William Kidd was born in Strathclyde, Scotland. Kidd established himself to become a sea captain before moving to New York in 1690. In his new location, he married, bought property and settled to start a life with his spouse. On some occasions, New York, and other American colonies commissioned him to search the coast for enemy privateers. He was supposed to find these people and eliminate them.
The governor of New York, who had been recently appointed, hired Kidd in 1695 to protect English ships from pirates around the Red Sea. Aboard the Adventure Galley, he sailed to New York in 1696 and recruited men who would assist him in the mission before heading for the Indian Ocean.
The expedition did not bring any positive results. In 1698, Quedagh Merchant (an Indian vessel) was taken. The Indian ship was allegedly sailing under French supervision. It was alleged that Kidd had captured the boat, which was loaded with valuables: guns, silk, sugar, jewels, and gold. The allegations sparked controversy in Britain because the ship had been under an English captain.
It was suspected that Kidd had converted into a pirate, and these suspicions were confirmed when he sailed to an infamous pirate haven called St Mary’s in Madagascar. Kidd then traveled to the West Indies using the same boat. In West Indies, he was informed of the piracy charges against him. Since he wanted to clear his name, he sailed to New York and surrendered himself to colonial authorities. Kidd argued that the vessels he had attacked were lawful prizes, but that did not deter the authorities from arresting him. He was taken to London.
Kidd spent his last days in Newgate Gaol. On May 18, 1701, he heard his last sermon from the prison chaplain. He had hoped for a reprieve as most of the people who had been accused with him had been pardoned.
However, Kidd was not lucky; he was tried on five piracy charges and one charge for murdering a crewman. His Whig sponsors decided to offer him as an escape rather than back his claims. His trial was a political opportunity for the Tories to embarrass Kidd’s Whig supporters. On the afternoon of May 23, 1701, Kidd, together with two other Frenchmen were taken in two horse-drawn carts to London’s Execution Dock. Kidd had been convicted on all counts and was executed by hanging. He was hanged for piracy and murder.
Kidd had been given the opportunity to address the crowd, and he asserted to the ship-masters to learn from his fate. At the first attempt, his rope snapped, and he fell to the ground with the rope around his neck. He was hoisted up, and the process was successful. As was custom, his body was taken to be hanged at Tilbury Point, a location on River Thames. At this point, his body would be visible to most of the shipping traffic. His corpse was hanged in chains and was left to decompose. As was custom, that was supposed to be a reminder of the penalties for piracy.
After his demise, stories that revolved around him emerged. Also, there were allegations of lost buried treasure. Fortune seekers have been pursuing these treasures for centuries.
Kidd was in his mid-fifties at the time of his death. At the time, government-sponsored privateering and piracy were difficult to differentiate. Therefore, Kidd cannot qualify to be the flamboyant and reckless pirate that is common in today’s fiction.