Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Kidd, William

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KIDD, William, navigator, b. in Scotland, probably in Greenock; d. in London, England, 24 May, 1701. He is supposed to have been the son of a non-conformist clergyman who suffered torture by the boot, and who died, 14 Aug., 1679. Young Kidd went to sea at a very early age, and in the latter part of the 17th century he had acquired a reputation as a bold, skilful, and successful captain. He had fought against the French, had performed some daring exploits, had done good service in the American colonies, and in 1691 had received from the council of the city of New York an award of £150. In those days piracy on the high seas prevailed to an alarming extent, especially in the Indian ocean. It was claimed that many of the freebooters came from America, where also they found a ready market for their spoils. When, in 1695, Richard Coote, Earl of Bellomont (q. v.), who had been appointed governor of New York and Massachusetts, was about to set out for his new post, King William, in an interview with him, referred in strong terms to the piracy that had become the disgrace of the colonies. “I send you, my lord, to New York,” said the king, “because an honest and intrepid man is wanted to put down these abuses, and because I believe you to be such a man.” It was soon known at New York that the new governor was bent on the suppression of piracy; and some of the more prominent colonists, among them Robert Livingston, promptly came to his aid. Kidd, who had acquired a competency, was now living in retirement in New York, and was well known to Livingston and other citizens. It was suggested to the governor that if such work was to be done, Kidd was the man to do it. He had all the requisite qualifications — skill, courage, large and widely extended naval experience, and a thorough knowledge of the haunts of the pirates, “who prowled between the Cape of Good Hope and the Straits of Malacca”; and, what was of equal importance, he was willing to undertake the task. With a single ship of thirty or forty guns he believed himself able to sweep the whole race of pirates from the ocean. Bellomont was pleased with the suggestion, and made it known to the king. It was referred to the admiralty, who raised objections; but Bellomont was resolute. A private company was organized, including Lord Shrewsbury, Lord Romney, Lord Orford, first lord of the admiralty, and Somers, keeper of the great seal; £6,000 were subscribed, the “Adventure,” a galley of 287 tons, with 30 guns, was equipped in London, and Kidd was placed in command. According to the arrangement, one tenth of the booty was to be set aside for the king, and was to be put into the treasury, and the remainder was to be divided among the share-holders, the captain, and the crew. Besides the ordinary letters of marque, Kidd carried with him two commissions under the great seal — one authorizing him to act against the French, and another empowering him to seize pirates, and to take them to some place where they might be dealt with according to law. Failing to find his full complement of hands in England, he sailed from Plymouth, 23 April, 1696, and visited New York, where he found volunteers in abundance. On his way across the Atlantic, when off Newfoundland, he captured a French ship, arriving with his prize at New York early in July. On 6 Sept., with a crew of 154 men, he sailed from Hudson river, and in January, 1697, reached the coast of Madagascar, then the great rendezvous of the buccaneers. It seems doubtful whether Kidd meant to play a game of deception from the first. The probability is that he set out with honest intentions, but he shared the opinions regarding piracy that were common at that time in the colonies, and it was so also with his crew. To a man of easy morals the temptation was strong. In any case, it soon began to be rumored that Kidd was also among the pirates, and on 23 Nov., 1698, orders were sent to all the governors of English colonies to apprehend him if he came within their jurisdiction. In April, 1699, he arrived in the West Indies in a vessel called the “Quidah Merchant,” secured her in a lagoon on the island of Saona, southeast of Hayti, and then in a sloop called “San Antonio,” of 55 tons and about 40 men, sailed for the north. Entering Delaware bay, he sailed up the coast to Long Island sound, and went into Oyster bay. There he took on board a New York lawyer, James Einott, and, running across to Rhode Island, he sent Einott to Boston to consult Bellomont as to a safe conduct. Bellomont was evasive, but finally Kidd was encouraged to go to Boston, where he arrived, 1 July, 1699. Finally it was deemed necessary to summon him before the council, and, as his answers to questions were not satisfactory, he was arrested, and ultimately, with several of his men, sent to England. He was charged not only with piracy, but with burning houses, massacring peasantry, brutally treating prisoners, and particularly with murdering one of his men, William Moore. Kidd had called Moore a dog. “Yes, I am a dog,” replied Moore, “but it is you that have made me so,” whereupon Kidd, in a frenzy of rage, struck him down with a bucket, killing him instantly. It was not found possible to bring home the charge of piracy, but he was found guilty of the murder of Moore, and on 24 May, 1701, he was hanged, with nine of his accomplices, at Execution dock, London. Kidd protested his innocence to the last. He claimed that he had been coerced by his men, and that Moore was mutinous when he struck him, and there are many who are of the opinion that his trial was high-handed and unfair. Bellomont sent a vessel in search of the “Quidah Merchant,” but it was found that it had been burned by the men that Kidd had left in charge. Kidd had taken advantage of Einott's absence on his mission to Boston to bury several bales of goods and some treasure on Gardiner's island. This was recovered and taken, with that which was found in Kidd's possession and on the “San Antonio” gold and silver and jewels, with bags of sugar and other merchandise; the whole amounted to £14,000. Naturally enough, Kidd's conduct brought all his friends into serious trouble. It was charged by their political opponents that Bellomont, Romney, Somers, and the others had a guilty knowledge of his designs, and that they had hoped to share the profits. Their participation in the enterprise was made the subject of parliamentary inquiry, but the result was a complete vindication of the men that had fitted out the privateer.