Captain Kidd was a well-known Scottish sailor and an adventurer who was best remembered for his unjustified trial for involvement in piracy, which was later ended in execution. According to historians, there were actually sufficient proof and evidence to support the fact that Captain Kidd was merely acting only as a privateer rather than being directly involved in pirating acts. Captain Kidd whose full name was actually William Kidd was to face trial under the English judicial system and he quickly gained fame among the noble citizens for his bold act of questioning the English Parliament regarding the unlawful claim that connected him to piracy. Whether it is piratical or otherwise, compared to others, his endeavors were not deemed as destructive nor lucrative towards any self gain. In fact, Captain Kidd was actually entrusted to the task of getting rid of pirates and not being part of them in the first place.

 Kidd and his ship, he Adventure Galley in a painting by Howard Pyle

Kidd and his ship, the Adventure Galley in a painting by Howard Pyle

Captain Kidd being one of the most famous pirates in history sailed across a vast region. He traveled as far as North America, down to the Caribbean and even across to the Indian Ocean plundering ships. His fame and notoriety was so huge that his name alone has become an icon and a symbol that has driven others to follow upon his act venturing into the depth of the ocean in search of treasures left behind from his legacy.

William Kidd as a pirate has a vague historical background during the early years due to the fact that birth records were not properly kept and controlled until the early 1600s. This has led to some unsupported facts that surfaced around saying that he was actually the son of a Presbyterian minister born in Scotland around 1645. Living in a town close to docks, soon his passion quickly developed towards adventuring as a sailor rather than following on his father’s footsteps on becoming a minister.

Further records detailing the adventure of William Kidd was one which posted true accounts whereby at the age of 44, he was actually part of a French English pirate crew that sailed across the Caribbean. According to the historical facts, William Kidd together with the help of other crew members mutinied against the captain of the ship and then changed the ship’s course to sail towards the English colony of Nevis. William Kidd was later appointed to become the captain of the ship (which was renamed to “Blessed William”) and there were conflicting facts that point to either the appointment was actually made by the governor of the Island of Nevis or by chance, it was actually an agreement between the crew members to elect him. At that time, Nevis was at war with the French and Captain Kidd was actually assembled by Christopher Codrington, the governor of the island to be part of the fleet to defend Nevis against the aggression of the invading French naval front. Being as experienced sailor and a natural leader, what soon followed were victories one after another that made Captain Kidd become even more famous. However, as the governor did not approve of the idea of paying pirates for participating in defensive roles, he soon allowed Captain Kidd to benefit and obtain all the loot from successful attacks on the French. One such incident involved Kidd and his fellow crew who invaded the French Island of Mariegalante and was successful with rewards that amounted to almost 2000 pound Sterling.

Other unsupported research has evidence to suggest that William Kidd was actually born in Dundee and this was in total conflict with his death-row claim saying that he was originally from Greenock. Other sources such as the book of “American folklore and legends” made a claim that he was in fact brought up in a family of Cornish gold miners. Other sources had different versions regarding Kidd’s origin, and there was one which according to myths told that William Kidd was a son of a Church of Scotland minister and after his father’s death, moved to New York and during this time befriended other prominent colonial governors there.

Some interesting facts about Captain Kidd before he became a famous pirate was that during the War of the Grand Alliance, he was actually summoned under orders by the province of New York to capture an enemy privateer, which he succeeded of course. What followed from there was a sum of 150 pound sterling, which was paid for the effort and job done. Another contribution of Captain Kidd was an active involvement towards the building of the Trinity Church in New York. Other famous events include an incident whereby Captain Kidd’s ship was being stolen while he was ashore in the island of Antigua in the West Indies. In 1695, William III of England replaced a corrupt governor, Benjamin Fletcher with whom together with Richard Coote, Earl of Bellomont was found guilty of accepting brides for allowing illegal trade of pirate loots.

Preparing his expedition

December 11, 1695 was the year when Bellomont who was then the governor of New York, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, requested a favor from Captain Kidd with whom he trusted and accepted as a very good friend. The favor which he asked for involved participating in attack of Thomas Tew, John Ireland, Thomas Wake, William Maze, and all others who associated themselves with pirates, and this includes any enemy French ships. All these requests were eventually fulfilled but on the negative side, it further established Captain Kidd’s reputation of being a notorious pirate famous among the folklore with a deep historical impact.

