ESPANOLA is associated with a critical period in the life of that picturesque pirate, Captain Kidd. William Kidd was a native of Greenock, and a reputable seaman who traded industriously along the American coast. He was so much respected by those who knew him that in 1695 he was entrusted with a commission to suppress piracy. The commission emanated from ” William the Third, by the grace of God King of England, Scotland, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith,” and was addressed to ” our trusty and well beloved Captain William Kidd, of the ship Adventure, gally.”
The well-beloved William was instructed to deal summarily with ” divers wicked and ill-disposed persons who were committing many and great pyraces to the great danger and hurt of our loving subjects.” 1 William was indeed to purge the seas, to stamp out wickedness, and to proclaim on the ocean highways the majesty of the law.
The Adventure sailed from Plymouth on her most righteous mission in May 1696, with a crew of 155 men all intent upon a search for the “wicked and ill-disposed persons” above named. None of these depraved people, however, appear to have come in the way of the trusty captain. He reported no arrests, he brought in no prizes, and, as a matter of fact, nothing was heard of him after he had passed from beyond the English Channel. The Adventure, indeed, might have sailed away into the clouds.
News did come at last, and the purport of the same was discouraging. It was rumoured that this guardian of the law, this protector of” our loving subjects,” was himself actually doing an excellent business as a pirate. Among other exploits he had taken a rich French merchantman named the Queda. Now it so happened that the missionary ship Adventure at this juncture was pronounced unseaworthy, so Master Kidd very heartlessly sunk her, after he had removed his guns, his stores, and his more treasured cabin furniture to the Queda.
He sailed his vessel to Espanola and there heardprobably at San Domingothat he was ” wanted,” and indeed that there was a warrant out against him for divers acts of piracy. This so hurt the finer feelings of Kidd, the well beloved of kings, that he bought a sloop at Espanola and hurried over to Boston to explain the true facts to the authorities, and to vindicate his honour. Kidd, it may be mentioned, had never shown himself to be lacking in audacity.
His explanation was to the effect that his crew had proved to be utterly abandoned, and had, indeed, so far forgotten themselves that they had threatened to shoot him and had actually locked him up in his cabin. While he was thus rudely confined, and trying to console himself no doubt by reading once more the charming communication made to him by William the Third, the Defender of the Faith, these profligate men had committed acts of piracy to his infinite pain and distress. He had felt it his duty to hurry to Boston to tell the kind governor how very base his men had been, and to seek his sympathy and support.
Asked what had become of the Queda, and her cargo of goods valued at 70,000£., the ill-used William deeply regretted that he was unable to inform his Excellency on that point. Asked as to the welfare of a certain gunner on the Adventure named Moore, Master Kidd reported, with some emotion, that that mariner was no longer with them ; in fact, the bereaved captain could do no more than say, in the words of Scripture, that Moore “was not, for the Lord took him.” Asked whether he had smashed Moore’s skull in by hitting him over the head with a bucket, the suppressor of pirates owned that he had adopted that method of rebuking Moore. Moore, he explained, was unfortunate in his manner, was disrespectful and indeed mutinous. Furthermore he was constrained to add, without wishing to speak ill of the dead, that the late gunner had shown an odious leaning towards piracy.
As a result of this informing conversation in the Governor’s office at Boston ” our trusty and well beloved Captain William Kidd ” found himself, with some of his crew, in the dock of the Old Bailey in the month of May 1701. So faithless was William the Third to his trusty servant that Kidd actually came to be charged in the King’s name with being a pirate and with being the murderer of Gunner Moore. Such are the uncertainties of the law that on both these indictments the ex-captain was found guilty.
Nine of the crew of the Adventure were tried with their misunderstood master. Three of these were dismissed and among them was Richard Barlicorne, the apprentice, who probably had blood-congealing tales to tell when he reached the shelter of the alehouse in his native village.
Kidd and his six companions were hanged at Execution Dock on May 23. They were afterwards “hung up in chains, at some distance from each other, down the River, where their bodies hung exposed for many years.” There is little doubt but that for long sailor men, beating up and down the Thames in their hoys and billyboys, would look out for a wind-blown gibbet on the dreariest mud flat, and would say as they passed ” There swings Captain Kidd.”
All that was left of him in time was a tangle of white bones in a rusty cage, with shoes still rattling on the feet, with shreds hanging from the limbs which might be rags of clothing or strips of skin, and with teeth which chattered when the jawbone was shaken in the breeze. There they swung for dismal months, Kidd and his crew of six, watching the tide swirl up and down the stream, watching the home-coming craft and the outward bound. Perhaps Richard Barlicorne, when his nerves were a little restored, may have had the curiosity to visit the Thames to have a look at the captain with whom he had served his strange apprenticeship. He may well have wondered where his own place would have been in the jangling line if the evidence had been a little more convincing.
The estate of Captain William Kidd, deceased, was handed over to Greenwich Hospital. That admirable institution may therefore count a dead buccaneer among its subscribers, and acknowledge that it owes some benefits to acts of piracy on the high seas.
The Queda, merchantman, was never found. It is supposed that the treasure she contained was buried on an island, and that the deserted ship, with many auger holes in her bilge, hid her shame as did the Adventurein the depths of the blameless sea. Common rumour said that it was on Gardiner’s Island that most of the loot was hidden. Whether that be true or not it is certain that the property never came again into the possession of its rightful owners. Very probably some of Kidd’s old companions, by the aid of mystic and much-thumbed charts, went back to the cave where, with many a glance seaward, they dug furtively for the pieces of gold and the bags of precious stones.
Readers of fiction will remember that, according to Edgar Allan Poe, a Mr. William Le Grand discovered this identical booty by means of a gold bug, a human skull in a tree, and a miraculously preserved parchment on which was drawn the figure of a kid. This particular treasure was found in the regulation chest of the pirate story, to wit, in a much knobbed trunk provided with six iron rings. The wealth contained therein was, in the matter of profusion and brilliancy, scarcely eclipsed by the villain’s horde on the pantomime stage. The catalogue comprised much gold, together with 110 diamonds, “some of them exceedingly large and fine,” 83 crucifixes and no less than ” 197 superb gold watches, all richly jewelled and in cases of great worth.”
The gold watches are quite en regle. All popular coloured prints depicting ” The Mariner’s Return ” show a smirking lady in a short frock greeting a bearded seaman, who, besides the orthodox bundle on a stick, carries a parrot and a number of gold watches with chains. The strange fowl serves to indicate an acquaintance with foreign parts, the time-pieces the invariable reward of the faithful and conscientious follower of the sea.