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William Kidd : biography

- 23 May 1701

Captain William Kidd (c. 1645 – 23 May 1701) was a Scottish sailor who was tried and executed for piracy after returning from a voyage to the Indian Ocean. Some modern historians deem his piratical reputation unjust, as there is evidence that Kidd acted only as a privateer. Kidd's fame springs largely from the sensational circumstances of his questioning before the English Parliament and the ensuing trial. His actual depredations on the high seas, whether piratical or not, were both less destructive and less lucrative than those of many other contemporary pirates and privateers.

Biography

Captain William Kidd was either one of the most notorious pirates in the history of the world or one of its most unjustly vilified and prosecuted privateers in an age typified by the rationalisation of empire. Despite the legends and fiction surrounding this character, his actual career was punctuated by only a handful of skirmishes followed by a desperate quest to clear his name.

Kidd was born in Dundee, Scotland January 1645. He gave the city as his place of birth and said he was aged 41 in testimony under oath at the High Court of the Admiralty in October 1695 or 1694. Researcher Dr David Dobson later identified his baptism documents from Dundee in 1654. His father was Captain John Kyd, who was lost at sea. A local society supported the family financially . Richard Zacks in the biography The Pirate Hunter (2002) says Kidd came from Dundee. Reports that Kidd came from Greenock have been dismissed by Dr. Dobson, who found neither the name Kidd nor Kyd in baptismal records. The myth that his "father was thought to have been a Church of Scotland minister" is also discounted. There is no mention of the name in comprehensive Church of Scotland records for the period. A contrary view is presented here Kidd later settled in the new colony of New York. It was here that he befriended many prominent colonial citizens, including three governors. There is some information that suggests he was a seaman's apprentice on a pirate ship much earlier than his own more famous seagoing exploits.

The first records of his life date from 1689, when he was a member of a French-English pirate crew that sailed in the Caribbean. Kidd and other members of the crew mutinied, ousted the captain of the ship, and sailed to the English colony of Nevis. There they renamed the ship the Blessed William. Kidd became captain, either the result of an election of the ship's crew or because of appointment by Christopher Codrington, governor of the island of Nevis. Captain Kidd and the Blessed William became part of a small fleet assembled by Codrington to defend Nevis from the French, with whom the English were at war. In either case, he must have been an experienced leader and sailor by that time. As the governor did not want to pay the sailors for their defensive services, he told them they could take their pay from the French. Kidd and his men attacked the French island of Mariegalante, destroyed the only town, and looted the area, gathering for themselves something around 2,000 pounds Sterling. During the War of the Grand Alliance, on orders from the province of New York, Massachusetts, Kidd captured an enemy privateer, which duty he was commissioned to perform off the New England coast. Shortly thereafter, Kidd was awarded £150 for successful privateering in the Caribbean. One year later, Captain Robert Culliford, a notorious pirate, stole Kidd's ship while he was ashore at Antigua in the West Indies. In 1695, William III of England replaced the corrupt governor Benjamin Fletcher, known for accepting bribes of one hundred dollars to allow illegal trading of pirate loot, with Richard Coote, Earl of Bellomont. In New York City, Kidd was active in the building of Trinity Church, New York.

On 16 May 1691, Kidd married Sarah Bradley Cox Oort, an English woman in her early twenties, who had already been twice widowed and was one of the wealthiest women in New York, largely because of her inheritance from her first husband.Zacks, p. 82-83, 86.

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