EDITOR'S NOTE: Imagine a government operating a truly functional democracy where everyone is among equals, slavery is non-existent, every citizen gets to earn his or her honest keep, and socio-economic standing were distributed according to merit and entrepreneurial venture. Oh, and add an epic battle against an oppressive monarchy system wherein privileges are distributed according to a rigid and predetermined class system, where wages are woefully unequal, and where harsh enforcement infringed on individual rights and freedom. You might think we’re talking about the United States post-Revolutionary and Civil war, but we’re not. We’re talking about the economic and social fabric of 17th-century pirates. What you’re about to read is a highly entertaining story about a not-so-famous pirate named William Kidd. Underwater explorers recently found a 50kg bar of silver belonging to his treasure estimated at around 10 million GBP in today’s money. It’s a fascinating story with a sad ending. He fought the law and…(well, you know how that phrase ends).
Underwater explorers in Madagascar discovered an extraordinary discovery: a 50 kilogram slab of silver with inscriptions, which is now being guarded on Sainte Marie island off Madagascar’s east coast. The significant loot may have come from the wreckage of a pirate ship owned by famed Scottish pirate William Kidd.
The silver bar was discovered in shallow seas off Sainte Marie island by a combined UK-US archaeological effort directed by Barry Clifford, an underwater investigator who discovered the wreckage of William Kidd’s ship Adventure Galley in 2000.
The bar is inscribed on one side with a ‘T’ and a ‘S,’ and on the other with characters and numerals, the meaning of which is now unclear.
The 50kg silver bar found off the coast of Madagascar. Credit: Presidence de la Republique de Madagascar
Clifford is certain that the riches originated from Captain William Kidd’s shipwreck.
Captain William Kidd (1645–1701) was a Scottish sailor who was convicted and hanged for piracy after returning from an Indian Ocean trip. He is widely regarded as either one of history’s most legendary pirates or one of its most unfairly persecuted and punished privateers. The latter viewpoint stems from the fact that, while his acts were apparently less damaging and lucrative than those of other pirates, he met a pretty gruesome end — he was hanged twice (the first attempt failed), before being coated in tar and hanging from a gibbet over the Thames.
“The son of a Presbyterian minister, Kidd was a buccaneer and captain for a private British ship in the Caribbean for some years until deciding that piracy was more gratifying after he was commissioned to cruise to Madagascar aboard the Adventure Galley,” according to The Guardian. “His most famous capture was the Quedah Merchant, a 400-tonne ship carrying bullion, silk, gold, sugar, opium, and fabric.”
When Captain Kidd realized that he was sought as a pirate, he hid part of his loot on Gardiners Island in the hopes of using his knowledge of its location as a negotiating chip. Kidd’s loot was finally retrieved from Gardiners Island in a location known as Cherry Tree Field, but it was transferred to England to be used as evidence against him.
Kidd was apprehended in Boston in 1699 and imprisoned at Newgate. The riches discovered aboard his ship was valued at £30,000 (about £10 million today), but the rest of his loot was never discovered. The assumption that Kidd left buried riches contributed significantly to the legend’s expansion, as well as providing fuel to ongoing treasure hunts in locations Kidd is known to have visited.
According to the BBC, “there is a lot of enthusiasm in Madagascar over the find, and Mr Clifford’s team has no doubt that it’s real.”
The silver bar, which was handed to Madagascar’s President in a special ceremony on Sainte Marie Island, is supposed to have originated in Bolivia, while the ship is likely to have been constructed in England. Work will now be done to determine the origin of the riches.
The featured image shows a 50kg silver bar discovered off the coast of Madagascar that is considered to be Captain Kidd’s. Photo credit: Madagascar’s Presidency of the Republic.
By April Holloway