William Kidd, the semi-legendary pirate and one of the most colourful of all outlaws, is reputed to have been born in Greenock around 1645. Although there are no local records confirming this fact, it is stated in the ‘Newgate Calendar’ by Andrew Knapp and William Baldwin, attorneys-at-law, London 1824.
This calendar is said to offer evidence not brought out in Kidd’s trial in 1701: “Captain John (sic) Kidd (called William at the trial) was born in Greenock and bred to sea. Having quitted his native country, he resided at New York”. His date of birth is estimated from the fact that he was approximately 56 years of age when he was executed. The authority of the ‘Newgate Calendar’ is generally accepted by Kidd’s biographers, the Encyclopaedia Britannica and the Dictionary of National Biography.
Kidd’s early career is obscure and little is known of him until 1689 when he was sailing as a legitimate privateer for Great Britain against the French in the West Indies and off the coast of North America.
In 1690 he was an established sea captain and shipowner in New York City, where he owned property. In London in 1695 he received a royal commission to apprehend the “Indian Ocean”. Kidd’s failure to take a prize ship meant that under the terms of the privateer’s contract no pay for the captain or crew was provided. Kidd decided to turn to piracy. After an unsuccessful start, Kidd took his most valuable prize, the Armenian ship “Quedagh Merchant”, in January 1698 and scuttled his own unseaworthy “Adventure Galley”. Kidd was denounced as a pirate and a murderer following an earlier incident when he mortally wounded his gunner, William Moore by hitting him violently over the head with a bucket. He left the “Quedagh Merchant” at the island of Hispaniola (where the ship was possibly scuttled and disappeared with its questionable booty) and sailed to New York where he tried to persuade the Colonial governor of New York of his innocence.
He was, however, sent to England for trial, and found guilty of the murder of Moore and five indictments of piracy. Important evidence concerning two of the piracy cases was suppressed at the trial, and some observers later questioned whether the evidence was sufficient for a guilty verdict. Kidd was sentenced to death and his execution was carried out on May 23, 1701 on the gallows in London. The rope broke on the first attempt, but his executioners were not put off, and the rope held the second time, killing William Kidd.
Proceeds from the effects and goods taken from Kidd’s last ship, the “Antonio” were given by Queen Anne to Greenwich Hospital in 1705. Some of his treasure was later recovered from Gardiners Island off Long Island.
One of the main reasons that his notoriety has outlasted his life is that he is believed to have buried much of his loot from the ‘Adventure Prize’ in several places, much of which was found during his life or shortly after his death. The largest deposit is thought to have been buried somewhere up the Connecticut river, although to this day it has never been found.