Historians think that Kidd abandoned the Quedagh Merchant in 1699 when he went to England to try to clear his name of piracy charges.
After he left, looters removed valuables from the ship, then set fire to it and set it adrift down the Rio Dulce in what is now the Dominican Republic.
The ship sank about 70 feet (20 meters) off Catalina Island (see map).
Kidd had been authorized by England to operate as a privateer, Zacks said. This meant that under certain conditions, he could legally seize ships on the high seas.
Kidd may have slightly exceeded the limits of his license as a privateer a few times, but his transgressions did not rise to the level of piracy, Zacks said.
"He thought of himself as a respectable privateer," he said.
(Read related story: "Modern Pirates Terrorize Seas With Guns and Grenades" [July 6, 2006].)
Beeker said Kidd went to England thinking his influential friends in Parliament could help him clear his name.
But that proved to be a fatal miscalculation—his powerful friends did not back him.
"[Kidd] was wrapped up in the wrong politics," Beeker said. "The poor man was railroaded to his death."
Willie Drye is the author of Storm of the Century: the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, published by National Geographic Books.
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