Captain Kidd's
Lost Shipwreck

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According to Kidd’s testimony, the Cara Merchant was a 400-ton Indian merchant vessel (National Archives 5/860 fol. 197). It was commissioned under a consortium of Armenian merchants. Almost half the cargo belonged to Muklis Khan, a nobleman in the court of the Grand Moghul (British Library 40774 fol.86, Zacks 2002). The trade had been brokered by the English East India Company. According to its French East India Company pass, it left harbor on January 14, 1698, flying French colors. The Cara Merchant did not last long under its original owners’ control, as Captain William Kidd in the Adventure Galley saw its masts off in the distance and gave chase. The crew of the Cara Merchant knewit was greatly outgunned by their opponent’s 34 cannons and gave up without a fight on January 30, 1698.

While in London in 1695, William Kidd entered into a business venture of sorts involving the Governor of New England, Lord Bellomont, a prominent colonial merchant, and four prominent Whig lords and parliament members (BL 70036 fol. 72, Zacks 2002). King William was rumored to also have been involved and Kidd’s letter of commission which bore the King’s seal. Kidd, backed by his investors, was to hunt and capture any pirates and enemy vessels, sharing the profits of their spoils divided among the crew according to the articles of agreement.  He commissioned a ship, the Adventure Galley and set sail for the Indian Ocean on September 6, 1696. For almost two years, Kidd and his crew battled the elements in search of pirate and enemy vessels. Months later, their spirits took a turn for the better when they saw the French flag flying on the Cara Merchant  and subsequently captured her. Although the captain was English, Kidd rationalized that the French flag and the vessel’s French passes justified the capture. The capture of this vessel led to Kidd’s branding as a pirate, as the Moghul issued threats to the English East India Company and sent letters to London denouncing English pirates (BL 40774 fol. 86).  According to the President of the Old English East India Company, Kidd had become a “thorn in their side” and there were many “to desire that Kidd might be made an example of” (BL 40744 183v).

Kidd then made berth at St. Mary’s Isle off of Madagascar, as the Adventure Galley was taking on water and was no longer seaworthy. Soon thereafter, the majority of his men mutinied and looted the Adventure Galley, taking four cannons from the ship in the process (Anonymous 1701). Kidd later testified to Bellomont that he and the remainder of his crew then outfitted the Cara Merchant, reloading her with bales of silk and satin, 40 tons of saltpeter, 70-80 tons of scrap iron, and adding the remaining 30 cannons from the Adventure Galley to the 20 aboard the Cara Merchant, with 30 mounted and 20 in the hold (NA fol. 197). Kidd renamed the vessel the Adventure Prize and set sail for the West Indies. Upon arrival in Anguilla, Kidd realized that he was wanted for piracy. He sailed through the Greater Antilles, constantly seeking an inconspicuous place to berth the Adventure Prize and trading a bit with local merchants in order to have provisions for him and his men. Kidd eventually decided to return to New England and attempt to clear his name. He left the Adventure Prize on Catalina Island (NA fol. 197) under the care of Henry Bolton, purchased the sloop St. Antonio from him, and sailed to New England under the assumption that he would soon return for the ship. Bolton later testified that he left the vessel in the river across from Catalina Island (NA fol. 174-175).  Nearly two months after Kidd’s departure, the vessel was then burned and set out to sea (BL 40774 fol. 183).

Kidd was never to return. His case became the political scandal of the day. The Tories charged that the King and the majority party Whigs supported and funded piracy. He was railroaded at his trial in England, where he was accused of giving the four cannons to known pirates as a gift and the French passes from the Cara Merchant – which he had given to Bellomont – never surfaced (Anonymous 1701). He was hanged for piracy on May 23, 1701.

Information taken from:

Beeker, Charles D. and Hanselmann, Frederick H.

2009 (In Press)  The Wreck of the Cara Merchant: Investigations of Captain Kidd’s Lost Ship. In ACUA Underwater Archaeology Proceedings 2009, Laanela, Erika and Moore, Jonathan (eds.). Columbus: PAST Foundation.


  • Anonymous
    1701    The Arraignment, Tryal, and Condemnation of Captain William Kidd
    for Murther and Piracy… London, J. Nutt.
  • The British Library
    1699    Additional Manuscripts 70036, folio 72. London.
  • The British Library
    1699    Additional Manuscripts 40774, folio 86. London.
  • The British Library
    1699    Additional Manuscripts 40774, folio 183. London.
  • The National Archives.
    1699    Public Records Office. Colonial Office Papers 5/860 folio 174-175. London.
  • The National Archives.
    1699    Public Records Office. Colonial Office Papers 5/860 folio197. London.
  • Zacks, Richard
    2002    The Pirate Hunter: The True Story of Captain Kidd. Hyperion, New York.

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