Pirate History of Exuma

Captain Kidd and Exuma

 

At the peak of the Pirate era in the mid 1600s it has been estimated that there were approximately 1400 pirates operating in the Caribbean. The key market for black-market trading was Nassau.   Most pirates were said to have their own secret shelter out of sight of the authorities where they could safely repair their ships and get some R&R . Captain Kidd was ubiquitous throughout this period. Popular legend has it that the harbour now known as Kidd Harbour near Georgetown, Great Exuma, was his favorite safe haven. 

 

Captain Kidd was the first pirate known to bury treasure, and is one of the most notorious pirate captains in history. The bulk of his booty was never found, and due to his activity in the area, some believe it is still waiting to be found on Exuma. 

 

William Kidd was born in Scotland in January 1645. It is believed that as a young man, Kidd was part of a French-English pirate crew that operated throughout the Caribbean Islands. After orchestrating a mutiny in order to take over as captain of the crew, he renamed his ship 'The Blessed William.'    He wasn't known for being modest.

 

He claims that through personal connections he got himself sanctioned to become a privateer. Privateers were the slightly more legitimate versions of pirates. They were appointed by the British government to harass merchant ships that belonged to Britain's 'enemy nations', especially France.    Privateers were expected to pay a portion of their winnings to the British government. As long as Kidd stayed clear of British ships he was free, in fact he was encouraged, he claimed, to plunder ships.

 

After receiving his title as a privateer, he amassed considerable wealth and expanded his operation rapidly. According to The Story of the Bahamas by Paul Albury, the average pirate operation was one small ship with less than ten men.   It seems that a few more prominent organizations, such as Captain Kidd's, built small armies and had multiple ships. 

 

In fact, in the late 1690s he returned home to Britain and upgraded to a new ship, "The Adventure Galley", equipped with 34 cannons and 150 men.  Reportedly when The Adventure Galley sailed down the Thames,  Kidd failed to salute the Navy yacht at Greenwich, as tradition dictated.   The Navy yacht fired a warning shot to ensure the crew showed respect , and Kidd and the crew responded by turning and slapping their backsides.  This act of insolence may have indirectly led to Captain Kidd's death. 

 

 

Captain Kidd goes from Privateer to Pirate

 
In response to the rebuke, the British Navy commandeered many of Kidd's crew into naval service.   Captain Kidd sailed to New York short handed and there he recruited a new crew, most of whom were said to be hardened criminals and former pirates.

 

In September 1696, in search of larger prizes, Kidd weighed anchor and sailed around the Cape in South Africa but failed to find any French ships or enemy Privateers as expected near Madagascar. From there he sailed to the "Pirate Round" at the southern entrance of the Red Sea, a key shipping lane.  Again, he was not able to find any acceptable targets.

 

As he was likely desperate to cover his costs and pay his new crew, he ended up a taking on a 400 tonne Armenian ship called The Quedagh Merchant which was loaded with satin, gold, silver and opium.    It was his biggest haul yet.

 

Unfortunately, the ship turned out to captained by a well connected englishman named Wright.   Kidd took the ship as his own and renamed it Adventures Prize.   (Kidd would later argue that the ship was not under the British flag and so was an acceptable target but this subtlety seemed to be lost on the British authorities).   Through this voyage Kidd cemented his reputation as an iron fisted Captain by killing at least one of his crew that was threatening to mutiny.   From the Red Sea he headed back to the familiar waters of the Caribbean.

 

When Kidd's fleet got back to the Caribbean he found out that he had been declared a Pirate and was wanted by the authorities.     He was outraged and set out to establish his innocence.

 

It is believed he transferred his treasure to one of his faster ships.   Legend was that he then scuttled the The Quedagh Merchant.  In fact, very recently in 2007 this ship is believed to have been found off the coast of the Dominican Republic.   (Here is the National Geographic article on the discovery.)

 

What happened next is the subject of much debate.  We know he returned to Boston and was unable to clear his name.  In fact, he was arrested and shipped back to London for a very public trial. (Here are the trial notes.)

 

During his trial he repeatedly claimed that he had hidden his incredible treasure and if he was freed he would trade his treasure for his life.    As proof of his claim,  he offered a small cache of treasure that he had burried at Gardiner's Island, New York.    (He never said how many locations his treasure was buried in, although it makes sense that he would have several caches between the Dominican Republic and Boston.)   The treasure in New York was dug up and sent to London to be used as evidence in the trial against him.  

 

He was hanged on  May 23, 1701.  In fact, they hanged him twice because the rope broke the first time.  His body hung at the entrance to the Thames for four years as a warning to other pirates.   They never found his treasure.

 

Treasure hunters have searched for years for Kidd's treasure without any luck.   There are several famous sites along the Eastern seaboard of the United States, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland that all claim likely hiding spots.   A later historian pointed to a small Island off Vietnam based on a match to a map of an Island that is associated with a Kidd artifact.

 

In our opinion, if you were going to hide your treasure it seems more likely you'd hide it somewhere between where he scuttled the Quedagh Merchant in the Dominican Republic and Boston.  Further, it seems logical that he would hide it somewhere he knew and somewhere convenient to the route, yet relatively remote.     If it were me, I would not want to have a treasure laden boat as I went through Nassau which would be teeming with Pirates.   But, since the black market for pirate treasure was in Nassau, I would want it pretty handy - maybe on a remote out-island that I was sailing past enroute to Nassau.

 

Somewhere like his old safe hiding spot in Exuma.

 

We just can't prove it.

 

So, if you are out on a beach in Great Exuma or Little Exuma or maybe on Stocking Island and you see a distinct rock outcrop that might have been used as a marker, or, if you find yourself digging a sand castle, it might be worth digging a few extra feet down, you never know what you will find.

 

If you want to try a modern day Treasure Hunt, check out our article on geocaching on Exuma.