Nowadays, one simply cannot attend a Halloween-themed costume party and not spot at least one pirate, buccaneer, or sailing scalawag. Although Captain Jack Sparrow may have curbed the modern market, there is one other pirate that shall forever remain synonymous with Halloween, especially in New York City.
Captain William Kidd was born in Scotland around 1645, but he sailed across the pond to settle in New York in 1691. Soon after, he married Sarah Oort and eventually fathered two daughters. Some might say that the union portended tragedy from the start as Oort was notoriously fraught with bad lack. Her first two husbands had died tragically (one, ironically, at sea) and Kidd was her third marriage. Nevertheless, they settled in to a posh new home at 119 Pearl Street near the eastern gate to New York’s northern wall, the very same wall that later inspired the name Wall Street. The Kidd family was immediately accepted into high society, and gained notoriety for their extensive silver collection, well-stocked wine cellar, and the biggest Turkish carpet in the city. He was also a parishioner at Trinity Church and he contributed his services to the building of the original Churchyard by providing the winch that lifted the stones to build the church steeple.
In 1695, Kidd sought out a commission in the British Royal Navy. He failed to gain a command but was granted a privateering license by the Crown. He was given orders to capture pirate ships and any other foreign vessels that got in England’s way. It was agreed that the booty seized was to be split with a large portion going to the government and 60% to his backers.
In 1696, Kidd set sail back to New York City at the helm of his brand new ship, the "Adventure Galley.” In the 1960’s New York was "the pirate port of choice in the English colonies in North America,” according to historian Richard Zacks. It boasted vast opportunities and a rich harbor. Seduced by illusions of grandeur, Kidd set sail in 1697 as an official privateer and soon gained notoriety and infamy for his increasingly reckless and erratic behavior on his tour of the Red Sea. Kidd then became the stuff of legend when he famously captured and boarded the laden Indian ship, the "Quedah Merchant." He renamed the ship and the "Adventure Prize” and set his course for the Caribbean where he learned that word of his antics had reached England and he was now a wanted man.
Kidd fled back to America and hauled twenty four chests ashore on Gardiner’s Island, located off of eastern Long Island. He carefully inventoried the booty and was granted permission by the island’s feudal lord, John Gardiner, to bury the treasure in a nearby swamp. . Gardiner’s itemized receipt to Kidd, dated July 17, 1699, listed precisely 1,371.625 ounces (85.73 pounds) of gold, silver and precious stones.
After his famous deposit, Kidd was arrested for piracy and murder. Because he was made a scapegoat, Kidd was not permitted to defend himself and was hanged in London on May 23, 1701. After his execution, Kidd's body was covered with tar, bound with chains, and hung over the Thames River in London as a warning to all future pirates. It remained there for years until finally it rotted completely away.
Rumors, legends, myths and tales began to sweep both sides of the Atlantic Ocean that Kidd buried a fabulous horde of treasure before facing trial. Perhaps word also traveled to the great beyond, as a ghostly apparition bearing an uncanny resemblance to the dead Captain began showing up in Lower Manhattan. Sightings have been reported in three different Downtown locations – at Trinity Church which he directly helped to build, near his old homestead at Hanover Square, and in Battery Park. Kidd remains one angry ghost to this day. Many say he still roams the city streets in his eternal quest for revenge for the betrayal of his crew and friends in the English and colonial governments.
To learn more about Captain Kidd and other Downtown Ghosts, please check out our spooky Halloween-themed walking tour brought to you exclusively by Wall Street Walks.