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In Our Waters - The "Other" Capt. Kidd

June 26, 2018

The sleek picket boat slid up along the hull of the ship as lithe as a cat against his owner’s leg begging for attention. Crewmen aboard the United Fruit Line steamer lowered a Jacob’s ladder upon the boat’s arrival. As the coxswain aboard the picket boat maintained his position against the rusted steel plates of the steamer, a boarding team alighted to the main deck. Information had been received and the small band of United States Coast Guardsmen had their orders. Once on deck, the boarding team, led by a Chief Boatswain’s Mate, headed to the bridge. The master of the vessel, standing on the bridge wing offered little outward emotional response to their presence. Instead, he casually glanced over to the pilot manning the helm and then returned his focus to the traffic-laden waters off of City Island. The Chief Boatswain’s Mate walked up behind the skipper as his boarding team stood off to the side. Out of instinct and training, the salty bosun rested his right hand on the butt of his holstered automatic pistol. “Captain Kidd,” he began and then cleared his throat as if realizing the irony of the statement, “You are under arrest.”  
Over three hundred years earlier, another Captain Kidd, sailed upon the waters of the Long Island Sound. William Kidd, born in 1654 in Dundee, Scotland was the male kin of a sailor who had been lost at sea. By 1689 William was aboard a vessel under the command of Captain Jean Fantin and was clearly following in his father’s footsteps.  For unknown reasons, William Kidd and many of his fellow sailors rallied against their commanding officer and in an act of mutiny, overtook the vessel and commandeered her to Nevis, a British colony. Upon their arrival, their action while at sea was affirmed in the positive and the ship was re-christened Blessed William with William Kidd, by either vote by his fellow crewmen or by royal decree, in receipt of the charge of Captain. Under orders of the Governor of Nevis, Christopher Codrington, Captain Kidd and his men then set out from port to defend the colonial outpost from the French with repayment for their efforts only in the reaping of their own privateering or pilfering efforts.  
After various skirmishes with French vessels, the crew of the Blessed William, set out from port minus their captain. Captain Kidd acquired the Antigua and set out to chase down his former ship. Upon his arrival in New York, he realized that he was too late. Captain Kidd decided to retire from his privateering activities and settle in New York. Soon after, he was betrothed to the twice-widowed beauty Ms. Sarah Bradley Cox Ort. One of the wealthiest of widows in the region, Captain Kidd had found true love in his twenty-something year old bride. He parlayed some of new found finances into a real estate windfall purchasing waterfront tracts in Manhattan. Ashore, Captain Kidd remained dutiful to his domestic and civic duties but the sea called to him like a siren.
Four years later, in 1695, Captain Kidd, adventureless in his day-to-day activities, decided to return to sea. He entered into a contract with Richard Coote, Earle of Bellomont, who was serving as the Royal Governor of New York and Massachusetts and Robert Livingston, an “ambitious entrepreneur.” The plan, the men agreed, was to secure privateering rights from the Admiralty Court. While the outward appearance of their plan was philanthropic in nature, it was really a scheme to capture pirates and more importantly, their cargoes for their own financial gain. They did not plan on returning the plundered goods to the original owners. While the plan would ensure a healthy profit for all three of the triumvirate, unbeknownst to Captain Kidd, the Earl of Bellomont entered into a side agreement with four “high ranking partners – including the secretary of state and the heads of the Admiralty and the judiciary. These sponsors were to keep the lion’s share of the loot, although King William III was promised ten percent of the value of all captured goods and money.”
King William III provided Captain Kidd with three letters of commission. The first was a privateering license permitting Captain Kidd to capture any and all French vessels engaged in merchant trade. Secondly, under a “special royal decree he was authorized to arrest pirates anywhere in the world. Lastly, he was provided a commission to keep all bounty and to usurp the standard court requirements and surrender all captured goods directly to the Earl of Bellomont. Captain Kidd, after selling his ship Antiqua, and with the three letters of commission in his possession, set sail to hunt down the piratical sons of the sea. While setting out of the Thames River, a ship of his majesty’s royal sailors bided a respectful retort of their presence. When Captain Kidd and his crew failed to heed faithful obedience to the naval officers and crew, a shot was fired by the crown’s loyal men. After the shot fell abaft of the newly boarded privateer Adventure Galley, Captain Kidd’s men replied in an opportune fashion along the rails…bared bottomed. The voyage of the Adventure Galley was off to a moon lit start. After augmenting his crew to a full complement of one hundred and fifty men with a rogue’s gallery of scallywags and brigands, they set a course for Africa with high hopes of amassing a king’s ransom.