Under a letter signed by King William III of England, Captain Kidd was to be allowed the rights to act on behalf of England to loot the colony’s enemy and an agreement in the letter also states that 10% of the loot shall be given to the Crown. As the expedition plan ran short of funds, everything was made possible only by contribution of noble lords whereby four-fifths of the cost for the venture was actually paid by the Earl of Orford, The Baron of Romney, the Duke of Shrewsbury and Sir John Somers. In fact, based on Henry Gilbert’s “The Book of Pirates”, there is some evidence to suggest that even the King himself raised funds to support Captain Kidd’s voyage and with the help of Colonel Robert Livingston succeeded in making the plan successful. Other historical fact even suggested that Captain Kidd himself agreed to sell of his ship “Antigua” to makeup the shortage of funds.

With a newly acquired ship which was named “the Adventure Galley”, Captain Kidd was handed the task of destroying pirates’ strongholds that threatened the Crown’s existence. The ship was in fact, a highly equipped modern ship at that time as it had the capability to house 34 cannon including oars with all weighing over 284 tons, and it needed over 150 crew members just to run the ship. The oars provided an advantage over the other pirate ships because this would enable “the Adventure Galley” to maneuver against the wind and this was critical and a deciding factor in any battle. Even the crew members who were selected were from the best lot and Captain Kidd was handed to pride the select that he deemed was most qualified to be part of his crew.

As the new ship sailed down the Thames River, Kidd knowingly failed to salute to a passing Navy yacht despite it being a custom protocol to do so. This has arouse the anger of the commanding Navy yacht which decided to fire a warning shot as way to protest and force Captain Kidd to show respect. Astoundingly Kidd’s crew further aggravated the situation by taunting the yacht by turning and slapping their backside.

Because of the show of disrespect, the Navy Yacht’s captain forced most of Kidd’s crew into naval service as a punishment. Being shorthanded, Captain Kidd was left with no choice but to set sail for New York City and coincidentally managed to capture a French vessel along the way. When he reached the destination, he managed to pick up replacement crew and most of them were made up of hard-core criminals with some of them being former pirates.

One of the interesting figures that was among Kidd’s commanding officers was a half African, half American descent named Hendrick van der Heul holding the quartermaster position. The role is considered second in command to the captain, and being a black man, this actually made him the highest-ranking black pirate thus far during that time. Van der Heul was commonly referred to as “small black Man” although the term could actually have two different meanings either referring to a black-skinned individual or just black-haired person. However, even though Van der Heul joined the ranks of Kidd’s high ranking pirate crew, he was never convicted of any piracy act.

In September 1696, while he set course for Cape of Good Hope, another misfortune struck whereby outbreak of cholera had wiped out almost one-third of Captain William Kidd’s crew members. The situation was made even worse when the brand-new Adventure Galley developed leaks and he even failed to find suitable replacement pirates when he reached Madagascar. Left with no option, Captain Kidd decided to set sail to Strait of Bab-el-Mandeb hoping for a change of luck but however, it was met with the same bad fortune as he again failed to find the much needed replacement crews. According to Edward Barlow, one of the captains working under the British East India Company, Captain Kidd attacked a Mughal convoy with the help of Barlow’s East Indiaman, however, the result didn’t turn out as what Kidd expected as he was beaten in the battle. The battle is actually a stepping stone marking Kidd’s foray into piracy.

With the latest setback, this had actually put a dent in Captain Kidd’s ambition and he became more and more desperate to make up to his losses. He tried to pick things up by attacking other ships including a Dutchman and New York privateer but both attempts were deemed failures as well. And because of that, most of the crew deserted the ship when it anchored offshore and those who decided to stay back were making threats about mutiny and overthrowing the captain.

As things become worse, another setback again surfaced during an incident whereby Kidd killed one of his own crewmen, William Moore. The incident happened when Moore was on deck sharpening a chisel and upon noticing a Dutch ship mooring on sight, he echoed to Kidd to launch an attack on the ship. The captain refused, giving reasons that the act can be deemed piratical and even called Moore a lousy dog. This further escalated the situation and caused tension between both individuals and later, it turned into heated argument. This resulted in the captain picking up an iron bound bucket and throwing it at Moore. It hit the poor fellow on the head and Moore died the following day as a result of the injuries.

