By Manushag N. Powell, Purdue University
Not all pirates are destined to become legendary. Not even those who sailed the sea route, Pirate Round, far away to other continents. Robert Culliford and William Kidd stand out as a particularly incorrigible examples of the kind of pirates who could neither retire quietly, nor make it big.
Robert Culliford was a frequent mutineer and his roaming life seems to have precluded loyalty to almost anyone. In 1689, he mutinied against the privateer for whom he was supposed to be working, and voted for William Kidd to be in command.
The next year, he mutinied against Kidd in favor of a different captain. But, pirates changing their leadership was not uncommon.
Culliford spent a few years rioting in the Caribbean before heading to India. Then, he spent a few years in a Mughal prison. Later, he joined an East India merchant men and promptly participated in another mutiny.
In turn, the crew mutinied against him. He ended up on St. Mary’s island, where he encountered another crew under the command of Captain Kidd and convinced many of them too to betray Kidd in his favor.
The Great Mohammed
Finally, in 1698, Culliford took a great Mocha prize called the Great Mohammed. He returned to St. Mary’s and accepted a pardon in 1699, but the British arrested him anyway. This was because of the bad public relations caused by the attack on the Great Mohammed.
He saved his neck by testifying against other pirates, and that’s all one knows of his fate.
This article comes directly from content in the video series The Real History of Pirates. Watch it now, on Wondrium.
Much more famous, but less successful, is the Scotsman William Kidd, whom Culliford twice fixed. Kidd plied the Pirate Round in his brief pirate career.
A sometime privateer living in New York, Kidd obtained a commission and a number of wealthy London backers for a scheme to hunt down the pirates of the Indian Ocean, and bring them and their treasure to justice.
In 1696, he set sail in a ship named the Adventure Galley to capture Captain Thomas Tew and his ilk. He had no way of knowing, of course, that Tew was already dead.
It’s fitting that at the time, ‘Adventure’ had less the sense of a fun, exciting journey than a risky, somewhat disreputable action, left partly up to chance. It was also a synonym for venture, as in a specifically financial risk, which Kidd’s voyage certainly turned out to be.
With the crew of experienced but unruly piratical types, Governor Fletcher called them men of desperate fortunes and necessities of getting vast treasure. He headed East. Historians debate Kidd’s own intentions. He had a reputation for courage, but not for diplomacy. He seems not to have been an able commander of men using violence rather than rhetoric to maintain control.
A Quick-tempered Pirate
Kidd also apparently had a short fuse. We know, for example, that in a fit of rage, he murdered his gunner, William Moore, for some backtalk on deck. Kidd bashed the man’s skull in with a bucket.
In spite of such disagreeable tendencies, some argue that Kidd was treated unfairly at trial for political reasons, that he was a scapegoat. Others point out that for a pirate hunter, he did very little hunting of pirates, instead attacking most every merchant vessels he came across. He was chased away from the Mocha fleet, ironically, by an English East India ship assigned to protect them.
The Quedah Merchant
Early in 1698, Kidd captured a rich Armenian ship on its way to Surat, India, the Quedah Merchant. He did so under the flimsy pretense that though it had an English master, it carried papers of French protection.
As it happened, the Quedah Merchant’s cargo belonged to an important ally of Aurangzeb, who was still pretty upset about Every’s attack on his Ganj-i-Sawai. The attack on the Quedah Merchant created an international incident.
The English factors were once again seized in chains. Captain Kidd, meanwhile, went on to St. Mary’s, but still made no effort to capture the pirates there, instead sailing for home after a nice rest.
Acts of Piracy
To appease the outraged Aurangzeb, and to disgrace the wigs who had backed him, the new Tory government that had come into power in England demanded that Kidd be arrested and tried. Kidd had committed acts of piracy.
But, he believed that his backers would excuse it. He was badly mistaken. Instead, the Tory sought to make an example of him, and he was hanged at execution dock in 1701.
William Kidd’s Well-publicized Trial and Death
Indeed, Kidd’s name is mostly known today because of the fascination of his well-publicized trial and death. And the erroneous myth that he buried some treasure. He’s not known for his actual pirating, which was on the whole lackluster.
His execution required two tries. The first time the rope broke, his body was gibbeted, dipped in pitch, chained, and then left exposed as a warning to other would-be pirates. This, of course, didn’t work.
Kidd’s story did much to harden English resolve to finally get control of their pirate problem. But, decades would pass before that resolve would come to anything near completion.
Common Questions about William Kidd and Robert Culliford
In 1689, Robert Culliford mutinied against the privateer for whom he was supposed to be working, and voted for William Kidd to be in command.
Robert Culliford spent a few years rioting in the Caribbean before heading to India. Then he spent a few years in a Mughal prison.
The Quedah Merchant’s cargo belonged to an important ally of Aurangzeb.