fair game as a prize: it was a Moorish ship with cargo owned by Armenians, captained by an Englishman named Wright. Allegedly, it sailed with French papers: this was enough for Kidd, who sold off the cargo and divided the spoils with his men. The holds of the merchantman were bursting with valuable cargo, and the haul for Kidd and his pirates was 5,000 pounds, or well over two million dollars in the currency of today. Kidd and his pirates were rich men by those standards.
Setting out for Madagascar and the Indian Ocean, a known island inhabited by pirates, he and his crew found very few French vessels to take. About a third of his crew died of diseases and the rest became surly because of the lack of prizes. In August of 1697, he attacked a convoy of Indian treasure ships, but was driven off by an East India Company Man of War. This was an act of piracy and clearly not in the charter of William Kidd. Also, about this time, Kidd killed a mutinous gunner named William Moore by hitting him in the head with a heavy wooden bucket.
Not long afterward, Kidd ran into a pirate ship captained by a notorious pirate named Culliford. What happened between the two men is unknown. According to Captain Charles Johnson, a contemporary historian, Kidd and Culliford greeted each other warmly and traded supplies and news. But during this exchange, many of his crew deserted him, running off with their share of the treasure while others joined the pirate Culliford. At his trial, Kidd claimed that he was not strong enough to fight Culliford and that most of his men had abandoned him to join the pirates. He said that he was allowed to keep the ships, but only after all weapons and supplies were taken. In any event, Kidd swapped the leaking Adventure Galley for the fit Queddah Merchant and sailed and sailed for the Caribbean.
Meanwhile, the news that Captain Kidd had turned to piracy reached England. Bellomont and his wealthy friends, who were very important members of the Government, quickly distanced themselves from the enterprise. Robert Livingston, a friend and fellow Scotsman who knew the King personally, was deeply involved in the Kidd enterprise. Meanwhile, Livingston turned on Kidd, trying desperately to keep secret the names of the promoters. Bellomont managed to publish a proclamation of amnesty for the pirates, but Kidd and Henry Avery were specifically excluded from it. For this reason, certain members of the former crew would later accept this pardon and testify against him. When Kidd reached the Caribbean, he soon learned that he was now considered a pirate by the authorities. He decided to go to New York, where his friend, Lord Bellomont, could protect him until he was able to clear his name. In this cause, he abandoned his vessel and instead captained a smaller ship to New York. Then, as a precuation, buried his treasure on Gardiner Island, a site near Long Island in New York City. When he arrived in New York, he was arrested and Lord Bellomont refused to believe his stories of what had transpired. He divulged the location of his treasure on Gardiner Island, and it was recovered. After spending a year in prison, Kidd was sent to England to face trial. 1701. John Dove (or defoe), mariner, provided sworn testimony against Captain Kidd in Charleston, South Carolina claiming that had been a passenger on the ship Adventurer under the command of Captain Kidd when they were in Madagascar in the St. Thomas Islands of the West Indies. Sam Bradley, a brother-in-law of Captain William Kidd gave an affidavit in Charleston, South Carolina stating that he was opposed to turning pirate and that while he was sickly, he had been put ashore on the Isle of St. Thomas and left to die. Bradley was pardoned by Governor James Moore of Charleston, South Carolina in 1701. James Moore, Sam Bradley affidavit filed in Charleston, South Carolina found on South Carolina Pioneers
The sensational trial occurred on May 8, 1701. Kidd pleaded that he had never actually turned pirate. There was plenty of evidence against him and he was found guilty. He was also convicted of the death of Moore, the rebellious gunner.
Kidd was hanged on May 23, 1701 and his body was put into an iron cage hanging along the River Thames, where it would serve as a warning for other pirates.
The site of the real treasure of gold and silver was never divulged, although Kidd insisted until the end of his life that he had buried another treasure somewhere in the Indies.
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