A dashingly narrated life of Captain William Kidd, freeing him of his unwarranted reputation as a notorious pirate.
Kidd was no pirate, historian Zacks (History Laid Bare, not reviewed, etc.) argues in this solidly documented historical thriller, but a New York sea captain with a house, wife, and child on Wall Street, and with a special commission from King William III and other notables to hunt pirates and divvy up the booty with his backers. This was an exceptional charge, since it allowed Kidd to circumvent the Admiralty court. But it was also a secret commission, and his actions won him few friends in the Royal Navy, which frowned on privateers of any stripe, or with the East India Company, which suffered as a result of his work. Recreating in great detail Kidd’s months searching for bounty, yet doing so with a verve that keeps the story light on its feet, Zacks also sets straight the life of the pirates—violent and short, certainly, but far more democratic than that experienced by those on land. It was Kidd’s ill luck to take a glorious treasure from a Moslem vessel, throwing the East India Company’s best-laid plans in India into a precarious position. The captain was left out on a limb, and his backers quickly disavowed any knowledge of his commission, for treason was the charge here. Zacks reveals the double-cross through a paper trail of logbooks, diaries, letters, and transcripts of the trial that sent Kidd to the gallows while his erstwhile pirate nemesis, Robert Culliford, walked free from Newgate Prison. In addition, Zacks paints a real-life picture of the pirates’ port of choice in the 1690s—New York City—its customs, the fluid politics that pertained to maritime affairs, and even what it was like to attend a hanging.
Exciting, well told, and befitting the wild life of a pirate—even if Kidd wasn’t one.