As I followed Kidd, another character kept elbowing his way upon the stage: Kidd's long-forgotten nemesis, Robert Culliford. It is uncanny how the lives of these two men intertwined and how they became locked in a kind of unscripted duel across the oceans of the world.
No one has ever written in detail about Culliford; his entry in a respected nautical compendium states: "Culliford, Captain, of the Mocha. Little is known of him except that one day in the streets of London he recognized and denounced another pirate called Burgess."
Even that snippet, it turns out, is wrong. One morning, while sifting through a folder full of 17th century documents, I stumbled across the diary of a prisoner held eleven months aboard Culliford's pirate ship, and through it began to emerge an authentic picture of a pirate's life. Culliford didn't fly a creepy skull-&-crossbones but rather a blood-red flag that meant: "No mercy unless you surrender immediately." His surgeon was named Jon Death; he once ordered his men to haul the china dishes off a captured ship and load them into cannons to shred the sails of his next adversary.
Culliford lived the pirate life; Kidd tried to tightrope his way between piracy and respectability. One would hang in the harbor; the other would walk away with the treasure.
Copyright (c) 2002 Richard Zacks
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