Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Captain William Kidd, a pirate?

Who can say whether Captain Kidd was innocent of pirating or not? Hired to be a privateer, he was accused of pirating.  Many people of his day regarded him innocent, and indeed it does appear that the Board of Trade in London had a vendetta against him.  Other than the fact that he had a bad temper,  hard-luck and his crew wanted to usurp him, the testimonies are wanting.  The affidavits filed in Charleston, South Carolina certainly contain nothing which points to it.

Evidence points to Captain Kidd in Charleston, South Carolina !

If you think that you have sufficient historical information about your ancestors, think again.  Many people think that the evidence against Captain Kidd was flimsy and the trial unjust.  Whatever, the situation, there are records yet to be studied.  Such as two depositions taken in Charleston, South Carolina by former crewmen.  These documents establish that the English Board of Trade and Parliament already had their case against the pirate, Captain Kidd, two years before he returned from his unsuccessful voyage to the West Indies as a privateer.  The events leading up to it help piece together a puzzle of dislike and disdainment for Kidd's lack of respect for the British Navy.

The first records of his life date from 1689, when he was a member of a French-English pirate crew that sailed in the Caribbean Sea. Kidd and other members of the crew mutinied, ousted the captain, then sailed to the British colony of Nevis. The vessel was renamed "Blessed William", with Kidd as its captain. Captain Kidd and Blessed William became part of a small fleet assembled by the governor of Nevis to defend it from the French.As the governor did not want to pay the sailors for their defensive services, he told them they could take their pay from the French. Kidd and his men attacked the French island of Mariegalante, destroyed the only town, and looted the area, gathering for themselves something around 2,000 pounds Sterling.  Kidd was afterwards commissioned to capture enemy privateers and was awarded pounds sterling for that job.  A privateer was a private person or ship authorized by a government by letters of marque to attack foreign vessels during wartime.  The cost was borne by investors hoping to profit from prize money earned from captured cargo and vessels.

During the year of 1691, Kidd married a wealthy widow, Sarah Bradley Cox Oort in New York.  In 1695 the governor of New York, Massachusetts and New Hampshire employed Captain Kidd (as a privateer) to attack Thomas Tew, John Ireland, Thomas Wake, William Maze and other pirates, as well as enemy French ships. His new vessel "Adventure Galley" weighed over 284 tons and was equipped with 34 cannon and 150 men.  However, as the ship sailed down the Thames river,  Kidd failed to salute a Navy yacht at Greenwich.  The yacht fired a shot to make him show respect and Kidd caused his crew to turn around and slap their backsides.  The captain of the Navy vessel retaliated by pressing much of Kidd's crew into naval service, which left Kidd rather short-handed when he sailed for New York City. Nevertheless, while en route he captured a French vessel, and once in New York,  replaced his crew members with hardened criminal sorts. He set course for the Cape of Good Hope, a voyage of beset with cholera which claimed the lives of a third of his crew.  The search for pirates at Madagascar failed and he failed to attack several pirate ships.  Further difficulties arose when the crew shouted open threats of mutiny and he killed one of his own crewmen.  Kidd, a foul-mouthed sailor,  was known to be cruel to prisoners and brutal to his crew.  According to several depositions in Charleston, South Carolina, the "Adventure Galley" was labeled a "wicked" ship and the language of Captain Kidd was described. About that time Kidd was declared a pirate by a Royal Navy officer to whom he had promised thirty men or so.Kidd sailed away during the night to preserve his crew, rather than to cause them to be impressed into service.  During April of 1698 as Kidd reached Madagascar, he met up with the pirate Robert Culliford.  One of Kidd's crew members, testifying at the trial of Captain Kidd, reported that Kidd drank to Culliford's health and gave him a present of an anchor and some guns. It was at this meeting that many of Kidd's crew joined up with Culliford and only thirteen remained with the "Adventure Galley".Deciding to return home, Kidd left the "Adventure Galley" behind, ordering her to be burnt because she had become worm-eaten and leaky and returned to the Caribbean Caribbean aboard the "Adventure Prize".    

Meanwhile, the governor of South Carolina forced a hearing and depositions were taken of former crew members in Charleston.  In August of 1699, Captain Rogers testified of a voyage to Madagassar, when Samuel Bradley, Kidd's brother-in-law,  had been put ashore three miles from town.  Bradley had been sick during the entire voyage of the "wicked ship".   William Smith gave his testimony a year later, stating that he was a passenger from the Island of Madagassar in St. Thomas in the West Indies, aboard the ship "Adventure Galley", and that he knew Samuel Bradley who was sick most of the voyage and heard horrid oaths and wicked behavior; that Bradley was put ashore on Karawan and was given nothing (not even water) to carry with him.  But this evidence was dismissed as inadequate, without charges being brought against Captain Kidd.  Thus, it appears that the British authorities had declared Kidd a pirate and the evidence was being gathered. There are several depositions and records worthy of reading on South Carolina Pioneers.  Here is but another reason to read old court house records!   Before Captain Kidd reached New York, he learned that he was a wanted pirate and sunk the "Adventure Prize" in the Caribbean Sea.  Not long afterwards, he was captured and taken to England where he was hanged.

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