Turtle Bunbury

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PIRATES IN THE HUDSON: LORD BELLOMONT & CAPTAIN KIDD

By Turtle Bunbury

23 May, 1701. Wapping, England. At 5 o’clock in the afternoon, the condemned men arrived from Newgate Gaol on a horse-drawn cart. The crowd was in lively form as the prisoners were marched to the gallows. To the chaplain’s disdain, Captain Kidd was drunk but the old seadog was surely entitled to a bit of light relief. After all, eight of the nine men condemned to die alongside him had since been reprieved. The sole exception was Darby Mullins, a ‘hearty’ Irishman from “Londonderry” who had served under Kidd.[i] Mullins stood beside Kidd as the captain briefly addressed the crowd and warned all ship-masters to learn from his fate. He made no mention of Lord Bellomont, the Anglo-Irish aristocrat who had once been his patron and on whose orders he was now destined to die.

Kidd, Mullins and the two French prisoners were then pushed off the gallows. The crowd gasped as Kidd’s rope snapped and the 56-year-old Scot fell to the ground. He was still conscious as the rope was re-knotted and he was hoisted back up on the gallows. This time the rope did not snap.

The tale of Captain Kidd returned to the news in May 2015 when underwater archaeological explorer Barry Clifford announced that he had found the remains of Kidd’s Adventure Galley off the coast of Madagascar. He also claimed to have found a silver ingot weighing 110 pounds which he considered a sign of more treasure to come. It was 31 years since Clifford found the Whydah, the first fully verified pirate shipwreck ever discovered, laden with treasure and artifacts. However, his claims were sadly to prove unfounded when UN experts in July 2015 concluded that the silver ingot was just an old lead weight and that the 'remains' were actually rubbel from the construction of a local port.

Nonetheless, the brouhaha created by Barry Clifford's claim was a tremendous excuse for me to delve into the story of Captain Kidd and the Irish Daily Mail duly obliged by printing a shortened version of this very essay. Although she only stayed afloat for less than 2½ years, Adventure Galley was a ship of much renown. Launched in 1695, the three-master galley was acquired shortly afterwards by a group of exceptionally high profile investors – including Lord Bellomont - who kitted the ship out as a privateer, complete with 32 canons. With the blessing of King William, they commissioned Captain Kidd to command the vessel. His brief was to hunt down pirates in the Indian Ocean and recover their booty. The investors would recoup their outlay when such booty was to be discreetly redistributed among them.

William Kidd was an interesting choice. Reputedly born in Dundee in 1645, he had made his mark as a privateer in the Caribbean, pillaging French settlements on behalf of the British Admiralty. He also helped New York Governor William Sloughter suppress a rebellion by Jacob Leisler, one of New York’s most influential citizens who had declared himself leader of the colony. Kidd’s wealth was much enhanced when he married a woman of substantial property in New York. That he applied to marry her just two days after her husband’s mysterious death understandably triggered much gossip.

For the next five years he lived the life of a New York businessman, managing a number of properties overlooking the Hudson and co-sponsoring the construction of the city’s Trinity Church where he had a box pew.

In 1695 a new Governor arrived in New York. Richard Coote, 1st Earl of Bellomont, was born in Ireland in 1636. He was a grandson of Sir Charles Coote, probably the most ruthless English army commander to serve in Ireland during the Confederate Wars. Little is known of his early life but his father was recorded in 1676 as living between Moore Park in County Meath (thought to be east of Navan or near Garristown) and Piercetown, near Tyrrellstown, County Westmeath. The younger Coote once killed in a man in a duel, married an heiress and succeeded his father as Baron Coote of Coloony in 1683. He also inherited extensive lands in Sligo and Leitrim including those around Colooney itself which were later sold to the Coopers of Markree.

