William Kidd

From Academic Kids


William "Captain" Kidd (1645May 23, 1701) is often remembered as a notorious pirate, but the historical record calls this characterization into question. He was born in Greenock, Scotland. He later emigrated to America settling in New York. There he married Sarah Bradley Cox Oort. They had two daughters: Elizabeth and Sarah Kidd. The marriage brought to Kidd a considerable amount of property and before the voyage which established his reputation as a pirate he lived as a respectable merchant.

During a trading trip to England, Kidd was offered a privateer's commission for the purpose of attacking pirates. Four-fifths of the cost for the venture was paid for by noble lords, who were amongst the most powerful men in England; the Earl of Orford, The Baron of Romney, the Duke of Shrewsbury and Sir John Somers. According to Henry Gilbert writing in The Book of Pirates, Kidd's backers were rumored to include King William himself. Kidd and an acquaintance, Colonel Robert Livingston paid for the rest. Kidd had to sell his ship the Antigua to raise funds.

The new ship, the Adventure Galley, was well suited to the task of catching pirates; it was equipped with 36 cannons and 70 men. However Kidd’s enterprise was not a success. According to Gilbert, after taking a single French ship (which was legal under his commission) on the first leg of his voyage, to New York, he proceeded to Madagascar but was not able to find pirates to take in that vicinity. He became desperate to cover the costs of his enterprise and under pressure from his men he started taking any vessels which were not English, or, according to Gilbert, which had at least a French passenger aboard. Legally he was only allowed to take French and pirate vessels. As the voyage progressed Kidd’s actions became increasingly more like those of a pirate than an agent of the English King.

On October 30, 1697 a dispute broke out with one William Moore. Gilbert describes this argument as being over whether to pursue a Dutch ship encountered at sea. Moore and the other men of the crew were becoming more and more discontent and mutinous. They wanted to take the Dutch ship but Captain Kidd refused, according to Gilbert stating his unwillingness to become a pirate. In a subsequent fight a few days later, Kidd threw an ironbound bucket at Moore which killed him.

On January 30, 1698 he took an English ship called the Quedah Merchant. While approaching the Ship he raised French colours. The merchant ship on seeing his French colours pretended to be French. Kidd took his prize and only later realised that he had in fact captured an English ship. Kidd tried to persuade his crew to return the ship to its owners but they refused.

On April 1, 1698 Kidd reached Madagascar. Here Kidd found the first pirate of his voyage, Robert Culliford and his crew sailing the Mocha Frigate. Kidd ordered his men to capture the Mocha Frigate. Instead his men mutinied and joined the pirates of the Mocha Frigate. Only 13 of Kidd’s men remained loyal to him.

Deciding to return home, Kidd left the Adventure Galley behind ordering her to be burnt because she had become worm-eaten and leaky. With the loyal remnant of his crew, he returned home in the captured Quedah Merchant.

When Kidd returned to New York City, he was arrested with his crew and placed in Stone Prison. He was later sent to England to stand trial for piracy and the murder of William Moore. Whilst awaiting trial he was imprisoned in the infamous Newgate Prison. He was found guilty on all charges and was hanged on May 23, 1701 in London. His body was left to hang in an iron cage over the river Thames, London, as a warning to future pirates. Kidd's Whig backers were embarrassed by his trial. Gilbert indicates that they participated in the effort to convict him by depriving him of the money and information which might have provided him with some legal defense.

Mythology and legend

The belief that Kidd left a buried treasure somewhere contributed considerably to the growth of his legend. This belief made its contribution to literature in Edgar Allan Poe's The Gold Bug and Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. It also gave impetus to the never-ending treasure hunts on Oak Island in Nova Scotia, in Suffolk County, Long Island in New York where Gardiner's Island is located, and in the Thimble Islands in Connecticut.


  • Gilbert, H. (1986). The Book of Pirates. London: Bracken Books.

See also


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