Pirate tales capture imaginations

Andrew
Andrew Wagstaff
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Author Harris discusses Captain Kidd during Age of Sail Heritage Festival weekend

Pirate or privateer? Honest man or villain? Who exactly was Captain Kidd?

These questions and more were the subject of an intriguing talk given by Graham Harris at the Age of Sail museum here last weekend.

Pirate tales capture imaginations

Pirate or privateer? Honest man or villain? Who exactly was Captain Kidd?

These questions and more were the subject of an intriguing talk given by Graham Harris at the Age of Sail museum here last weekend. Harris, a Prince Edward Islander who wrote the book Treasures and Intrigue: The Tale of Captain Kidd, suggested the legendary figure was in fact used and betrayed by corrupt British governors.

He was certainly no saint, but I dont believe he was particularly murderous, and he was not a bully although in those days it required a rough hand to handle rough people and some of his crew were undoubtedly bad apples, he said. He was not a particularly successful pirate either.

Harris told the story of Kidd, from his days as an honest, hard-working ship captain who settled down in New York with a wife, two daughters and plenty of wealth, to his employment as a privateer, which was supported financially by many English noblemen.

Hired to capture pirates and French vessels, he engaged in piratical activity himself. Substantial archival records of his infamous voyage on the Adventure Galley made him one of the most written-about pirates, and therefore most famous pirates in history.

But Harris portrayed him as more of a soft-hearted pirate, who refused to attack some ships, and released unharmed the captain and crew of many vessels he did capture.

He also tried to escape the pirates life, and that became his undoing, according to Harris.

He wrote to a number of highly placed officials, pleading for his life, claiming to have buried 100,000 pounds of treasure on an island in the Indies, said Harris, who explained that Kidd was willing to turn over this treasure in exchange for his freedom. But they hanged him anyway.

Kidd was hanged on May 23, 1701. But his crew members had been kept in a separate jail and many of them went free after his execution. Meanwhile, several of the officials who presided over his hanging became very rich about five years later, according to Harris.

To me it stinks, he said. I smell a rat and I am going to suggest that some of those highly placed officials that hanged Captain Kidd collected his treasure.

Harris rejected claims that Kidd buried treasure on Oak Island off Nova Scotia, claiming the archives of his travels make it impossible for him to have been there during his days of pirate activity, which were mainly in the Indian Ocean.

Tales of piracy have seen a resurgence in popularity thanks to the success of the Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise, but Harris said pirates are still at work today. They dont all look like Johnny Depp though.

Piracy isnt dead, he said. Its still alive and well and many of our pirates now wear business suits. Like Conrad Black they even wear robes, but theyre still pirates.

The talk at the museum was a part of the annual Age of Sail Heritage Festival Weekend activities.

It drew an impressive crowd, so much so that the talk had to be moved from the Port Hole Café to the larger museum building.

Organizations: Sail museum

Geographic location: New York, Oak Island, Nova Scotia Indian Ocean Caribbean Port Hole Café

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