While seventeenth century English law exerted some form of immunity to the ship’s captain, outright murder was in no way allowed to happen. But the unperturbed captain even made some distasteful and provocative remark, explaining to the surgeon that he has good acquaintances that can help him to escape the law of punishment.

Accusations of piracy

Bad news soon followed Captain Kidd again as acts of savagery against captured prisoners who managed to escape told stories on how they were tortured and drubbed with cutlass during imprisonment. These accusations made towards the Captain were actually not true and unfair because most of the heinous acts were committed by rebellious crew members and not under the orders of the captain. As news of his notoriety spread, there was even one particular case whereby his crew members ransacked and tortured a boarding party of another trading ship, Mary. When Kidd and the ship’s captain, Thomas Parker were engaging in private conversations in a cabin, they were not aware of the whole incident on what had happened. When Captain Kidd finally found out about this, he was furious of the whole episode and even ordered that the stolen property to be returned to its rightful owners.

Kidd was finally declared a pirate by a Royal Navy Officer with whom he had promised to provide thirty of his men to be part of the Royal Navy impressments but later failed to fulfill the request and then escaped undetected at night.

On January 30, 1698, he took his greatest reward when he seized an Armenian ship (a 400 ton merchant cargo ship named Cara Merchant) which was loaded with valuable, highly prized items like satin, muslin, gold, silver and expensive silks. The captain of the Cara Merchant was apparently an Englishman named Wright who obtained a valid pass from the French East India Company. Upon realizing that the captain was an Englishman, Captain Kidd persuaded his crew members to return back all the goods, but it was greeted with outright refusal as they claimed that since the ship belongs to the French, they have all the rights to take what they want. The crew members even claimed that what they did should be perfectly legal and even though it was an Armenian ship, it was operating under a French issued pass. In order to keep his crew under control and continue to gain their trust, Captain Kidd relented and followed along with them and decided to keep all the seized possession. As the news reached England, this further established Kidd’s reputation as a pirate and naval commanders were given order to capture and bring Kidd and his crew members to face justice for the treachery and crimes they had committed.

Captain Kidd apparently kept with him the French passes seized from the Cara Merchant and the item was regarded as his best evidence of defense in the event, the British caught up with him. Nevertheless, the captain had high hopes saying that the pass should allow him to keep the Cara Merchant and all her cargo. After renaming the vessel to Adventure Galley, he set sail for Madagascar.

After 3 months of traveling at sea, he finally reached his destination on April 1, 1698, where he stumbled upon Robert Culliford, the same man who once stole Kidd’s ship years back when it was anchored. The ship had since been renamed the Mocha Frigate and upon realizing that his men would hesitate to attack a much stronger adversary, he took measures to come up with a peaceful proposal to Culliford. The unpopular decision caused most of his crew to leave him for Culliford’s ship with only 13 deciding to remain loyal.

Left with no choice and pretty short handed, Kidd decided to leave the Adventure Galley behind and return home. But before that, he ordered that the ship be burnt so that he can salvage all the scrapped metal before he finally boarded the Adventure Prize, which would take him home.


Before Captain Kidd reached New York City, he found out that he was in fact a wanted man, and a bounty was placed for his capture. As Adventure Prize was a marked vessel, he knew that he could easily be caught and as such, he took measures to board a sloop instead. There were rumors going around that he might even have deposited some of his treasures on Gardiners Island. The idea for him doing that was that he hoped to use the treasure as a bargaining tool with his captor.

Bellomont who was once closely associated with William Kidd, was aware of the accusation and the degree of seriousness leveled against Kidd and thus, was afraid that he might be implicated as part of the piracy as well. In order to save his own neck and avoid getting entangled in the complicated situation, he tricked William Kidd to go to Boston with empty promises of clemency and then issued an ordered for his arrest.. On July 6, 1699, Kidd and his wife were placed in Stone Prison under solitary confinement and the condition of the imprisonment was so harsh that it almost driven Kidd into complete insanity.

