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William Kidd

by Thomas McCord

William Kidd, one of the most famous pirates from New York gained his notoriety largely due to his ill timing with the British's fluctuating toleration of piracy. William Kidd was a small-time pirate in the West Indies, but ended up in New York after his ship was stolen. There, he supported the British against an insurrection led by Dutch born Jacob Leisler in 1689. When the British quelled the insurrection in 1691, Kidd was rewarded with £150.

Using his reward, William Kidd seems to have settled well into the civil life as an active member of society in New York. Kidd married Sarah Bradley Cox Oort, a wealthy widow, in 1692 and settled down on Pearl Street. He owned a pew a Trinity Church and provided the block and tackle for the construction of the church. William Kidd and his wife also had a daughter. It seemed as if Kidd had fully made the transition from pirate to prominent figure of society.

However in 1695, the pangs for the sea seem to have caught up to Kidd. With the support of several wealthy backers, William Kidd petitioned the king for a commission to go pirate hunting in exchange for a percentage of the spoils they recovered. Kidd's prior profession provided him with an expert knowledge of pirate havens. Thus Kidd could satisfy his calling for the sea whilst remaining in good standing. The king agreed and in September 1696, Captain Kidd, along with 155 men, set out to sea. He headed to Madagascar, only to find the harbor empty and discover that all of the pirate vessels had recently shipped out. The same held true for Malabar.

Historians contest what happened next. Some claim that growing desperate, Captain Kidd reverted to piracy, attacking and plundering non-pirate vessels. Others, including Kidd himself, claim that Kidd always remained a legitimate privateer and that the piratical actions surrounding Kidd were largely the fault of his mutinous crew. Whatever the circumstances surrounding the situation were, Kidd's vessel plundered numerous ships outside of his contract. Kidd returned to New York only to be placed under arrest and shipped to London for trial.

In his earlier years as a pirate, Kidd had enjoyed the protection of Lord Bellomont, a member of the aristocracy in England. However in the face of shifting policies, Bellomont issued a pamphlet in early 1701, distancing himself from Kidd and letting the Captain take the brunt of the new anti-piratical sentiment in England. William Kidd was found guilty of piracy and murder and was hanged on May 23, 1701.

Bibliography if applicable

McKay, Richard. South Street: A Maritime History of New York. Riverside: 7 C's Press, Inc., 1969.

Lopate, Phillip. Waterfront: A Walk Around Manhattan. New York: Anchor Books, 2004.

Innes, J.H., New Amsterdam and Its People. Volume I. Port Washington: Ira J. Friedman, Inc., 1969.

Ritchie, Robert C. Captain Kidd and the War Against the Pirates. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1986.

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