February 14, 2017

Captain Kidd's Valentine

Captain William Kidd: Pirate hunter or pirate? While I tend to find the man maligned by history and folktales, he is no doubt famous today for pirating the wrong ship at the wrong time without the right connections. While his guilt or innocence depends on which document you read, a great deal isn't known about his wife, Sarah Bradley Cox Oort, but it must have been love.
The Kidd residence in New York. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Kidd was born in Scotland in 1645, and by the time he was 40, he'd pulled himself out of obscurity up to the position of sea captain, sailing in the Caribbean. Things didn't work out with his crew in the Indies, so he headed to New York where he met Sarah Oort. Reports say she was beautiful, super rich, and married.

Sarah was married to the wealthy, John Oort, a man one presumes was older due to his status and the fact his young wife was under thirty and already widowed. Sarah was from England. Her first husband was a William Cox, who drowned in a clumsy accident. Her second, John Oort, died within two years of her first spouse. Oort's death was decided to be under, "mysterious circumstances."

What mysterious circumstances those were, if any, no one seems to know. A cause of death doesn't appear to be available. It doesn't help gossip that Kidd and Sarah would apply for a marriage license just two days after Oort's untimely death.

There isn't much information to be found about how, when, and where Kidd and Sarah would have met or socialized in New York. Clearly, they were moving in the same circles. It is supposed they met at a party. She was young, pretty, and rich; he was rich, ambitious, and full of Scottish personality. 

They both had a gift for making connections. There were friends at the time; a bulletin from the Metropolitan Museum of Art records the Kidds received four tin, four brass, and four pewter candlesticks after they married.

After the wedding, Kidd tried to put down some roots with his wife and two daughters whose father was never proven. The Kidds lived in a well-decorated three story house on Wall Street and went to church where they obtained their own special pew. Historians believe from documented hearsay the couple loved each other very much.

It was William and Sarah against the world. Their reputations were already tarnished by their quick nuptials. During Kidd's years in New York with Sarah, they got cozy with the governor, who was later caught making deals with um… ah… pirates. Soon he was 50 years old, and Kidd could not ignore the call of the sea even with a pretty, young wife. He returned to privateering which soon turned sketchy.

Fast Fact: Captain Kidd's ship was The Adventure, with 34 guns and more than 100 men.

Nobody then or now seems to be certain if Captain Kidd actually had permission to be pulling ships over and raking in gold and silk. He was almost undone when he accidentally killed a member of his crew by fracturing the man's skull with a bucket. When later charged in his death with the rest of the trumped up piracy charges, Kidd explained he had refused to attack a Dutch ship and some of the crew, especially that man, had rebelled over the decision.

The prize that eventually tore Kidd from his wife and family in New York was the Quedah Merchant. Kidd attacked (as a privateer) what he thought was a French-owned ship in 1698, not knowing it was captained by an Englishman, and worse, owned by the Indian Empire.

Because England didn't want problems with India, they took the rumors swirling around the headstrong Captain Kidd and charged him with piracy and murder. None of the Kidds' connections or friends could or would defend Kidd in court. He could have sailed away, but he returned to New York to try to clear his name. Instead, he was jailed, then sent to England for trial. He was hung in 1701 as a pirate.

In the end, Kidd sent Sarah his last gold coin. He had not seen her in almost two years.
Captain Kidd Arrested. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Sarah Kidd went on to live another 43 years in New York before she passed on. No love letters have ever been found; she is believed to have been illiterate. But Sarah stood by Kidd when he was accused of being a pirate. He did everything he could to distance himself from the slur and protect his family. She waited for him during the trial in New York. When she received news he had been hung, she was turned out of her house while the "guilty pirate's" property was seized.

Her fate, when it came to matters of the heart, seems to have been star-crossed or cruel. Sarah Kidd remarried two years after Captain Kidd's death. She fought for the property she'd shared with Captain Kidd and received some of it back. Her last husband would be Christopher Rouseby. He died in 1732 after giving her three sons--one of whom she named William.

H. E. Winlock. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, Vol. 30, No. 9 (Sep., 1935), pp. 176-178 [Journal]
Zacks, Richard. The Pirate Hunter. Hyperion. New York: 2002.

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