William Kidd

In 1701, William Kidd was hanged in
the Thames of London after he was found guilty of piracy and murder. Many
people took sides either defending him or prosecuting him on whether he was
guilty or not. An analysis of the events that took place up until his trial
reveal the fine line between hired privateering and piracy. The later events
also show a domino effect with the impact of piracy on countries economy and

William Kidd was born in Scotland
raised by only his mom. His father, also a seaman, was said to be lost at sea
while his wife was pregnant. Not much else was known about his early childhood.
Kidd was a well-respected gentleman to England. He later moved to a colony in
New York and bought land. He continued to settle down with a wife and kids. While
in New York, enemy pirates in the Indian Ocean increased causing problems for
England. The presence of these Madagascar pirates in the Indian Ocean endangered
the East India trade which would then endanger England. Because of this the
Whigs employed Kidd and provided him with a commission. His job was to take
over enemy French ships and stop the pirate attacks in the Indian Ocean. To
execute this, he was given a new ship, the Adventure
Galley, for his voyage. In May 1696 Kidd left England to New York for
additional crew and set off to the Indian Ocean in September (Nutting 208).
During the voyage over, it was said he changed his mind and decided to become a
pirate leaving the French pirates alone for now and taking over any vessel
along the way. The biggest and most well-known seize was the Queudah Merchant.

The Quedah Merchant, which was sailing back to Surat, India, contained
an estimated value of 200,000 and 400,000 rupees of cargo (Wilson 34). On
February 1, 1698, Kidd chased the merchant ship using decoy French flags and
had the captain of the ship come aboard the Adventure
Galley. The captain, John Wright, sent the gunner to show a French pass for
the ship. There are many inconsistent accounts of what happened next like whether
the ship belonged to England or was owned by Armenian merchants. Either way,
the treasure on board was too good to pass up and Kidd and his crew took the
ship. They carried off 80 chests of opium, 30 bales of silks, 300 bales of
sugar, and 600 bales of Calicos, muslins, and other East India goods (Wilson
35). Because the goods never made it to Surat, their trading was in jeopardy
and it caused a detrimental set back to their economy. To save the East India
trade, England, specifically, the Tories, united with the East India company to
capture Kidd and use him as a scapegoat to show an end of the war on piracy.

The taking of the Quedah was one significant event that
led to his trial but there were many others. Kidd was also questioned and tried
for the murder of William Moore, the gunner of the Adventure Galley. During his trial, he argued that he had to kill
him in order to keep control of his ship. The crew on board wanted to take
other ships including the Loyal Captain
but Kidd refused. This caused an uproar with his men, so Kidd ended it by
attacking Moore. Along with the murder charge, Kidd was also charged with three
counts of piracy. This includes the takeover Quedah Merchant and two other ships. The second was a Dutch-owned
ship called the Rupparell. Here is a
good example that shows the fine line between hired privateering and piracy.
When Kidd asked to see their pass, they were French. Because of this, Kidd was
technically allowed to take the ship since the order from England was to seize
any French vessel. The problem was that the Rupparell
had multiple passes on the ship and the reason the captain showed Kidd a
French pass was because the Adventure
Galley was sailing with fake French flags (Wilson 33). This form of
deception was in question to see if it was a legitimate legal seize. The third
offense was the plundering of a Portuguese vessel. This seize could never be
considered legal. At this part of his voyage, it is seen that Kidd started to
only care about the goods on board rather than sticking to the terms of his
contract with England. In total Kidd was on trial for three charges of piracy
and one charge of murder.

Because of his patrons and ties to
England, Kidd believed he would get off scot-free, however, this did not
happen. He landed in Boston where he was detained and sent off with his crew to
London for the trail. In April 1701 he was finally able to show his evidence to
defend himself. Sadly, the evidence he had, which were the passes from the Quedah and the Rupparell, went missing. With no evidence to back him up, the trial
went quickly and smoothly. He was convicted of all charges and sentenced to
death. On May 23rd, 1701, he was hanged. The rope he was hanged with
broke, so he had to be put back up by the hangman for the second time where he
finally passed away (Wilson 40).

While Kidd was first detained
gossip spread around about buried treasure. Many stories also came about him
both factual and fictitious. People scoured up and down the east coast looking
for any hint of Kidd’s treasure. Samuel Sewall was put to the job to make an
inventory of the captured goods in Boston. The estimated value unloaded was
14,000 euros yet the cargo on the Quedah
Merchant was valued to be worth 70,000 euros (Bonner 196). That would make
52,000 euros unaccounted for. Kidd was known to be a lavish gift giver. Because
of the wide dispersal of his goods, it gave authorities trouble acquiring it
all and keeping talk around town to a minimum (Bonner 198).

In the Golden Age William Kidd was known as a
notorious pirate making several raids throughout the Indian Ocean. Even with
this implication, it is still in question today if William Kidd was technically
a pirate or not. Captain Kidd is just one of many people that lead on to the
bigger question concerning the difference between privateering and piracy and
if what they are doing is legal or not.