October 2002 | Volume 53, Issue 5
The irony of his fate is almost too cruel. Captain Kidd has gone down in legend and history as a vicious cutthroat who buried treasure all along the Eastern seaboard. Howard Pyle’s famed illustrations made him out to be a swarthy mustachioed rogue, draped in pistols and cutlass. Actually, Capt. William Kidd (1645-1701) was a respectable New York sea captain born in Scotland, a war hero who tried unbelievably hard to fulfill his commission to capture pirates and bring back their treasure. He genuinely hoped that his voyage aboard the Adventure Galley would turn out to be both patriotic and profitable, but his crew mutinied and his lordly backers abandoned him. His later trial in London was a sham; his hanging close to judicial murder.
You’ve probably never heard of Robert Culliford, but if anyone’s name should be synonymous with pirate , it should be Culliford, not Kidd. When Captain Kidd was making a stab at being a war hero in the Caribbean, Culliford (1666-?) stole Kidd’s ship out from under him to go pirating. When Kidd’s crew mutinied off Madagascar in 1698, they turned for leadership to Culliford, who led them to one of the richest captures in the history of Indian Ocean piracy. The vessel, the Great Mohammed , was carrying a fortune in gold and jewels, along with 700 Muslim pilgrims returning from Mecca. Culliford kept 60 of the veiled women aboard for the amusement of his crew. He later escaped the noose in London by ratting out other pirates.