October 23, 2014
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Kidd’s body soaked in tar and suspended in chains, 1701
Then and Now

Historians down through the years have held different opinions regarding Captain William Kidd. Some have characterized him as a most notorious pirate while others have claimed he was innocent of any crimes on the high seas. Those who proclaim the latter blame Kidd’s arrest and hanging on the treachery of the unpopular, gout-ridden Richard Coote, Earl of Bellomont and royal governor of New York in the late 17th century.

Bellomont, in 1695, authorized Kidd, an already well known privateer, to surpass piracy and with “full power and authority to apprehend, seize, and take into custody…pirates, freebooters, and sea rovers….” It was this same Bellomont, however, who refused to defend Kidd and was responsible for his ultimate execution.

The sailing voyages of Captain Kidd eventually led him to the Indian Ocean, and a series of misadventures resulted in near mutiny of his crew. Believing that much of his difficulties resulted from the actions of one of his crew, a gunner named William Moore, Kidd confronted the man and in a fit of rage killed him. Years later, Kidd was convicted of murdering Moore.

Noted Rhode Island historian Edward Field in his 1902 history of Rhode Island, states that Kidd “Instead of directing his energies to the suppression of the pirates on the American coast…spent three years in the Indian Ocean, plundering the vessels of his own country, as well as those of other nations.”  Field, one of those who believed Kidd guilty of piracy, adds, “His depredations were so great that many vessels were sent out to capture him, but he evaded his pursuers and returned to America.”  Field also alleges that Kidd was carrying out a previously arranged plan and that his piracy was the means of securing the wealth that Kidd’s partners, which included a number of very highly placed and influential Englishmen, expected.

Samuel Greene Arnold, in his 1859 History of Rhode Island, reports, “A fleet was sent to the East Indies to take him [Kidd], but he escaped and came to the American coast.” Arnold concludes by saying, “At length, grown reckless by success, he appeared in Rhode Island, and was arrested soon after in Boston, sent to England, and there gibbeted in 1700.” (The actual date was 1701.)

Jacqueline Overton, in her Long Island’s Story, written in 1929, goes into more detail.  She traces Kidd’s last months from his return to New York until his arrest in Boston.  Overton says that in “June of the year 1699, he [Kidd] appeared suddenly off the Delaware coast and in Long Island Sound on a sloop named Antonio.” She tells us the sloop “was mounted with six guns and carried the choicest and most “valuable loot he had collected.”

Touching on the mystique of Kidd’s treasures she adds, “Scores of stories have been written about people who have gone searching for Captain Kidd’s treasure, but never from that day to this has it been found.”

Overton tells us that Kidd went from Gardiner’s Island in Long Island Sound to Block Island and then back to Gardiner’s Island and eventually on to Boston. In this account we are given another glimpse of the controversial Kidd, as the author portrays him as being both courteous and cruel. At one point, when he met Lord John Gardiner, Kidd, Overton says, received him “very courteously. [Kidd] said he was going to Lord Bellomont at Boston, and meanwhile wished Gardiner to take his two Negro boys and a Negro girl ashore and keep them till he came or sent for them.” Later, however, we are told, “The next day he (Kidd) demanded a tribute of six sheep and a barrel of cider....” Still later Captain Kidd “...gave Gardiner two pieces of Bengal muslin for his wife, handed Gardiner’s men four pieces of gold for their trouble, and offered to pay for the cider.”

On his return to Gardiner’s Island, after spending some time at Block Island, Kidd is reported to have commanded Gardiner to “keep for him a chest and a box of gold, a bundle of quilts and four bales of goods, saying that the box of gold was intended for Lord Bellomont…” Jacqueline Overton also tells us, “...with a timely touch of ferocity, [he] told Lord John that if he called for the treasure and it were missing, he would take his [Gardiner’s] head or his son’s.” Kidd apparently could be very generous when he was pleased for we are told that he had asked Mrs. Gardiner to roast a pig for him and was so pleased with the result that he gave her a very valuable piece of gold cloth.

Captain Kidd’s visit to Captain Thomas Paine at Jamestown has also given rise to many stories of treasure buried at Jamestown. A story concerning Kidd and Paine in the 1964-65 Rhode Island Yearbook tells us that Paine, who had testified under oath that he and Kidd had been shipmates years before on the South American Main, reported that Kidd “had run up the bay with his sloop as high in the bay as my house and sent his boat on shore to desire my company aboard which I did...After some time he desired me to secure something for him. But I refused alleging my house would be searched and I could not do it.”

Most historians, including Samuel Greene Arnold, believe that Paine did receive goods and Arnold refers to a number of letters in the Bellomont files, which tend to support that conclusion. One especially is an order from Sarah, wife of Captain William Kidd. She was imprisoned with her husband and asked Paine for money to support herself and her husband while in jail. Howard M. Chapin in his Captain Paine of Cajacet tells us that “...a small trunk was found which contained some remnants of East India goods and a letter from Mrs. Kidd to Captain Paine.” In this letter dated July 18. 1699, Sarah Kidd asked Paine to deliver to the bearer “Andrew Knott, twenty-four ounces of gold ‘and to keep all the rest you have in custody for it is all we have to support us in time of want.’”

The story of Captain Kidd, his arrest and execution will be continued.


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