COLONEL SLOUGHTER whose rule began in such stormy times proved
no good Governor. Indeed he was a bad man as well as a bad ruler.
Others followed who were not a bit better, one at least being accused
of being in league with the pirates who were now the terror of the
The seventeenth century has been called "The Golden Age of Piracy."
Never before or since have pirates had such a splendid time. After
the discovery of America, the number of ships sailing the seas
increased rapidly, until all the chief countries of Europe had
far more ships afloat than they could possibly protect with their
navies. So they readily became a prey to pirates.
Then, as they could not protect their merchantmen with their
warships, most countries allowed private people in time of war to
fit out ships armed with guns to capture the merchant shipping of
the enemy. These ships were simply private men of war, and were
called privateers. They always carried "letters of marque and
reprisal" which gave them the legal right to commit against enemy
ships acts which, without those letters of marque, would have been
considered acts of piracy. In the long run these privateers often
became little better than pirates, and it has been said "privateers
in time of war were a nursery for pirates against a peace."
The pirates' life was one of reckless daring. They were idle,
swaggering, brutal. All the summer they sailed the seas, a terror
to peaceful merchantmen, and when winter
 came, or when they were
tired of plundering, they would retire to the West India Islands
or Madagascar. Here, hidden in the depths of forests, they built
for themselves strong castles surrounded by moats and walls. The
paths leading to these castles were made with the greatest cunning.
They were so narrow that people could only go in single file. They
crossed and re-crossed in every direction, so that the castle was
surrounded by a maze, and any one not knowing the secret might wander
for hours without being able to find the dwelling which could not
be seen until one was close upon it.
In these savage fastnesses the pirates lived in squalid splendour.
They had numbers of slaves to wait upon them, the finest wines and
foods, the richest dress and jewels, spoils of their travels. And
when they had drunk and rioted in idleness to their heart's content
they would once more set sail, and roam the seas in search of fresh
All sorts of people took to piracy, and scampish sons of noble
houses might be found side by side with the lowest of scoundrels and
vagabonds. In fact in those days any man who had a grudge against
the world might turn pirate. Even women were found among them.
A jovial, brutal crew, they swaggered and swore their way through
life. And if the gallows at the end always loomed over them what
then? There was always plenty of rum in which to drown the thought.
Some of the pirates became very famous. The very sight of the Jolly
Roger, as the pirates' black flag was called, struck terror to the
hearts of merchantmen, and it is said that one pirate captured and
sunk as many as four hundred ships before he was caught. Yet these
ruffians often had dealings with seemingly respectable tradesmen.
Having captured a few ships, and taken all the booty on board his
own, the pirate would sail for some port. There he would
 show some
old letters of marque, swear that he was a privateer, and had captured
the goods lawfully from the enemy, for the world was always at war
in those days. And as the goods were going cheap too many questions
would not be asked. Thus a profitable trade was done.
The Navigation Laws too helped pirates to thrive on the coasts
of America. For they seemed so unjust and burdensome that people
thought it no wrong to evade them. So, often, piracy and smuggling
went hand in hand.
At length piracy grew so bad that people felt that something must
be done to stop it. And when an Irishman named Lord Bellomont came
out as Governor he set about doing it. It was decided that
the best way to do it was to send a swift and well-armed frigate
under a captain who knew their haunts and ways, to catch these
sea-robbers. For this, Captain Kidd, a tried sailor, was chosen, and
he set sail with a somewhat ruffianly crew in the ship Adventure.
But Captain Kidd was unlucky. Though he roamed the seas and sought
the pirates in the haunts he knew so well he found never a one.
Nor could he find even enemy ships which, as a privateer, he might
have attacked. Dutch ships, ships of the Great Mogul he met. But
Britain was at peace with Holland and on most friendly terms with
the heathen potentate. Pirates and ships of France he could not
Food and money were nearly gone, the crew grew mutinous. They had
come forth for adventure, and not to sail the seas thus tamely and
on short rations to boot. So there was angry talk between the crew
and captain. Plainly they told him that the next ship which came
in sight, be it friend or foe, should be their prey. Kidd grew
furious, and, seizing a hatchet, he hit one of the men on the head
so that he fell senseless on the deck and died. Alone he stood
against his mutinous crew. But in the end he gave
 way to them. He
turned pirate, and any ship which came his way was treated as a
For two years after Captain Kidd left New York nothing was heard of
him. Then strange and disquieting rumours came home. It was said
that he who had been sent to hunt pirates had turned pirate himself;
that he who had been sent as a protection had become a terror to
honest traders. So orders were accordingly sent to Lord Bellomont
to arrest Captain Kidd. A royal proclamation was also issued offering
free pardon to all pirates save two, one of whom was William Kidd.
This was the news which greeted the new-made pirate when he arrived
one day at a port in the West Indies. But those were lawless days.
Captain Kidd's ship was laden with great treasure—treasure enough,
he thought, to win forgiveness. At least he decided to brazen it
out, and he set sail for New York.
His ship was no longer the Adventure but the Quedah Merchant. For
the Adventure, being much battered after two years' seafaring, he
had sunk her, and taken one of his many prizes instead. But on the
way home he left the Quedah Merchant at San Domingo with all her
rich cargo and, taking only the gold and jewels, he set sail again
in a small sloop.
As he neared New York his heart failed him, and he began to think
that after all forgiveness might not be won so easily. Cautiously
he crept up to New York, only to learn that the Governor was at
Boston. So he sent a messenger to the Governor confessing that acts
of piracy had been committed, but without his authority. They were
done, he said, when the men were in a state of mutiny, and had
locked him up in his cabin.
Lord Bellomont was broad-minded and just, and had no desire to
condemn a man unheard; so he sent back a message
 to Captain Kidd
saying, "If you can prove your story true you can rely on me to
But Captain Kidd's story did not satisfy Lord Bellomont; so he was
put into prison, and later sent home to England to be tried. There
he was condemned to death and hanged as a pirate. Some
people, however, never believed in his guilt. Whether he was guilty
or not there is little doubt that he did not have a fair trial,
and that he was by no means the shameless ruffian he was made out
What became of the Quedah Merchant and all her rich cargo was
never known. Indeed the most of Kidd's ill-gotten gains entirely
disappeared. For when his sloop was searched very little treasure
was found. So then it was said that Captain Kidd must have buried
his treasure somewhere before he reached Boston. And for a hundred
years and more afterwards all along the shore of Long Island Sound
people now and again would start a search of buried treasure. But
none was ever found.
Before his pirate friend met his end Lord Bellomont died. He was
one of the few Governors the people had loved, and they sorrowed
truly at his death. He was followed by Lord Cornby, a very bad man.
Nevertheless in spite of Governors good and bad New York prospered.
Every fresh tyranny in Europe which sent freedom-seekers to America
added to the population. And as the first settlers were Dutch, New
York had a more un-English population than almost any other of the