35. Shiver Me Timbers! Thar Be Pirates In the Family Tree

The Conklin family were direct ancestors, and the Conklin pirates cousins, by way of the Bowers descent from the Speece and Robinson families. The descent, and many more, are fully described and referenced in the book The Omnibus Ancestry: 619 Documented American and European Lines. It is available for download through Lulu.

Over 20 years ago, “Talk Like a Pirate Day”, September 19th, was spontaneously invented by two racquetball players who somehow fell into a string of on-the-court comments like “That be a fine cannonade”. Finding it made the game more entertaining, they decided to start a new holiday, and arbitrarily selected the birthday of an ex-wife for its celebration. It languished for several years until humorist and columnist Dave Barry took up the — um, quill? — in 2002 and publicized it. The rest is history, and “International Talk Like a Pirate Day” is now practiced, tongue in cheek, across the world [1,2].

As it turns out, it is possible to Descend From a Pirate too.

Captain Kidd

William Kidd (abt 1645-1701) was a Scot who by 1689 was sailing the Caribbean as part of a mixed French and English pirate crew under Capt. Jean Fantin [3,10]. He soon became a captain himself, only to lose his ship when his crew abandoned him ashore. It was in pursuit of them that he sailed to New York, arriving in early 1691. Having just missed them, he settled there, and married for the third time [10].

In 1695 Kidd decided to seek a royal commission as a privateer. England was at war with France, and privateers were considered legitimate instruments of war. Traveling to London, he won the patronage of Robert Livingston, a fellow New Yorker who had also just come to the city, and more importantly, of the Earl of Bellomont. The three men hatched a plan premised on Kidd commanding a ship in order to capture pirates. Bellomont was to obtain the necessary commission, with the other two helping to finance the scheme [10].

Under their agreement, Kidd was to deliver any captured pirate ship, along with its booty, to Boston where Bellomont expected to be Governor of Massachusetts Bay. There, it was anticipated, the booty would be declared a prize of war and the proceeds distributed. As the scheme developed, two commissions were found to be required, one making Kidd a privateer and the other allowing him to hunt pirates. But in the end Bellomont was successful in obtaining them [10].

Having outfitted a new ship, the Adventure Galley, Kidd sailed from England in April 1696 with about 60 men. They were soon in New York. There he filled out his crew, recruiting about 90 men who came to him from as far as Philadelphia and New Jersey [10].

William_Kidd
Capt. William Kidd

Articles of Agreement and Voyage

Thus it was that first cousin several-times-removed Jacob Conklin (1676/7-1754), a native of Huntington, Long Island, New York, served as a seaman under the infamous Capt. Kidd. The articles of agreement under which the crew operated make fascinating reading, and they were followed by the signatures of all [4]:

Kidd.extract.cleaned

Other provisions included 600 pieces of eight “or six able Slaves” for loss of an eye, leg, or arm; loss of a share and whatever corporal punishment the Captain and majority of the crew saw fit, for disobeying a command or breeding mutiny; loss of a share and banishment to the first inhabited island for stealing; and significantly given later events, immediate sharing of any money or treasure taken aboard ship [8].

Down the list of signatures appeared [4]:

Conklin.on.Kidd.cleaned

Although descendants later admitted that Jacob served as a pirate, they maintained that he had been unwillingly impressed into service under Capt. Kidd [6]. This reassuring assertion, however, must be considered false for three reasons. First, while Kidd possessed an English commission to suppress piracy, he was not a naval officer with the authority to impress sailors. Second, the Governor of New York wrote in a letter in 1697 that when Kidd recruited there, “many flocked to him from all parts, men of desperate fortunes and necessities, in expectation of getting vast treasure” [9]. Kidd, in other words, hardly needed impression to complete his crew. Finally, as we will see from subsequent events, Jacob Conklin had no aversion to the use of ill-gotten gains.

Kidd’s fateful voyage to the Indian Ocean by way of the Cape of Good Hope began in September 1696. It did not have an auspicious beginning. Somewhere between a fifth and a third of the crew were lost to cholera on the Comoros Islands off east Africa, and others were lost to desertion [3,8,10].

Finding his enterprise failing, and probably facing pressure from his crew, Kidd sailed to the Red Sea and began attacking ships that fell outside the scope of his mission. In January 1698 he used the ruse of flying French colors to capture the Quedagh Merchant, an Indian ship that was “loaded with satins, muslins, gold, silver, an incredible variety of East Indian merchandise, and well as extremely valuable silks” [3]. He had hit the jackpot, but as a pirate, not a pirate hunter.

