Saturday, December 15, 2007

Friday Archaeology Blogging
Arrrrrrrrrrrrrh, Matey Edition

Pirate of the Caribbean’s ship is discovered
James Bone in New York

The discovery of Captain Kidd's 300-year-old ship in the Caribbean could provide final proof that the Scottish privateer did not deserve to be hanged as a pirate and his rotting body left on public view.

The wreck of the fabled Quedagh Merchant has been located in 10ft waters off Catalina Island in the Dominican Republic, only miles from where Kidd left it when he sailed to Boston to try to clear his name in 1699.

The Quedagh Merchant (the larger of the two ships in the engraving above) was actually captured by Kidd in the Indian Ocean, and he converted it to his own use, as his previous vessel was borderline unseaworthy. Kidd then sailed the Quedagh Merchant to the Caribbean, where he left it when he turned himself in to fight charges of piracy. He was subsequently executed in England, and the vessel was later scuttled, as the article indicates, at Catalina Island.

Map of the Dominican Republic - Click to see larger version. Catalina Island is the tiny island right on the 69th meridian south of La Romana.

“It would confirm that he was telling the truth,” said Richard Zacks, author of The Pirate Hunter: The True Story of Captain Kidd. “He has the reputation as a terrible fearsome pirate, when he considered himself an honourable privateer.”

I'm not so sure about this. Kidd was a legal privateer, having been given a letter of marque allowing him to harass French vessels. However, the problem seems to have been that he wasn't very good at it. In fact, his expedition to the Indian Ocean had been pretty much a failure until the Quedagh Merchant hove in view. Only in a very narrow, legalistic, view was the ship in fact French; it was, more realistically, Armenian, and was in fact captained by an Englishman. Furthermore, after taking the Quedagh Merchant, Kidd apparently traded with a known pirate, something prohibited strictly under the law. Kidd's attempts to explain away these matters in court were extremely unconvincing, and led to the fairly inevitable end for people convicted of piracy.

There are, of course, still some doubts about whether the discovered vessel is really the Quedagh Merchant, but its location and the fact that it shows signs of having been scuttled, make the identification likely. In and of itself, the discovery of the vessel is not terribly significant, but it must be admitted that finding an actual pirate ship, particularly one associated with as famous a name as Captain William Kidd, is pretty cool. The pictures below show divers from Indiana University at work on the wreck.

Click to see larger version

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