Ward's Book of Days.

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MAY 23rd

On this day in history in 1701, died William Kidd.

Captain Kidd was notorious as a pirate and legendary for accounts of his buried treasure, but in fact was an innocent victim of malicious rumours.  

Kidd was born in Greenock of quite respectable parents. When Kidd was a youth, his father died and the young Kidd was obliged to seek employment. He chose to go to sea and seemed to have prospered in that profession for by 1690, he was an established sea captain and ship-owner in New York.

In 1695, Kidd received a Royal Commission to seek out and eliminate pirates from the colonies in North America and The West Indies. Shortly after, Kidd had sailed out on his mission, he was halted by a Royal Navy ship and had his trusted and loyal crew pressed into navy service. Kidd was obliged to land at the next port and take on what crew he could find. The replacement crew consisted largely of criminals and former pirates. They mutinied several times and were particularly annoyed at Kidd’s refusal to attack other ships with precious cargoes. On one occasion, Kidd was attacked by the ships gunner, who he shot dead in self-defence.  

Due to lack of proper maintenance, Kidd’s ship became unseaworthy and, under pressure from the crew, he attacked and took what he thought to be a French ship. The ship was in good condition, had a fine cargo of gold and silks but, unfortunately for Kidd, was not a French ship but Armenian with an English captain, named Wright. Kidd wanted the ship returned to Captain Wright but the crew would not hear of it. Kidd had finally lost control.  

After some further time at sea and after some other unfortunate incidents concerning captures of other ships, news spread that Kidd had turned pirate. When he landed at Boston harbour, he was arrested and sent by the governor to London to stand trial.  

Kidd was charged with murder and piracy. There was very little evidence to support the charges but Kidd was convicted and sentenced to death. When he was hanged at Execution Dock, Wapping, the rope broke and he had to be hanged for a second time. Kidd had no valuables about his ship at the time of his arrest, which led to the belief that he had buried treasure at various locations in Caribbean Islands. Legends of ‘buried treasure’ and literary works such as Edger Alan Poe’s Gold Bug and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island are all based on this misunderstanding.

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