William Kidd was a wealthy, honest, and respected merchant sea captain when he accepted a privateer's commission to hunt down Red Sea pirates and attack French trading vessels. He became one of the most famous pirates in history, not for the amount of wealth and number of ships he plundered, but because the backers of his pirate-hunting-turned-pirate voyage included the Earl of Bellomont (Governor of New York and Massachusetts) and several powerful Lords of England, all close friends of the King. And because he was one of the few pirates who really did bury his plundered treasure.
Captain Kidd's Adventure Galley was a magnificent ship designed for speed, maneuverability, and firepower. She carried 34 guns, 3,200 square yards of sails, 23 pairs of oars, and a crew of 150 men. Kidd launched the Adventure Galley on the Thames in December 1695, sailing westward to his New York home to say final goodbyes to his wife and two daughters before heading southeast around the Cape of Good Hope to the pirate island of Madagascar.
After an unsuccessful year at sea, provisions were running low and the agitated crew was pressuring their captain to take a prize, any prize. The Adventure Galley came across a big merchantman flying English colors, but the ship's gunner, William Moore, wanted to plunder her anyway. Kidd refused, and faced down Moore and several of his mutinous followers. Days later, on October 30, 1697, Moore had another confrontation with Kidd, who lost his temper, picked up an iron bucket and hurled it at Moore's head. The bucket fractured Moore's skull and he died the following day. This death would eventually lead to the execution of Captain Kidd.
On January 30, 1698, the Adventure Galley took its most infamous prize. Hoisting French colors and firing a shot across the bow of the Quedah Merchant, Kidd ordered the captain to come aboard. But that ship's captain, using trickery, sent his French gunner to pose as captain hoping they'd be set free. At that point, Kidd ordered his French flag hauled to the deck and hoisted up his English ensign, declaring the Quedant Merchant a legal prize.
It wasn't until a week later that Kidd discovered the real captain of his captured rich prize was fellow Englishman Captain Wright. Kidd had, unfortunately and unknowingly, made the fateful transformation from privateer to pirate. Once the accusations of his piratical acts reached England, the Lords Justices wasted no time in protecting themselves from scandal. They ordered Kidd's capture by the Royal Navy, and the Admiralty Courts dispatched letters to governors of the American colonies demanding his arrest.
Kidd believed the presence of the French passes from his captured prizes would defend his innocence, and hoped the killing of gunner Moore would be declared an accident. He scuttled the Quedant Merchant off the coast of Hispaniola and replaced it with the faster Antonio, then headed to New York where he believed his sponsor, Governor Bellomont, would support his defense and issue a pardon. His beliefs were misdirected.
In June 1699, Kidd anchored off the tip of Long Island (Gardners Island), sent for his family, delivered his French passes via a lawyer friend to Governor Bellomont, and buried the bulk of his personal treasure. Kidd then sailed to Boston to meet personally with Lord Bellomont, who immediately had him clapped in irons and sentenced to solitary confinement in Stone Prison.
On February 16, 1700, Kidd was taken to England and locked up in the notoriously grisly Newgate Prison to await trial. Over a year later, Kidd appeared before Parliament, was found guilty as charged, and sentenced to death. He fiercely insisted on his innocence, but the documents (two French passes) that would have upheld his claim had disappeared, only to be discovered 219 years later in the British Record Office.
Kidd was hanged at London's Execution Dock on May 23, 1701, in front of an estimated 200,000 people. The anxious mob watched and listened, hoping Kidd would reveal the location of his buried treasure. Unlucky to the end, the rope broke as Kidd was hanged and his body fell to the ground. He was marched back up onto the scaffold and strung up a second time. Kidds dead body was then tarred, chained, and hung from a gibbet at Tilbury Point in the Thames estuary for years as a grisly warning to deter other pirates from going on account.