The Pirate Hunter

Though Americans are often faulted for their shaky knowledge of history, just about everyone has heard of Captain Kidd, the notorious commerce raider whom the British government publicly hanged for piracy. It is part of America’s cultural heritage. In The Pirate Hunter, Richard Zacks’s well-researched account of William Kidd (1654-1701) and his times, the author endeavors to rehabilitate the captain’s soiled reputation.

Contrary to popular belief, William Kidd was a highly successful sea captain and businessman who rose from humble Scottish roots to become a pillar of New York society in the 1690’s. As a substantial landowner and family man with a prominent pew in the local church, Kidd held an enviable position in colonial America. But Kidd yearned for even greater wealth and glory. Although his love of ships and his natural air of authority would seem to have made him an ideal candidate for a military career, he failed to secure a captaincy in the British navy. The late-seventeenth century alternative was the command of a privateer, a kind of private warship commissioned by the crown to seize enemy vessels and whose crew was paid through the sale of the booty.

Kidd received his command, and a ship, the Adventure Galley, was constructed specifically for his mission to eradicate pirates; however, things went badly for him from the start. Most of his crew mutinied and turned to piracy, and the influential investors who had backed the voyage refused to support Kidd when he himself was wrongfully accused of piracy. Zacks’s engaging book follows Kidd’s tragic path to the gallows, but in so doing he skillfully depicts a vigorous young Britain whose justice was as arbitrary as it was harsh. The Pirate Hunter will enthrall seafarers both young and old.