It’s really quite amazing, considering how much gold and treasure that has been recovered from the bottom of the ocean, that it’s quite likely there are still tons (and billions’ worth) of treasure out there yet to be discovered. Some treasure hunters in Florida claim that what’s still down there equals or exceeds everything that’s been recovered so far.
A lot of the treasure that’s still down there, especially around Florida and the Caribbean, once belonged to pirates. Many pirates and privateers were wildly successful, at least for a while. But the problem with gold treasure is it’s heavy and, if you’re a pirate, it’s not like you can take it down to the First Pirate Trust Bank and make a deposit. Consequently, there is likely a substantial amount of gold and treasure hidden in shallow water, stashed in caves and buried on isolated cays. Even in today’s modern, digital world there is a lot of lore about buried pirate treasure and secret maps, and at least some of that legend likely has roots in reality.
Some of that treasure still out there may have once belonged to Captain William Kidd, a figure who was either one of the most successful pirates of all time or a wrongly accused privateer. The history on that regard is cloudy, but the rumors of Captain Kidd’s vast buried treasure are at least partially based on truth. Like following a serpentine treasure map, to get to the truth we have go back a ways.
The son of a sea captain himself, Kidd was born in Scotland in the mid-1600s. Much of his early life is lost to history but historians can pick up his trail in 1689 when he was a member of a pirate crew sailing the Caribbean. When war broke out between France and England, pretty much a routine occurrence in those days, the governor of the island of Nevis needed protection but he didn’t want to pay for it. Instead he commissioned Kidd for protection and let him capture his pay by raiding the French. Kidd and his men went out and sacked the French island of Marie-Galante, claiming tons of silver ingots, some of which may have been found off Madagascar in 2015.
Between 1689 and 1695 Kidd raided a few more ships and found time to marry a wealthy socialite in New York half his age. In 1695 he was commissioned by the crown and given a new ship, the Adventure Galley, the wreck that’s believed to have been discovered off Madagascar. According to history the Adventure Galley was scuttled because it was no longer seaworthy. The question that begs is why would anyone scuttle a ship that was still loaded with silver ingots? Especially when its captain had allegedly turned from privateer to outlaw pirate after seizing a ship traveling under French papers but commanded by an Englishman?
It’s the peculiarities of Kidd’s history that give treasure hunters suspicion that William Kidd may not have always been completely honest about his take while working for the Crown. Kidd and the Crown had a tenuous relationship and it was well known that he was less than enthused about his mission. What is known for certain is that Kidd seized two ships loaded with treasure; a treasure that’s never been completely accounted for.
Now an outlaw pirate rather than a winked-at “privateer,” Kidd became a wanted man. With British ships after him, and an increasingly disgruntled crew growing mutinous, he was running short of places to hide. At last, treacherously betrayed by an associate trying to save his own skin, he was imprisoned first in Boston, then hauled back to England in chains. Old allies and confederates found it politically expedient to turn their backs on Kidd, leaving him unable to defend himself from charges that included murder.
Rumors abounded that Kidd had buried a great deal of “undocumented” treasure during his career. We know that’s at least partially true because, after his trial, Kidd tried to bargain for clemency by disclosing the location of one of his stashes. The treasure was there as he claimed, and he hinted that there was a great deal more. But the Brits hanged him anyway—after a lot of effort. The rope broke the first two times, but the third time was the charm for ridding the Crown of the inconvenient Kidd.
William Kidd’s treasure is the stuff from which legends are made, including several books like Treasure Island. The reality is probably somewhere in between the legend and the transcript of the court proceedings. There are certainly other stories yet to be told about William Kidd, like what happened to his widow. Sarah Kidd was a something of a professional widow, having accumulated a great deal of wealth after being widowed twice before she met William Kidd. We know that she was arrested with Kidd but later released. After Kidd’s death she married Christopher Rousby in 1703 and, in a shocking coincidence, he was also dead sometime before 1732.
What are the chances that William Kidd told his wife the location of some of the treasure? Did she and her new husband ever travel the tropics before he passed away? Looks like those are questions for another day.