100 Heroes: Robert Culliford

The gay man who ruled the seas as a pirate.

100 Heroes: Robert Culliford

Robert Culliford was an English pirate from Cornwall.

He began his adventures with Captain William Kidd, but he's best-known as one of history's most famous gay pirates.

Early career and capture

Culliford and Kidd first met as shipmates aboard the French privateer Sainte Rose in 1689 - it's reported that there were only six other Britons aboard.

After the War of the Grand Alliance broke out, Kidd, Culliford, and their British comrades mutinied against a predominantly French crew. Kidd and Culliford took control of the ship from Captain Jean Fantin - renaming it the Blessed William. Kidd took command of the Blessed William.

In February, 1690, Culliford led his own mutiny, wresting control of the Blessed William from Kidd. The crew elected William Mason as captain.

Culliford sailed with the Blessed William through the Caribbean, raiding ships and settlements.

They went to New York to sell their goods, and then went on to attack French Canadian ships and settlements.

They lost the Blessed Williams in their skirmishes with the French, but returned to New York on the Jacob. From New York, they eventually made their way to India, where they continued their search for fortune.

Culliford and his comrades were captured by authorities in Gujarati in 1692, where he was held in prison for four years.

Escape and new adventures

In 1696, Culliford and his comrades escaped from prison in Gujarati and made their way to Bombay, where they signed aboard the East India Company ketch Josiah. In Madras they commandeered the ship, returned to piracy, and sailed for the Bay of Bengal.

The crew marooned Culliford on the Nicobar Islands. He was rescued by Ralph Stout, captain of the Mocha. When Stout was killed in 1697, Culliford became captain, after a number of escapades, Culliford sailed for Île Sainte-Marie off eastern Madagascar.

In 1698, William Kidd, hunting pirates, found Culliford at Île Sainte-Marie. While plotting to capture Culliford's ship, most of Kidd's crew abandoned Kidd and signed on with Culliford. Culliford and his new crew then set off, leaving Kidd to fend for himself on Île Sainte-Marie.

By 1699, Culliford was back living on Ile Ste. Marie with fellow Captain John Swann. Swann was referred to as “a great consort of Culliford’s, who lives with him.”

In 1700, the British Navy occupied Ile Ste. Marie. The pirates were offered a royal pardon, which Culliford accepted. He was arrested despite the pardon, and taken to the Marshalsea prison. He was tried for piracy. He was saved from hanging, because he was needed in the trial of Samuel Burgess. Following that trial, Culliford disappeared from record.

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