As an ardent Protestant, he could not tolerate the pro-Catholic policies of James II who became king in 1685. Instead he moved to Europe where he served as a captain of horse in the Dutch army and befriended William of Orange and his wife Princess Mary. Coote supported William and Mary’s seizure of the British throne in 1688, for which he was rewarded with a whopping 77,000 acres in Ireland, much of which is thought to have belonged to the MacCarthys and the McDonaghs.[ii] The immensity of this land gift caused such an outcry in the Irish Parliament that the king was obliged to rescind it. Nonetheless, Coote kept a large Irish estate and was created Earl of Bellomont, as well as becoming Governor of Leitrim.[iii] He also served as Treasurer to Queen Mary from 1689 until her death from smallpox in 1694.

Coote – or Bellomont as he now was – became involved in New York from 1695 when he sat on a Parliamentary committee assigned to examine the case of Jacob Leisler’s son who claimed his father had been framed and ‘barbarously murdered’ on the orders of Governor Sloughter, who had also seized Leisler’s lands. Bellomont championed Leisler’s cause, ensuring the son’s property was restored.

Later that year, King William appointed his loyal friend Governor of Massachusetts, an appointment that included the governorships of New Hampshire, and New York.[iv]

As Governor, one of Bellomont’s primary missions was to stamp out ‘free-booting’ or piracy in the region, much of it comprising of blatant, open commerce between pirates and businessmen in New York City and Rhode Island.

Bureaucratic cogs turned slowly in 1690s London and it was not until the summer of 1697 that the handsome and stylish but increasingly gout-riddled Governor Bellomont finally set sail for the New World.

However, his hopes that the Admiralty would help finance his war on piracy were thwarted because all available resources were being employed to sustain the Royal Navy’s war on France at the time.

He thus took the counsel of New York colonial agent Robert Livingston to convert Kidd into a privateer by outfitting the Adventure Galley to take on pirates. The costs of achieving this came to £6,000 and were met by Bellomont and four secret backers.

These men were subsequently revealed to have been exceptionally wealthy Whigs who had supported King William’s coup. All four had strong Irish links.

The ‘proud but drunken’ Lord Romney had served at the battle of the Boyne and was King William’s first Viceroy of Ireland; he was also briefly owner of 50,000 acres of confiscated land in Ireland. Lord Shrewsbury was the hereditary Lord High Steward of Ireland and would become the island’s Viceroy in 1713. Lord Somers also had considerable lands in Ireland while Lord Orford had commanded William’s ships during the king’s Irish wars.[v]

Each man had high hopes for a sizeable return when Kidd laid claim to pirate booty on their behalf; there was no mention of trying to return any such stolen items to their original owners.[vi] King William was also entitled to a tenth of the proceeds in return for which Kidd had received letters of assent and marquee, as well as a special commission to tackle the pirates.

Bellomont’s tenure as Governor was predictably difficult, given the divisions that erupted over the Leisler case, as well as ongoing conflict with the Iroquois and Abenaki over their stolen lands.[vii] He also racked up a considerable debt, which perhaps explains why the idea of kitting out a privateer appealed. If Kidd played the game right, Bellomont would not only keep the waters pirate-free but also bring welcome wealth to himself and his friends.

In 1696, Kidd left London on Adventure Galley and sailed for the piratical hotbed of East Africa. However, one year later, he had found precious little cargo and his crew were close to mutiny; a third of them had died of disease since the voyage began. Their confidence was by no means restored when the hot-tempered Scot smashed an iron bucket on the head of his ships’ gunner William Moore and killed him. In desperation, Kidd captured two merchant ships on the Malabar Coast but his decision to keep the booty for himself was to make him Enemy No. 1 with his influential investors.

One of the two ships Kidd captured was the Quedah, carrying a valuable cargo of silk, muslin, calico, sugar and opium, most of which belonged to one of the Mughal Emperor’s courtiers. The captain of the Quedah was an Englishman who managed to send word of Kidd’s nefarious activities to London. By now the poorly-built Adventure Galley was leaking so badly that Kidd had to abandon the ship to a watery grave at the Île Sainte-Marie, a pirate haven off the north-east coast of Madagascar.

