Sunday, June 7, 2009

Black Sheep Sunday: Captain Kidd, the Pirate: 1st Installment

Captain Kidd and his crew capture a merchant vessel.
From A History of the City of Brooklyn and Kings County, Vol 1. page 146-152:
During this period a system of privateering came into vogue, which in a great measure received encouragement from the authorities. The entire coast was infested by daring buccaneers and pirates, who plundered the shipping, making serious depredations upon the commerce of the country. The province suffered greatly from these freebooters, and, although complaint was made from time to time to the constituted authorities, no redress or protection was received. The officials themselves were corrupt, and participated in the profits derived from the nefarious and infamous business. Governor Fletcher fell under strong suspicion of complicity. Legitimate trade was destroyed, and many embarked in the new calling who under other circumstances could not have been induced to pollute themselves by engaging in so vile a traffic.
The English government at last became alarmed. Trade was suspended and merchants were afraid to send their vessels and wares over the ocean. They were unwilling to risk their property in so dangerous and hazardous an enterprise. It became necessary to adopt active means to suppress piracy. The Governor could not be trusted, and, in order to break up this evil, Governor Fletcher was recalled in 1695, and Lord Bellomont appointed in his stead.

Lord Bellomont did not enter upon the discharge of his duties until 1698. He was a man of quick perception, and was convinced that active measures were necessary. To carry out his views he urged the Government to equip an armed naval force to cruise in the western waters and capture the human sharks who were pillaging vessels and destroying the commerce of the nation. England at that time was engaged in a war with France, and had not the means or equipments to respond to the appeal. She required all her naval vessels to defend herself against her neighbor. Bellomont was determined to accomplish his laudable undertaking to destroy piracy in American waters, and, as he could receive no aid from the Crown, resolved to organize a stock company for the purpose. He was encouraged in his effort by the King, who approved the plan, and, with the Duke of Shrewsbury and others of the nobility, became a shareholder in the company thus formed. The object of the company was to build and man vessels to capture the pirates. A sum of money amounting to about $30,000 was raised. A fine and strong vessel called the Adventure Galley was placed in commission. She carried sixty sailors and mounted thirty guns.
Captain William Kidd, a bold and adventurous officer, was placed in command of the ship thus equipped. In order to encourage him in his labor, it was provided that his share in the enterprise should be one fifth of the proceeds. He was a man of large experience, having been engaged in the West Indian and New York trade for many years, and having at various times been employed as captain of packet ships. His experience and knowledge of the coast preeminently fitted him for the undertaking. He had lived in New York a long time, owned considerable property, and was looked upon as a man in every way worthy to discharge the duties assigned him. Bellomont and Robert Livingston had the utmost confidence in him, and gave him a warm recommendation for the position. He married a lady of high social rank in New York, and was privileged to move in the best circles of the city.

The vessel sailed under flattering auspices in April, 1699, from Plymouth, England, for New York. Arriving at the latter port, Captain Kidd shipped ninety additional men, and proceeded to the Indian seas in search of pirates. Kidd soon found that his own seamen sympathized with the buccaneers, and were far from unwilling to assume the role of pirates. It will never be known what arguments induced him to turn aside from the path of duty, and join the band of pirates he was sent to destroy. The fact is that he was led to abandon his enterprise, and became the most daring and bold robber on the sea that ever trod the quarter deck. Reckless and energetic, he soon enriched himself with booty taken from merchantmen upon the high seas. It is said that he would often return to the shores of New York and Long Island, and bury his ill-gotten gains for future use.
Kidd not only buried treasure on Long Island, but, if romantic traditions are to be believed, visited the island under certain sentimental conditions. He is credited with having made early visits to Bushwick in attendance upon a pretty young woman whose family resided in that region, and with having sought hospitality at the “Kiekout,” on the way to and from the home of the lady.

Even after the character of his undertakings became known, Kidd ventured to return to Long Island. After capturing a large frigate he landed at Gardiner’s Island, and buried a quantity of treasure. After dividing some of the ill-gotten gains with his crew, he discharged them, and went to Boston to reside, under an assumed name, hoping that he would not be discovered. In this expectation he made a great mistake. A man like him could not pass long unnoticed. His past career rendered his detection sure. Bellomont was in Boston attending to certain affairs of state, and, meeting Kidd in the street, at once recognized him, and speedily caused his arrest. It was a proud and happy day for Bellomont, and proved to be a crowning effort in his life. His wish was accomplished! He had found and with his own hand arrested the notorious pirate. The prisoner was at once sent to England on a charge of murder and piracy, was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to death, and executed on the 12th of May, 1701. Kidd’s family continued to reside in New York, feeling keenly the disgrace which had been brought uponthem. 1
Diligent search was now made for his buried treasures. A large quantity of valuable jewels and gold and silver was found at Gardiner’s Island. The excitement on the subject became intense. Bellomont and Livingston, having recommended Kidd for appointment as commander of the expedition against the pirates, and in consequence of their former friendliness for Kidd, were accused unjustly of having connived at and participated in his spoils. Had this charge been true, Bellomont would hardly have been so ungrateful or imprudent as to arrest him in the streets of Boston and transport him to England for trial and execution.

1 There are varying views of Kidd’s character and career. Thus Berthold Fernow writes in the Narrative and Critical History of America (vol. v. p. 195): “To-day that which was meted out to Kidd might hardly be called justice; for it seems questionable if he had ever been guilty of piracy.”

A History of the City of Brooklyn and Kings County, Vol. 1
By Stephen M. Ostrander, Alexander Black
Published by Pub. by subscription, 1894
Published in part in a series of articles in the Brooklyn "Eagle" during 1879-80. cf. Pref.

Available for download online from various sites. Also look for Vol. 2:
Illustration, page 315:
Buccaneers and pirates of our coasts
By Frank Richard Stockton
Published by The Macmillan Company, 1898

Available for download online:

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