CAPTAIN JOHN KIDD
Known as the "Wizard of the Seas," who suffered for Piracy, at Execution Dock, 23rd of May, 1701
PIRACY is an offence committed on the high seas, by villains who man and arm a vessel for the purpose of robbing fair traders. It is also piracy to rob a vessel lying in shore at anchor, or at a wharf. The river Thames, until the excellent establishment of a marine police, was infested by gangs of fresh-water pirates, who were continually rowing about, watching the homeward-bound vessels; which, whenever an opportunity offered, they boarded, and stole whatever part of their cargo they could hoist into their boats. But, of late years, the shipping there, collected from every part of the habitable globe, have lain in tolerable security against such disgraceful depredations, and the introduction of the dock system has further increased this security.
Piracy is a capital offence by civil law, although by Act of Parliament it may be heard and determined according to the rules of common law, as if the offence had been committed on land.
Captain John Kidd was born at Greenock, in Scotland, and being bred as a sailor he eventually became known as the "Wizard of the Seas." Having quitted his native country, he resided at New York, where he became owner of a small vessel, with which he traded among the pirates, obtained a thorough knowledge of their haunts, and could give a better account of them than any other person whatever.
While in their company he used to converse and act as they did; yet at other times he would make singular professions of honesty, and intimate how easy a matter it would be to extirpate these abandoned people, and prevent their future depredations. His frequent remarks of this kind engaged the notice of several considerable planters, who, forming a more favourable idea of him than his true character would warrant, procured him the patronage with which he was afterwards honoured.
For a series of years great complaints had been made of the piracies committed in the West Indies, which had been greatly encouraged by some of the inhabitants of North America, on account of the advantage they derived from purchasing effects thus fraudulently obtained. This coming to the knowledge of King William III., he, in the year 1695, bestowed the government of New England and New York on the Earl of Bellamont, an Irish nobleman of distinguished character and abilities, who immediately began to consider the most effectual method to redress the evils complained of, and consulted with Colonel Levingston, a gentleman who had great property in New York, on the most feasible steps to obviate the evils.
At this juncture Captain Kidd had arrived from New York in a sloop of his own; him, therefore, the Colonel mentioned to Lord Bellamont as a bold and daring man, who was very fit to be employed against the pirates, as he was perfectly well acquainted with the places which they resorted to. This plan met with the fullest approbation of his lordship, who mentioned the affair to his Majesty, and recommended it to the notice of the Board of Admiralty.
But such were then the hurry and confusion of public affairs that, though the design was approved, no steps were taken towards carrying it into execution. Accordingly Colonel Levingston made application to Lord Bellamont that as the affair would not well admit of delay it was worthy of being undertaken by some private persons of rank and distinction, and carried into execution at their own expense, notwithstanding public encouragement was denied it. His lordship approved of this project, but it was attended with considerable difficulty.
At length, however, Lord Chancellor Somers, the Duke of Shrewsbury, the Earl of Romney, the Earl of Oxford and some other persons, with Colonel Levingston and Captain Kidd, agreed to raise six thousand pounds for the expense of the voyage; and the Colonel and Captain were to have a fifth of the profits of the whole undertaking. Matters being thus far adjusted, a commission in the usual form was granted to Captain Kidd to take and seize pirates, and bring them to justice. Accordingly a vessel was purchased and manned, and received the name of the Adventure galley; and in this Captain Kidd sailed for New York towards the close of the year 1695, and in his passage made prize of a French ship.
From New York he sailed to the Madeira Islands, thence to Bonavista and St Jago, and from this last place to Madagascar. He now began to cruise at the entrance of the Red Sea, but not being successful in those latitudes he sailed to Calicut, and there took a ship of one hundred and fifty tons' burthen, which he carried to Madagascar and disposed of there. Having sold his prize he again put to sea, and at the expiration of five weeks took the Quedah merchant, a ship of above four hundred tons' burthen, the master of which was an Englishman named Wright, who had two Dutch mates on board and a French gunner, but the crew consisted of Moors, natives of Africa, and were about ninety in number.
He carried the ship to St Mary's, near Madagascar, where he burned the Adventure galley, belonging to his owners, and divided the lading of the Quedah merchant with his crew, taking forty shares to himself. They then went on board the last-mentioned ship and sailed for the West Indies.
