Age of Pirates

Pirate Encyclopedia: William 'Captain' Kidd

A lack of luck characterizes the pirate career of William Kidd. Highly unsuccessful at taking ships or booty, he is commonly known as the unluckiest pirate, with a dramatic end to his seafaring life.

Born in 1645 into a reputable family in Greenock, Scotland, Kidd spent his first forty-six years gaining an education, marrying a respectable woman, and working as a privateer. The first mention of him in history isn't until 1689, but that was the beginning of reports that stretched over the globe about his activities. William "Captain" Kidd was a well-respected member of his community and a hardworking ship captain esteemed by community members and governors alike.

In 1695, Richard Coote, the new governor of New York and Massachusetts, asked Captain Kidd to attack a series of vessels associated with piracy. The venture was financed by political colleagues of Coote for the purpose of keeping the profits of the trip. Kidd took to the task with passion. With Coote and his associates' funds, he bought a new ship, the Adventure Galley, a over 200-ton vessel equipped with 34 cannons and a large crew of the best sailors he could find.

Bad luck struck almost immediately. First, most of Kidd's crew was recruited by the navy mid-sea during their first voyage, so Kidd had to hire new sailors, a ghastly mix of hardened criminals and former pirates. When he set sail again, a sudden spread of cholera killed a third of the new crew, forcing Kidd to pause again. While he was anchored offshore, he discovered several things were wrong with his vessel, including numerous leaks that would have surely sunk the ship had Kidd taken it out to sea. Desperate, Kidd stole a single French ship (a legal undertaking under his contract) and proceeded to scout the African coast for pirates. He didn't find any. In fact, the only vessels he crossed on the way were Indian and Dutch privateers in personal business, and as a gentleman on a mission, Kidd never attacked them.

By the end of 1697, things were looking grim. The crew was mutinous, fights to death were frequent on the vessel, and the demands from the British crown were mounting to the point of death threats. The pressure finally broke the Captain and he started attacking any non-English ship, committing the acts of violence that made him a legend. A year later, when Kidd returned to New York, he discovered that he had been betrayed by his superiors and was now a wanted man. Arrested and tried without defense, Kidd was found guilty of murder and piracy and hanged in London on May 23, 1701.

Legend states that Kidd left a buried treasure in one of his many port stops. Fortune-seekers speculate this treasure could be anywhere from Nova Scotia to the coast of Long Island in New York. While the legend has sparked many treasure hunts, the loot remains elusive.

Copyright 2006 CleverMedia
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