Kidd, William (d.1701) (DNB00)

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KIDD, WILLIAM (d. 1701), pirate, is said to have been a native of Greenock, to have settled in Boston, Massachusetts, to have commanded a trading vessel in the West Indies, and to have distinguished himself in command of a privateer during William III's war with France. In 1695, when the Earl of Bellomont was appointed governor of Massachusetts Bay, with especial instructions to suppress the piracy which infested the coast, Robert Livingstone, a man of good repute in the colony, brought Kidd to the earl's notice in London as a fit man for the work [see Coote, Richard, Earl of

Bellomont]. Bellomont's suggestion to the admiralty that Kidd should be appointed to the command of a small ship of war was judged irregular, and it was determined to send him out in command of a privateer, with, in addition to the ordinary letter of marque, a special commission under the great seal empowering him to seize and bring in such pirates as he should meet with on the coast of America or elsewhere. Kidd and Livingstone undertook to pay one-fifth of the expenses; Bellomont paid the other four-fifths, in conjunction with Orford, then first lord of the admiralty, Somers, the lord chancellor, Romney, a secretary of state, and Shrewsbury, one of the lords justices. A vessel named the Adventure was accordingly fitted out, and sailed from Plymouth in May 1696. After visiting New York, where she raised her complement of men to 155, the Adventure proceeded to Madagascar, then known as the haunt of pirates. In the course of 1698 and the beginning of 1699 complaints reached the government that Kidd, instead of capturing or destroying the pirates and preying on the king's enemies, was himself a very active pirate, seizing and plundering native ships belonging to friendly powers. Orders were sent out to Lord Bellomont to apprehend Kidd if he should return to North America; and accordingly, when he returned to Boston in July 1699, he was thrown into gaol. He admitted that acts of piracy had been committed, but alleged that he at the time had been overpowered by a mutinous crew and imprisoned in the cabin. Others of the ships taken were sailing under French passes, and were legal prizes, but the desertion of his men, who had joined the pirates, had prevented his sending them in to be condemned. He affirmed, moreover, that the Adventure being no longer seaworthy had been destroyed, and Kidd and the few men who had remained loyal were (according to his own account) on their way home in the Queda Merchant, a richly laden ship of some 400 tons, which had a French pass and had been captured under French colours, when, touching at the island of Hispaniola, he heard that he had been proclaimed a pirate, and that a warrant was out for his apprehension. Leaving the Queda Merchant, he bought a small sloop, and came on to Boston to know the truth. Bellomont was anxious to learn where the Queda Merchant had been left; her cargo, he wrote to England, was, by the best computation he could make, worth about 70,000l. Kidd, however, declined to give any information, and the ship was apparently never found. Some small part of the treasure was seized in the sloop; a portion that he had buried in Gardiner's Island was not recovered by the government; but, like the larger amount left in the ship, it was probably at the disposal of Kidd's friends. Popular traditions which recount its burial, and the failure of attempts to recover it, enormously exaggerate its value; even of the estimated 70,000l. the greater part was in perishable bale goods. In the spring of 1700 Kidd and his companions were sent to England in the Advice frigate, and on their arrival on 8 April were taken in charge by the marshal of the admiralty, who also seized Kidd's papers (Admiralty Minute, 14 April 1700). The enemies of the government now charged the subscribers to the Adventure's equipment with having fitted out a notorious pirate, and attempts were especially made to implicate Somers, who had not only subscribed, but had affixed the great seal to Kidd's commission. The charge was formally preferred in the House of Commons, and was debated with all the virulence of faction, but was too evidently absurd to be affirmed by a majority. In the following May, Kidd, with several of his crew, was put on his trial at the Old Bailey. He was charged with the murder of one Moore, the gunner of the Adventure, whom he had hit violently on the head with a bucket. His defence was that Moore was mutinous and insolent, and that he had knocked him down in a fit of passion; but the judge directed the jury that it was done with malice prepense, and was therefore murder. He was further charged with piratically seizing and plundering six different ships. His defence was that the ships were sailing under French passes, and were legal prizes according to the terms of his commission. These passes, he said, he had preserved, but they had been taken from him, and Lord Bellomont and the admiralty had refused to restore them. No further inquiry was made for them by the court; he had no properly constituted legal adviser or counsel; the only witnesses against him were two of the Adventure's men, who were accepted as king's evidence. The judge summed up against him; he was found guilty of murder and piracy, was with several of his companions sentenced to death, and was duly hanged at Execution Dock on 23 May 1701. Whatever may have been Kidd's crimes, it is clear that he had not a fair trial, and was found guilty on insufficient evidence. Kidd's effects to the value of 6,472l. 1s. were forfeited to the crown, and the money was given by Queen Anne to Greenwich Hospital in 1705 (Lysons, Environs, iv. 448).

[Johnson's General History of the Pirates; Macaulay's History of England (Cab. ed.), viii. 240–4. Macaulay's account is more than usually inaccurate. Kidd was brought to Lord Bellomont's notice in London, not in New York; and the whole story, as told in brilliant language with picturesque detail, is very doubtful. The contemporary pamphlets, which give the commonly accepted account, are: Articles of Agreement made this 10th day of October 1695 between the Right Honourable Richard, Earl of Bellomont, on the one part, and Robert Levingston, Esq., and Capt. William Kid of the other part (printed 1701); The Arraignment, Trial, and Condemnation of Captain William Kidd for Murder and Piracy. … Perused by the Judges and Council (fol. 1701); A True Account of the Behaviour, Confession, and last Dying Speeches of Captain William Kidd and the rest of the Pirates … (1701); A Full Account of the Proceedings in relation to Captain Kidd, in two Letters written by a Person of Quality to a kinsman of the Earl of Bellomont … (4to, 1701). Lord Bellomont's Official Correspondence in the Public Record Office (Colonial, Board of Trade, New England, vol. ix.) gives a full account of Kidd's arrest; one paper, 24 June 1699, is a letter from Kidd, apparently written and signed by himself. Cf. Admiralty Minutes, 8–15 April 1700. Watson's Annals of Philadelphia (ii. 212) is very inaccurate.]

J. K. L.