Along with the few crew still prepared to serve under him, he then sailed the Quedah to the West Indies. To his dismay, he arrived to find that the Admiralty had declared him a pirate and issued an arrest warrant. He made his way to Boston to negotiate with Governor Bellomont who promised him clemency if he handed himself in. Alas for Kidd, Bellomont did not keep his word and the privateer was swiftly dispatched to London to stand trial for the murder of Moore as well as five counts of piracy. In what many believe to have been a sham trial, ‘the notorious pyratt’ was found guilty and sentenced to hang in May 1701.[viii]

Meanwhile, Governor Bellomont initiated a major search for Kidd's booty, some of which was recovered. It was at this time Bellomont reputedly promised, ‘I will pocket none of the money myself, nor shall there be any embezzlement by others’.[ix]

As he went to the gallows, Kidd may have derived some satisfaction that he had outlived Bellomont who succumbed to his gout in New York in March 1701.[x]

While the remains Clifford found off Madagascar were sadly not those of the Adventure Galley, but the controversial story of its ill-fated commander is unlikely to ever sink.

With thanks to Tim Coote and Marie Boran (Special Collections Librarian, James Hardiman Library, National University of Ireland Galway, Ireland).


FURTHER READING

‘The Coote Family – A condensed historical overview’ by Sir Christopher John Coote, 15th Bart.

De Vlieger, Rev. A. Historical and genealogical records of the Coote family Lausanne: George Bridel & Co, 1900. (He was son in law to the 11th baronet).

’The Pirate Hunter: The True Story of Captain Kidd’, Richard Zacks (Hachette UK, 2003) via https://books.google.ie/books?id=P45rAwAAQBAJ&pg=PT541&lpg=PT541&dq=%22Fort+William%22+New+York+Bellomont&source=bl&ots=SeBfztx81x&sig=7hn2oBTXytaRqOIdPXF06Gwnw5k&hl=en&sa=X&ei=4zJuVajaEsXZ7gb064PoDg&ved=0CCoQ6AEwBWoVChMI6Nfz_4vyxQIVxazbCh309QDt#v=onepage&q=Ireland&f=false

Captain Kidd: The Hunt for the Truth, Craig Cabell, Graham A. Thomas, Allan Richards (Casemate Publishers, 2011), via https://books.google.ie/books?id=uZX3xvnKFSwC&dq=%22darby+mullins%22+kidd+irishman&source=gbs_navlinks_s

‘Execution of Captain Kidd’ by Richard Cavendish (History Today Volume 51 Issue 5 May 2001) via http://www.historytoday.com/richard-cavendish/execution-captain-kidd#sthash.opRVsuQl.dpufhttp://www.historytoday.com/richard-cavendish/execution-captain-kidd#sthash.opRVsuQl.dpuf

FOOTNOTES

[i] Captain Kidd: The Hunt for the Truth, Craig Cabell, Graham A. Thomas, Allan Richards (Casemate Publishers, 2011), p. 45.

[ii] For more detail on this, see the 15th Annual Report Of The Commissioners Of Public Records Ireland,'' 1825. Vol Xvi, Appendix I, Grants Under Acts Of Settlement. This was published as a parliamentary paper in 1825 and may be available via the Enhanced Parliamentary Papers service from DIPPAM. See also Mary O'Dowd's Power, politics and Land: early modern Sligo 1568-1688, which remains the best study of what went before the Williamite wars in that part of the country. Two older studies of county Sligo are Archdeacon Terence O'Rorke's History of Sligo and Col. Wood-Martin's History of Sligo, county & Town, both of whom would make reference to the Cootes and their activities there.
According to landedestates datablase, the Cootes were selling land in Leitrim as late as the 1850s in the Landed Estates Court. The documents relating to sale notice Coote, 17 November 1859 might make reference to original leases etc. Try a search for it in the digitised Sale Notices on www.findmypast.ie

[iii] Bellomont is sometimes spelled Bellamont but he spelled it Bellomont.

[iv] "He was a man of eminently fair character, upright, courageous, and independent, and he succeeded by affability and condescension in thoroughly ingratiating himself with the people of New England - wisely avoiding all differences with the legislature, and was voted a larger salary than any of his predecessors" (Dictionary of Irish Biography).