By the time the Adventure Galley had reached the Cape of Good Hope, the moon-shined start had waned to a crescent of opportunity. While the groaning of the crews’ discontent grew in its resonance, Captain Kidd decided a strategic shift to the waters of the Red Sea. His plan was to attack the pilgrim fleets returning to India and on August 15, 1697, a squadron of vessels under the protection of an East India Company ship, was spotted in his spyglass. The engagement was short-lived after a brief engagement and Captain Kidd retreated toward northwestern India. On August 19th, Captain Kidd and his men captured a small vessel. After torturing the Indian sailors, plundering some food and money, and taking aboard the British pilot to serve aboard the Adventure Galley, Captain Kidd continued on his quest to find more merchant vessels.
While undergoing repairs in the Laccadive Islands, the level of contempt by many of his crew reached a crescendo of near-mutinous behavior. Captain Kidd in an episode of emotion, found himself standing against one of his gunners, William Moore. Such disobedience could not be tolerated. While Captain Kidd assuredly understood the man’s want to attack a Dutch vessel that was nearby, Captain Kidd was not in agreement. The heady argument swirled into a maelstrom. Captain Kidd grabbed a nearby bucket and careened it against Moore’s head. The gunner fell to the deck with a thunderous crash. Several of the crew rushed to the fallen man’s side. One of the crew looked up at Captain Kidd. “Moore is dead.” A solemn hush swept across the decks of the Adventure Galley. Captain Kidd retired from the scene and realized that maintaining the discipline of his own men as the voyage continued would be a true challenge that would test his mettle and leadership. As the ship dipped her anchor to set out to lurk along the Indian coastline, word spread throughout maritime circles of Captain Kidd’s actions and of those of his crew.
Captain Kidd and his men found success off of India and captured two small vessels. In late November, the Rouparelle was captured. Though the vessel was owned by Dutch merchants, its capture was under the guidance of his letters of commission as she was flying a French flag. Two months later, in late January of 1698, Captain Kidd and his men captured the Quedah Merchant. The capture, though by far the most bountiful in its value, would ultimately serve as the political death knell for Captain Kidd and his crew. The vessel had been leased to officials of the Indian government and carried a French pass for safe passage. According to most recollections, when Captain Kidd learned of ownership, he attempted to convince his crew that the ship should be cast aside as the prizes’ dubious ownership and letters of passage would raise eye-brows in England and could have dire circumstances. His men would have none of it and Captain Kidd relented to their impassioned and sea-legged lawyered interpretation of the capture as perfectly within the rights of their privateering orders. When news of the account reached India and England, those in power scoffed at Captain Kidd’s decision to take the vessel. The emperor of India “threatened to expel all European traders” which further threatened the financially sound East India Company. The East India Company provided compensation to the Quedah Merchant’s owners, “paid large bribes, and agreed to patrol the South Indian Sea.” Captain Kidd’s days of privateering and pirating were numbered and a royal decree was issued for the capture of Captain Kidd and his crew. Captain Kidd would no longer serve the politicians and financiers in England as a privateer. He was now branded nothing more than a common pirate. While vessels set out to sea to search for Captain Kidd, the Quedah Merchant was renamed Adventure Prize and Captain Kidd and his crew sailed for Madagascar. Upon their arrival, the Mocha, a frigate, was spotted in the harbor. Captain Kidd was to be reunited with the man, Captain Robert Culliford, a pirate, who had stolen his ship many years before. While various accounts exist in the long-history of piracy as to the outcome of the chance rendezvous, Captain Kidd, accuracy aside of the interaction, left the port with only a dozen or so of his original men as most had decided to sail alongside Captain Culliford aboard his vessel. Disheartened and possibly disillusioned, Captain Kidd ordered all of items of value removed from the Adventure Galley and for her to be burned to the water line. With all of their loot stowed aboard the Adventure Prize, Captain Kidd and his skeleton crew sailed for America. Word of orders for his capture reached Kidd as he entered the waters of the Caribbean. Several vessels were on the hunt, he learned as the Adventure Prize entered the serene waters of Anguilla in April of 1699. Captain Kidd decided to sell off the bulk of his loot and switch to a less conspicuous vessel before returning to New York. On his way, Captain Kidd allegedly put a party ashore at Gardiners Island where much of his treasure was buried. After a brief stay in Oyster Bay, Captain Kidd sailed for Boston, Massachusetts to meet with one of his original financial partners, Governor Bellomont. Captain Kidd was confident that the Earl of Belloment would come to his aid and set the record straight of his activities as he felt that they had been under the protective provisions of his letters of marque. In an effort to save his own reputation though, the governor double-crossed Captain Kidd and had him arrested in July of 1699. Captain Kidd and his wife would spend over a year in Stone Prison before Captain Kidd was transported to England to face an inquiry by the English Parliament. Captain Kidd’s testimony