1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Kidd, William

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KIDD, WILLIAM [Captain Kidd] (c. 1645–1701), privateer and pirate, was born, perhaps, in Greenock, Scotland, but his origin is quite obscure. He told Paul Lorraine, the ordinary of Newgate, that he was “about 56” at the time of his condemnation for piracy in 1701. In 1691 an award from the council of New York of £150 was given him for his services during the disturbances in the colony after the revolution of 1688. He was commissioned later to chase a hostile privateer off the coast, is described as an owner of ships, and is known to have served with credit against the French in the West Indies. In 1695 he came to London with a sloop of his own to trade. Colonel R. Livingston (1654–1724), a well-known New York landowner, recommended him to the newly appointed colonial governor Lord Bellomont, as a fit man to command a vessel to cruise against the pirates in the Eastern seas (see Pirate). Accordingly the “Adventure Galley,” a vessel of 30 guns and 275 tons, was privately fitted out, and the command given to Captain Kidd, who received the king’s commission to arrest and bring to trial all pirates, and a commission of reprisals against the French. Kidd sailed from Plymouth in May 1696 for New York, where he filled up his crew, and in 1697 reached Madagascar, the pirates’ principal rendezvous. He made no effort whatever to hunt them down. On the contrary he associated himself with a notorious pirate named Culliford. The fact would seem to be that Kidd meant only to capture French ships. When he found none he captured native trading vessels, under pretence that they were provided with French passes and were fair prize, and he plundered on the coast of Malabar. During 1698–1699 complaints reached the British government as to the character of his proceedings. Lord Bellomont was instructed to apprehend him if he should return to America. Kidd deserted the “Adventure” in Madagascar, and sailed for America in one of his prizes, the “Quedah Merchant,” which he also left in the West Indies. He reached New England in a small sloop with several of his crew and wrote to Bellomont, professing his ability to justify himself and sending the governor booty. He was arrested in July 1699, was sent to England and tried, first for the murder of one of his crew, and then with others for piracy. He was found guilty on both charges, and hanged at Execution Dock, London, on the 23rd of May 1701. The evidence against him was that of two members of his crew, the surgeon and a sailor who turned king’s evidence, but no other witnesses could be got in such circumstances, as the judge told him when he protested. “Captain Kidd’s Treasure” has been sought by various expeditions and about £14,000 was recovered from Kidd’s ship and from Gardiner’s Island (off the E. end of Long Island); but its magnitude was palpably exaggerated. He left a wife and child at New York. The so-called ballad about him is a poor imitation of the authentic chant of Admiral Benbow.

Much has been written about Kidd, less because of the intrinsic interest of his career than because the agreement made with him by Bellomont was the subject of violent political controversy. The best popular account is in An Historical Sketch of Robin Hood and Captain Kidd by W. W. Campbell (New York, 1853), in which the essential documents are quoted. But see Pirate.