The pirate hunter : the true story of Captain Kidd

by Richard Zacks

Hardcover, 2002




New York : Theia, 2002.


"Captain Kidd has gone down in history as America's most ruthless buccaneer, fabulously rich, burying dozens of treasure chests up and down the eastern seaboard. Over the centuries, novelists, relentless treasure hunters, and even historians have stoked this pirate legend. Robert Louis Stevenson, for one, placed "Kidd's Anchorage" on Treasure Island. But it turns out that most everyone, even many respected scholars, have the story all wrong. Captain William Kidd was no career cut-throat; he was a tough, successful New York sea captain who was hired to chase pirates. In 1696, he set out on a near-impossible mission to travel in a lone ship with a mutinous crew, heading 4,000 miles round the tip of Africa to track down a handful of die-before-surrender pirates and then bring back their treasure to the governor of New York and other secret backers." "Through it all, Captain Kidd found himself racing a long-forgotten rogue by the name of Robert Culliford, who lured Kidd's crew to mutiny not once, but twice." "Through research, author Richard Zacks has pieced together the story of Kidd versus Culliford, of pirate hunter versus pirate. Culliford climbed from Caribbean cabin boy to pirate captain, once capturing a ship in the Indian Ocean loaded with gold and several dozen wives and daughters of the local Moslem nobility. He divvied up both the gold and the women. This was an era of tall-masted sailing ships, and lords in full wigs; the drama on land played out in the smuggler's haven of New York City and in Cotton Mather-dominated Boston and in edge-of-empire London." "Across the oceans of the world, the pirate hunter, Kidd, pursued the pirate, Culliford. One man would hang in the harbor; the other would walk away from the treasure. The Pirate Hunter is both a masterpiece of historical detective work and a page-turner, and it delivers something rare: a pirate story for grown-ups."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member JeffV
Zacks sympathetic portrayal of Captain Kidd highlights the corruption of early 18th century England, as well as the telling the tale of danger on the high seas. Kidd was commissioned as a privateer, sponsored by some highly-placed nobles in English society and carrying a commission by the king. Privateers, however, occupied a legal gray area. Unlike a military ship, there was no guaranteed pay -- the ship had to take a prize for the crew to get paid. Legal prizes were enemies of state, or pirate vessels. They also did not get prime military seaman to crew the ship -- often, ships were filled with dregs from prisons and other naturally inclined ne'er-do-wells.

Kidd maintained to the end he operated as an honorable privateer, serving his commission. However, He once faced a mutiny by his crew, anxious for a prize when none was forthcoming. In a fit of passion, Kidd clocked the gunnery officer with what became a fatal blow when the gunner encouraged the crew to take an allied Dutch vessel. This would be Kidd's undoing in the end.

The first half of the story details a captain determined to do right, but often facing a dilemma due to the nature of his work. Kidd takes an Arab vessel, which ought to pay off handsomely. Things just don't work out that way, however, and when docked in Puritanical Boston, he is arrested on unspecified charges.

The remainder of the book details Kidd's incarceration, as well as the fate of other rouges associated with Kidd at the time. In the end, Kidd's treasure was inaccessible, and the resulting poverty was the primary reason he could not afford legal council that likely could have exonerated him. As it turned out, perjuring "witnesses" commanded the attention of the jury, and things didn't work out so well for the erstwhile captain. The fact his treasure horde was never found grants Kidd a legacy that endures to this day.

In related events, the decedents of Kidd ultimately did well for themselves once property in New York and Manhattan was restored to his widow. His descendants include governors and senators and one signatory of the Declaration of Independence. Sometimes, bad things happen to not-so-bad people, and this book is testimony to one history's most illustrious examples.
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LibraryThing member AsYouKnow_Bob
Leans heavily on the fact that William Kidd held a privateer's letter from King William. (Arrr.)
LibraryThing member JBD1
Pretty basic, but a good read.
LibraryThing member astasin
I enjoyed this book and would especially recommend it to lawyers who might enjoy a look into the legal process of the period. I delighted in Zack's prose style which was literate, but never overwhelmed the text. Now that interactive features are available online, I would have liked a timeline to show the various ships and which mates were on them as it got quite tangled. I also enjoyed the descriptions of Manhattan and how people of the time lived, which is very different from the skyscrapers we all know and love. I appreciated the revelations that Kidd was a legal pirate hunter authorized by the king and how he tried to stick to his original mission. I also enjoyed how his life was shown in comparison to Culliford who did turn pirate while Kidd protested his innocence.… (more)
LibraryThing member bness2
Reviews on this book seem a bit mixed, which puzzles me a bit. I found it to be a wonderful read, bringing to life characters such as Captain Kidd and Captain Culliford. I had known little about Kidd before reading this except that he was purportedly one of the most notable pirates of the 17th century. The truth is far from this, his mistake not becoming a pirate, but trusting powerful, greedy people when his luck was down and they would be liable to face scandal. Along the way I learned a bit about what the pirate life was really like (not as romantic as the movies, which was no surprise really) and the English justice system, which makes me glad to have what we have today. As many faults as our system has, it is a vast improvement over what Kidd faced. The real irony was that Kidd, who refused to turn pirate was hanged for being a pirate, while a number of members of his crew who did turn pirate received pardons.… (more)



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