threatened many in power. The Tory’s, the opposition party of Parliament, wished to use him to illuminate the treacherous backhanded dealings of the powerful Whig politicians. When hopes of his utilization as a political pawn by the Tory ministry dimmed, Captain Kidd was ordered to stand trial for murder and five separate counts of piracy before the High Court of Admiralty. Despite his attempts at garnering support from his original Whig financiers – of whom he did not publicly denounce much to the chagrin and frustration of the Tory leadership - and to lodge an adequate legal defense backed by many missing documents, Captain Kidd maintained his innocence of the various charges. Testimony from several of his former crewmen, most of whom were offering their recollections based on promises of pardons for their own devilish debaucheries, offered little assistance to their former captain. Captain Kidd was found guilty on all charges. Captain Kidd, the final location of all of his treasure unknown and his self-counsel of innocence maintained in equal silence, stood with the strands of the hangman’s noose precariously wound around his neck.1 At the moment of his impending death, the floor board flashed free from below and the line went taunt. The line snapped and Captain Kidd fell onto the wooden slats of the gallows. Stunned, Captain Kidd was helped to his feet. While many argued that a man lucky enough to escape the punishment should be set free, he would be offered no such quarter. His brief respite from his demise had been passed over and he was summarily hung a second time. His luck had run out and once the last breath had been taken, his lifeless body was taken down, tarred and summarily thrust into a steel cage to be gibbetted, at the entry to the River Thames at Tilbury Point as a gruesome reminder and warning to other mariners of his alleged misdeeds. For thirty-six months his corpse swung in the steel cage serving as a harbinger of the harrowing fate that awaited those who took to such piratical ways and means of existence. A Captain Kidd of another era would have a more gentlemanly level of treatment in retrospect. On August 4, 1944, Captain Raymond C. Kidd of Quincy, Massachusetts offered himself without a fight to the issued orders of the Chief Boatswain’s Mate and his boarding party of fellow Coastguardsmen. Content that his city-bound charge was in the safe hands of the harbor pilot, he respectfully requested the opportunity to gather some of his belongings and assemble his modest kit before leaving the steamer. With his small sea-bag slung jauntily over his shoulder, Captain Kidd bounded dutifully down the Jacob’s ladder and then, without the needless call to action by his jailers, sat down quietly aboard the picket boat, abreast of the boarding team and other crewmen, as the Coast Guard boat veered away from the steamer and took a course for shore. Once on dry land, Captain Kidd was escorted to the station house where he was later greeted by a detective under strict orders from the Westchester District Attorney’s office. While his offenses were assuredly less offensive then the more famous (or infamous depending on your reflection of the historical record) Captain Kidd of yesteryear, Captain Raymond C. Kidd, who adamantly disclaimed any “kinship to his famous seventeenth century namesake” was allegedly in violation, and on multiple occasions it appeared, various laws of the sea. As Captain Kidd was led to the Westchester Police Station for booking, he offered, as he did with the Coast Guardsmen, little fight. The previous January, Captain Kidd had allegedly failed to “give the right of way to a larger vessel, heavily laden with dynamite, and steamed dangerously close to it.” Assistant District Attorney Lawrence J. McKenna, speaking to a reporter, indicated that once the grand jury had acted on the charges, Captain Kidd had slipped softly into the good night as the ink on a newly penned warrant still remained wet. A warrant for his arrest was issued. Keeping with his namesake, Captain Kidd was not of the cut of cloth that a trivial matter of a measly warrant would serve to curb his actions. On December 6, 1943, with the warrant for his arrest still pending issuance, he had allegedly “steered his vessel, Iris, of Norwegian registry, through Hell Gate, from Long Island Sound into the East River, without a pilot’s license.” The matter, Captain Kidd quipped when questioned was a simple matter of economics. He openly admitted that his navigation choice was due to his “being in a hurry to get to a Brooklyn pier with my cargo.” The barrister of Westchester didn’t believe, it appeared, in the just cause of maritime capitalism and instead decided to align to the long-winded writs of the law. While Captain Raymond C. Kidd’s last name and profession of choice offered quite the irony, his deviations from the established rules of the road and in the maritime environs were far less than those of the piratical namesake of the late sixteen hundreds. Though the outcome of his judicial matters remains as nebulous as the location of the more famous Captain Kidd’s loot, it is perfectly sound to say that the waters of the Long Island Sound were not once, but many times graced, with the presence of a Captain Kidd and that is a fact not to be disputed as it is part of the history of the Long Island Sound.

Source Listing:

Reinhardt, David. Pirates and Piracy. Konecky & Konecky, New York, NY., 1997.

The New York Times.

“Captain Kidd Arrested,” August 5, 1944.




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