[v] Charles Talbot, Earl (and later Duke) of Shrewsbury was Lord High Steward of Ireland from 1667-1718, and also Lord Lieutenant of Ireland from 1713-1714. The dashing and ‘proud but drunken’

Henry Sydney, 1st Earl of Romney was Viceroy in 1692-1693 and had previously been a Lord Justice of Ireland. He died of small pox in 1704 and was survived by many children, none legitimate.

Lord John Somers was Lord Chancellor of the England and principal architect of the 1707 Union between Scotland and England. Described as ‘the perfect courtier’ by Swift, he was widely criticized in the House of Commons for his role in giving Kidd a commission under the great seal; a vote of censure was rejected by 199 to 131. Somers also survived an attack by his opponents over an award of Crown property in Ireland to the amount of £1600 a year.

Shrewsbury, Orford and Sydney were among the “Immortal Seven” who had invited William to take the English throne in the first place.

[vi] This included £1,000 of his own money, and funds from some of the Lords of the Admiralty.

[vii] A handsome man who dressed in considerable style, Bellomont initially wooed many New Yorkers who were also, by and large, supportive of King William. However, he then alienated many merchants and traders when his officials tried, rather ineptly, to introduce the Navigation Acts to curtail piracy. Others were livid by his stance on the Leisler case, not least when he oversaw the exhumation and honourable reburial of the elder Leisler and his son-in-law whose bodies had been buried beneath the gallows where they died.

He also angered a number of powerful landowners who had taken up lands hitherto occupied by Iroquois Indians following some very dubious grants made by Bellomont’s predecessor as Governor. He oversaw the passage of a law that retracted all such grants but the landowners managed to hold the bill up and it never received the vital Royal assent. Although he never grasped the essence of either the Iroquois or Abenaki mindsets, he somehow managed to maintain a precarious peace with them.

Bellomont spent most of his tenure as governor in New York where he racked up a provincial debt that one opponent believed would "stink in the nostrills of all good men’. He also spent 14 months in Massachusetts where the Boston merchants, like those in New York, viewed him with mixed emotions, not least when he tried to implement the Crown’s policies. He fared little better during his few weeks in New Hampshire where his attempt to secure suitable trees to serve as ships’ masts for the Royal Navy were regarded as unwarranted interference by landowners and foresters alike.

[viii] Kidd made his way to Boston where, in June 1699, one of his agents contacted Bellomont. The Governor returned a letter promising clemency if Kidd handed himself in. Kidd agreed and suavely sent some of his treasures to Lady Bellomont as a show of his good faith. On 3 July 1699, Kidd arrived in Boston to meet Bellomont who asked him to produce a written explanation of his recent travels. Kidd again agreed but dawdled over doing so until Bellomont issued a warrant for his arrest. Kidd was on his way to visit the Governor when he was arrested.

Kidd tried to negotiate, offering up the locations of his treasure and a captured prize ship but, while some of his treasure was recovered, his bid for liberty failed. He was shipped to London in April 1700 where ‘the notorious pyratt’ was lodged in Newgate Gaol.

[ix] The Coote Family – A condensed historical overview by Sir Christopher John Coote, 15th Bart.

[x] Bellomont had returned to New York from Boston in early 1700 and recommenced his efforts to stamp out piracy showing considerably more openness and resolve than he had done with Kidd, and turning down an offer of £5,000 to turn a blind eye. He also attended a conference with the Iroquois at Albany which he described as the ‘greatest fatigue [I] ever underwent’.

He had not long returned to New York when he was struck by gout. He died on 5 March 1700/1 and was buried in the chapel of Fort William. When the fort was dismantled, his remains were moved to the yard of St. Paul's Chapel in Lower Manhattan.

On the occasion of his death in New York, a fast was observed on instructions of the General Assembly in veneration of his high and unblemished character and in a sense of public calamity. (From The Coote Family – A condensed historical overview by Sir Christopher John Coote, 15th Bart.)

He was succeeded in the earldom by his sons Nanfan and Richard, in succession, but when the latter died without any surviving male heirs in 1766, the title became extinct. The Coote barony devolved on Richard’s cousin, Sir Charles Coote, who was created Earl of Bellomont in 1767 but died without legitimate male heir in 1800 whereupon the title once again became extinct.


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