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  • Writer's pictureDoug Foster

Captain Kidd's Exploits on the Hudson

Updated: May 31, 2022

Most of us have heard of Captain Kidd, and know he was a pirate, but little else. His story is fascinating, and much of it, including his demise, was on the Hudson River.

The short story is that William Kidd was born in Scotland in 1654 (not to be confused with William Kyd, the pirate, from 15th century southwest England). He settled in New York City as when he was about 30, and apprenticed on a pirate ship.

I'm still trying to figure out how Kidd got into the top echelon of NYC life while apprenticing to be a pirate, and not the most handsome man as he is depicted in paintings. But somehow he married one of the richest women (twice widowed) in the city and lived in a huge house on 119 Pearl Street, right near Wall Street. He owned several other properties as well.

The big question is how did William Kidd become a wealthy gentleman in New York City, and then transition 10+ years later into a privateer, and then a ruthless pirate, and hung for murder in London? He started his career local to New York City, much on the Hudson River.

There are two spots on the Hudson with known history with Captain Kidd. The first is "Kidd's Rock" at Kingsland Point in Tarrytown.

Kidd's Rock is based on legend that Frederick Philipse would light a fire on the rock to signal Captain Kidd to come for business, the nature of which seems to be lost.

Philipse was Dutch born, came the America and like Kidd, married a rich widow. He ended up owning 52,000 acres manor on the Hudson, spanning from the Bronx up to Croton River.

He apparently amassed his fortune in trade, helped by being in league with pirates. Slaves was part of his trade, for which he was banned from public office, but apparently little other consequence.

The other legend is up river at the southern gate of the Highlands, at the base of Dunderberg Mountain, across from Peekskill. The story goes that in 1699, Kidd was wanted for piracy, and chased by British warships, and his crew panicked as the treasure ship Quedah Merchant approached "the race" of the Highlands, and they scuttled their ship. Kidd and crew escaped by land to Boston, where later he was arrested, sent to England and hanged (that part is history).

Part of the mystique of Captain Kidd is that stories were abound of treasure he buried in various locations, one of which was Gardiner's Island in Eastern Long Island. The legend included that this spot at Jones Point had spoils onboard the sunken ship.

140 years after Kidd's death, a descendent of the Gardiners, Abraham Thompson, bought 100 acres that included the riparian rights to look for

the wreck. He started the Kidd Salvage Company and raised $100,000 in capital by selling shares to fund the dream. He built a cofferdam around the location to dig up the treasure. This apparently was a scam, and the pieces of gold and silver were planted.

The site became known as Kidd's Humbug and was on maps in the late 1800s as such.

Captain Kidd was in two of Washington Irving's stories: "Kidd the Pirate" and "The Devil and Tom Walker". Strangely, Irving didn't mention Kidd's Hudson River exploits, including Kidd's Rock, which was about a mile north of his home: Sunnyside.

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