Renaming the Quedagh Merchant as the Adventure Prize, Kidd then retreated to the island of Saint Marie off Madagascar. His men insisted on and got a division of the loot, scooping money into their hats, and making off with bales of cloth many of which were sold locally for liquor and supplies [10]. It is at Saint Marie that Kidd encountered his first actual pirate of the voyage, Robert Culliford. According to a later account apparently based on trial testimony by two of Kidd’s crewmen, instead of attacking Culliford in accordance with the mission, Kidd drank his health and gifted him with an anchor and guns [3].

Wanting to continue in the quest for booty, most of Kidd’s crew deserted to sail with Culliford, presumably taking their shares with them. Only about 20 free men and boys, and a few slaves, remained to crew the Adventure Galley [10]. Given later events, Jacob Conklin must have been among the few sailors who remained with Kidd.

Finding the Adventure Galley worm-eaten, Kidd burned it to recover its iron fittings, and returned to the Caribbean aboard Adventure Prize. Having learned that he was considered a wanted pirate, he sold many of his textiles and abandoned the ship. Expecting to clear his name, he purchased a sloop and continued toward New York. In June 1699, he was in Oyster Bay off Long Island [3,10].

There crewman Jacob Conklin made an important decision:

. . . Conklin and others, having been sent on shore for water, hid themselves and did not return to the ship. Doubtless they feared Kidd’s arrest and trial, and dreaded lest they might be punished with him. They were for some time secreted among the Indians. [5]

Aftermath

Jacob had made a wise decision, because Kidd was lured to Boston, where he was arrested in July and sent to England for trial. Found guilty of murder and five acts of piracy, he was hanged in May 1701. His chained body was left suspended for three years alongside the River Thames, as a warning against piracy. Six crewmates were also convicted, but were pardoned just prior to their hanging [3,10]. Eight, however, died in jail [10].

Jacob Conklin’s sojourn with the Indians clearly did not last long. He resurfaced by late August 1699, to begin a spree of land purchases [6]. As a footnote to town records attests:

He bought large tracts of land, chiefly about Half Hollow Hills… How he acquired the large sums of money which he disbursed during this period in the purchase of lands was a mystery never fully solved. [7]

One can of course hazard a guess where a 22-year-old, who had been on a pirate voyage since the age of 19, had obtained the money. How much might he have had? Four of Kidd’s men, captured in 1699 at the Cape of Good Hope, had an average of £600 apiece with them [10]. Each had made a small fortune. In any case when Jacob Conklin died in 1754, he was “probably the richest man in Huntington” [6].

Yet Jacob was not the only member of the family to have the reputation of a pirate. His brother Thomas Conklin (1674/5-1734) was referred to as such in 1698, in a letter from the Governor of Connecticut to the Governor of New York and Massachusetts:

My Lord, upon ye advice your Lordship gave me of one Josiah Rayner, a pirate, being in this collony … I immediately granted a writ to ye high sheriff for ye seazing and aprehending of him since wch I am informed … he ye sd Rayner with one Tho Conclin (reported to be a pirate allsoe) who came from Long Island … did go through some of ye ypper town in this collony pretending to be bound for Boston… [6]

We descend from the Conklin family of Long Island through the Speece and Robinson lines. Jacob and Thomas Conklin were first cousins of our direct Conklin ancestor. Their own descendants, and those of close relatives, provide many a potential genealogy-qualified participant in “International Talk Like a Pirate Day”. So on September 19th, all hands hoay!


Notes:

[1] Information retrieved from http://www.talklikeapirate.com/wordpress/sample-page (2017).

[2] Information retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Talk_Like_a_Pirate_Day (2017).

[3] Information retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Kidd (2017).

[4] Headlam, C. (1910). Calendar of State Papers, Colonial Series. America and West Indies, 1700. London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office, vol. 18.

[5] Ross, P. (1902). A History of Long Island From Its Earliest Settlement to the Present Time. NY: The Lewis Publishing Co., p. 976.

[6] The American Genealogist, vols. 21-22 (1944-6).

[7] Huntington Town Records… 1688-1775 (1888). Huntington, Long Island: The “Long Islander” Print, vol. 2.

[8] Information retrieved from http://captainkidd.org/Part%206.html & linked pages (2017).

[9] Fortescue, J.W. (1904). Calendar of State Papers, Colonial Series, America and West Indies, 15 May 1696 – 31 October, 1697. London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office, vol. 10.

[10] Ritchie, R.C. (1986). Captain Kidd and the War Against the Pirates. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.


Picture attributions: All are in the public domain.

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