After almost a year of being imprisoned there, Kidd was finally deported to England to be held for questioning by the Parliament. The new Tory ministry had initially put high hopes on Kidd so that they could use him as a tool to discredit the Whigs. However, with Kidd’s refusal to reveal names, naively confident that his action would bestow loyalty among the Whigs, The Tory ministry later decided that William Kidd would be politically useless to them. Finally, they made a decision to send him to stand trial before the High Court of Admiralty in London and he was charged with piracy on high seas and surprisingly with the murder of William Moore as well. While awaiting trial, Kidd was locked up in the infamous Newgate Prison and during this period, he took effort to write several letters hoping to plead for clemency and pardon from King William.

William Kidd was tried without legal representation and he was actually shock to find out that he was there to stand trial for murder as well. Finally when the verdict was delivered, he was found guilty on all charges (first with murder and also five counts of piracy) and he was finally hung on the May 23, 1701, at ‘Execution Dock’, Wapping, in London. During the execution, the rope snapped and he was ordered to be hanged for the second time. His body was gibbeted and then left to rot in an iron cage located at the Thames River, apparently the action intended to serve as a warning to other future would-be pirates. His other associates Richard Barleycorn, Robert Lamley, William Jenkins, Gabriel Loffe, Able Owens, and Hugh Parrot were all convicted as well, however, due to clemency; they were pardoned just prior to hanging at Execution Dock.

Picture depicting the hanging of William "Captain" Kidd

Kidd’s Whig backers were presumed to have committed treachery because instead of protecting him for covering up their names, they instead participated in the effort to get Kidd convicted. They even deprived him of money and information, which might have been used in Kidd’s legal defense. In fact, the two sets of French passes which belonged to Kidd were missing during the trial and only resurfaced in the early twentieth century found among other government papers located in a London building. The existence of the passes provided doubts on the Kidd’s conviction but this would still not enough to save him from the hanging rope for his involvement in William Moore’s murder.

Mythology and legend

There was belief that Kidd actually left a huge cache of treasure somewhere prior to his return to New York. This has given rise and contributed ideas to some popular literature writings made by Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Gold-Bug”, Washington Irving’s The Devil and Tom Walker, Roberta Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island and Nelson DeMille’s Plum Island. This has also led to treasure hunts by different individuals conducted around the Suffolk County, Long Island in New York where Gardiner’s Island is located, Charles Island in Milford, Connecticut, and in the Thimble Islands in Connecticut, hoping to find Kidd’s hidden treasure.

In 1983, American combat photojournalist Cork Graham, and British comedy actor-turned treasure hunter Richard Knight made an illegal entry to Vietnamese waters in search of the lost treasure. Apparently both of them held the belief saying that one of the maps included in The Money Pit Mystery by Rupert Fourneaux is actually the one showing Kidd’s treasure cache although it was originally implicated as Oak Island by Fourneaux. Both individual were held more than a year in the country on charges of spying for the CIA.

Captain Kidd in fact did hide a small cache of treasure which was discovered on a spot in Gardiner’s Island known as Cherry Tree Field. However, the loot was recovered by Governor Bellomont and produced as evidence in Captain Kidd’s trial.

Rumors has it that Kidd also visited Block Island around 1699 and in showing gratitude and appreciation for the hospitality extended by Mrs. Mercy Raymond, daughter of the mariner James Sands, Kidd actually threw gold and jewels into her apron until it was finally full. When her husband, Joshua Raymond died, Mrs. Mercy moved to New London, where she bought large pieces of land and it was believed that the wealth came from the sales of items given to her by Kidd.

Legends has it that Kidd also visited one of the Japanese islands of the Tokara archipelago, south of Kagoshima and requested food and cattle from the inhabitants there. Their requests were denied and in burst of fury, the pirates executed the inhabitants and buried them alive in a lime cave. Kidd’s treasure was rumored to have been left in one of those caves but he never came back to reclaim them due to his trial in England. Coincidentally, the island was named Takarajima, which literally translates into “Treasure Island.”

In December 13, 2007, a small island located in the Caribbean near Dominican Republic was being studied by a team of underwater archeologists from Indiana University, after an Italian tourist discovered the existence of old wreckage in the waters off the island. The remains were believed to be buried ever since the 17th century and there were evidence to point to it that it was actually part of the Quedah Merchant.

There have been some movies based on William “Captain” Kidd. ‘Captain Kidd‘ (1945), ‘Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd‘ (1952) are two of them.

Further reading and DVD’s on Captain Kidd

Cash For Test Strips