A former privateer, Captain William Kidd had been given a commission from King William of England to hunt pirates in the Indian Ocean
Kidd’s new ship was named the Adventure Galley, a 34-gun vessel with oars and sails, a perfect tool for such a mission. It was built in the King’s own shipyard, and completed in January of 1695.
Kidd carefully selected a crew of 70 men whom he believed would not turn to piracy. Most of them had wives and families in England.
Kidd appears to have been drinking heavily during the launch party, and it caused problems almost at once. While still traveling down the Thames River toward the sea, the Adventure Galley passed a Royal Navy ship. The Adventure Galley was required by custom to salute the navy ship, but for some reason it did not. The navy captain complained, and Kidd’s men replied by dropping their breeches, sticking their backsides over the rail and smacking their bare buttocks.
The navy captain replied by pulling over the Adventure Galley and impressing many men from the crew, forcing them to join the Royal Navy on the spot. Kidd was immediately forced to find new crew members. He then sailed for New York, arriving in July 1696. He set sail again in September,
His required return date, of March 1697 was already impossible to meet.
We next see Kidd and the Adventure Galley 100 miles from Africa’s Cape Town. Kidd stopped a ship of the Royal Navy and demanded that the captain supply him with new sails to replace those that had been damaged in his trip across the Atlantic. When he was refused, he threatened to stop the first English merchant vessel he saw and take the sails from it. The navy captain replied that he would charge Kidd with treason and impress more of his men.
Kidd’s answer was to use his ship’s oars to row away quietly during the night, before any further steps could be taken.
Because of this incident, Kidd did not stop in at Cape Town as planned, Instead he went straight around Africa. Once on the east coast, near Madagascar, he landed to refill supplies. Contact with African germs, coupled with a crew that had been at sea for months, took out fifty sailors through sickness. Once again, Kidd needed to get new crew members. Then he headed for the mouth of the Red Sea, the same spot where Henry Avery had waited with his pirate cohorts to ambush the returning treasure fleet, two years before.
But unlike Avery who seemed to have been graced by good luck, Kidd faced mounting problems. In addition to having lost almost all of his carefully picked original crew, Kidd’s brand new pirate-chasing ship was in bad shape. She had been under sail for only a year, but already her joints were getting loose, causing her to leak badly. The warm tropical waters had done her no good either. Her bottom was being eaten by salt-water parasites called shipworms.
And in only one month, Kid was due back in London with the goods from captured ships.
Weeks passed and they had still had taken no prizes of note, only a few fishing vessels. One man, a gunner named William Moore, got into a ferocious argument with Kidd. Like their captain, the common sailors would receive pay only if they captured ships, and the expedition had so far been unable to find any pirates. Moore began to talk mutiny. In response, Kidd threw a bucket at him and hit him in the head. Moore feel to deck, and died the next day.
Finally, in February of 1698, almost a year after they were due back in England, Kidd and company attacked and seized a merchant ship called the Quedagh Merchant. The ship was owned by Armenians, crewed by Moors, carrying Persian cargo, and captained by an Englishman named Wright. She was also definitely not a pirate.
But she was carrying a French pass, and part of the voyage’s mission was to attack the French. It was good enough for Kidd.
What happened next is still under dispute. Kidd claimed that he was attacked by a pirate named Culliford, who took all the guns, shot and powder from the Adventure Galley, then sailed off. The ship was by this time ready to fall apart, so Kidd transferred everything left by the pirates into the Quedgah Merchant, and burned his former flagship.
More cynical sorts point out that Culliford was the man who had stolen the Blessed William from him in 1689. This story goes that Kidd, whose men were fired up by their recent success, wanted to become full-blown pirates.
According to this version, Kidd gave the Adventure Galley to Culliford, to replace his own ship, which had been badly damaged in a fight. The two men then hung out in local taverns while Culliford’s pirates worked to make the Adventure seaworthy again. Most of Kidd’s sailors did become pirates, but Kidd kept the bulk of the plunder and buried it – and his logbook – in a secret place on the island.
Why would Kidd do this? Why, out of all the pirates in the world, would he alone bury his treasure?
Unlike other pirates, Kidd had investors to pay off. If he arrived back in England with the spoils of his single capture, the bulk of the money would go to the king, the investors, and Blackham. Kidd’s share would have been less than 5% of the treasure he had been working for over two years trying to obtain.
But, if he came home with much less money, say, only £10,000 worth of treasure, he could pay off his investors and later go back for the buried gold. This plan, however, required hiding his logbook as well as the money, because it revealed the amount of plunder had been on the Quedgah Merchant.
Kidd’s story was that Culliford took his logbook.
Kidd's biggest problem was that the Navy captains he had been confronting sent dispatches home regularly, and they had friends in London. Kidd had never treated the Royal Navy with the respect the captains thought they were due. And his loose words and disorderly conduct had inspired them to accuse him of piracy.
By the time Kidd made it back to England, his enemies' stories had been before the public for a long time. Ship owners harassed by Kidd while he looked for pirates, continued reports of blatant pirate activity (in spite of Kidd’s mission to find and attack them), and the reports of enraged navy captains had all painted him as a confirmed pirate long before he reached port.
Kidd made landfall first in the Caribbean. There he learned the story of his supposed “pirate” attacks. But he convinced his crew to return with him to New York, where he was sure he could prove his innocence. But, as a precaution, he sailed north on a small ship he purchased called the Antonio. The Quedgah Merchant with some of the crew, stayed behind on the island of Hispaniola. The crew stripped her of goods, buried the treasure, and then burned her.
Next week... The fate of Captain Kidd