It is uncertain whether the inhabitants of the West India Islands knew that Kidd was a pirate, but he was refused refreshments at Anguilla and St Thomas's, and therefore sailed to Mona, between Porto Rico and Hispaniola, where, through the management of an Englishman named Bolton, he obtained a supply of provisions from Curassoa. He now bought a sloop of Bolton, in which he stowed great part of his ill-gotten effects, and left the Quedah merchant, with eighteen of the ship's company, in Bolton's care.
While at St Mary's, ninety men of Kidd's crew left him and went on board the Mocha merchant, an East India ship, which had just then commenced as pirate. Kidd now sailed in the sloop, and touched at several places, where he disposed of a great part of his cargo, and then steered for Boston, in New England. In the interim Bolton sold the Quedah merchant to the Spaniards, and immediately sailed as a passenger in a ship for Boston, where he arrived a considerable time before Kidd, and gave information of what had happened to Lord Bellamont.
Kidd, therefore, on his arrival, was seized, by order of his lordship; when all he had to urge in his defence was that he thought the Quedah merchant was a lawful prize, as she was manned with Moors, though there was no kind of proof that this vessel had committed any act of piracy. Upon this, the Earl of Bellamont immediately dispatched an account to England of the circumstances that had arisen, and requested that a ship be sent for Kidd, who had committed several other notorious acts of piracy.
The ship Rochester was accordingly sent to bring him to England; but this vessel, happening to be disabled, was obliged to return -- a circumstance that greatly increased a public clamour which had for some time subsisted respecting this affair, and which, no doubt, took its rise from party prejudice. It was carried to such a height that the Members of Parliament for several places were instructed to move the House for an inquiry into the affair; and accordingly it was moved in the House of Commons that "The letters-patent granted to the Earl of Bellamont and others respecting the goods taken from pirates were dishonourable to the King, against the law of nations, contrary to the laws and statutes of this realm, an invasion of property, and destructive to commerce." Though a negative was put on this motion, yet the enemies of Lord Somers and the Earl of Oxford continued to charge those noblemen with giving countenance to pirates; and it was even insinuated that the Earl of Bellamont was not less culpable than the actual offenders.
As soon as Kidd arrived in England he was sent for, and examined at the bar of the House of Commons, with a view to fix part of his guilt on the parties who had been concerned in sending him on the expedition; but nothing arose to incriminate any of those distinguished persons. Kidd, who was in some degree intoxicated, made a very contemptible appearance at the bar of the House; on which a member, who had been one of the most earnest to have him examined, violently exclaimed: "D --n this fellow, I thought he had been only a knave, but unfortunately he happens to be a fool likewise."
Kidd was at length tried at the Old Bailey, and was convicted on the clearest evidence; but neither at that time nor afterwards charged any of his employers with being privy to his infamous proceedings. He suffered, with one of his companions (Darby Mullins), at Execution Dock, on the 23rd day of May 1701. After Kidd had been tied up to the gallows the rope broke and he fell to the ground; but being immediately tied up again, the ordinary, who had before exhorted him, desired to speak with him once more; and on this second application entreated him to make the most careful use of the few further moments thus providentially allotted him for the final preparation of his soul to meet its important change.
These exhortations appeared to have the wished-for effect; and he was left, professing his charity to all the world, and his hopes of salvation through the merits of his Redeemer.
Thus ended the life of captain Kidd, a man, who, if he had entertained a proper regard to the welfare of the public, or even to his own advantage, might have become an useful member of society, instead of a disgrace to it. The opportunities he had obtained of acquiring a complete knowledge of the haunts of the pirates, rendered him one of the most proper men in the world to have extirpated this nest of villains; but his own avarice defeated the generous views of some of the greatest and most distinguished men of the age in which he lived. Hence we may learn the destructive nature of avarice, which generally counteracts all its own purposes. Captain Kidd might have acquired a fortune, and rendered a capital service to his country, in a point the most essential to its interests; but he appeared to be dead to all those generous sensations which do honour to humanity, and materially injured his country, while he was bringing final disgrace on himself.
The story of this wretched malefactor will effectually impress on the mind of the reader the truth of the old observation, that "Honesty is the best policy."
Henceforth let honour's paths be trod,
Nor villains seek in vain
To mock the sacred laws of God,
To give their neighbours pain.