Robert Culliford was an English pirate from Cornwall. Not much is known about his early history, but in 1689 he was part of a joint English-French crew aboard the Sainte Rose, a French privateer operating in the Caribbean. It was here that he first met Captain Kidd, who he would have several run-ins with.
When war broke out between England and France, the English sailors mutinied, and seized the ship. They elected William Kidd captain, who renamed the ship Blessed William and sailed it to Nevis. From Nevis, they fought off French attacks as English privateers. Eventually, Culliford would grow dissatisfied with Captain Kidd. In 1690 he formed a group of mutineers, and one day when Kidd was ashore, they stole the Blessed William. A man named William Mason was elected captain, who took the ship to New York. From there, it continued to operate as an English privateer against towns and shipping along the coast of French Canada.
Culliford earned his first captaincy when they seized the French ship L’Esperance, which Mason granted to Culliford. He renamed it Home Frigate and operated alongside Blessed William. They eventually grew the fleet to seven ships, but suffered a setback when a group of ketches carrying most of their plunder back to New York was captured by French privateers. When the fleet returned, the government kept most of the captured ships as prizes of war, and the crew auction off what remained of their plunder. But after the government’s take, it was not enough to satisfy them. Growing sick of the cold northern weather and the poor profits seized from the French Canadian shipping, they voted to head to the Indian Ocean on their next voyage.
Now aboard a ship named Jacob, the privateers sailed out into the Atlantic, where the promptly voted to turn to outright piracy. They seized several ships before rounding Africa, then raided settlements along the coast of India. This action proved to be short-lived for Culliford, who was captured along with some of the crew and thrown in prison for several years. After escaping in 1696, they signed on with the crew of the East India Company ship Josiah, then immediately mutinied and commandeered the vessel. Near the Nicobar Islands, the rest of the crew managed to organize and retake the ship, and marooned Culliford on one of the islands.
Culliford was rescued by a passing pirate ship named Mocha, captained by Ralph Stout. When Stout was killed the next year, Culliford was elected captain. He operated out of St. Mary’s Island off Madagascar, and plundered ships sailing the route between India and the west.
In 1698, Culliford once more met Captain Kidd, who arrived at Madagascar during his ill-fated final voyage. Kidd, whose was sailing as a pirate hunter, plotted to take revenge on Culliford for the theft of Blessed William eight years prior. But his mutinous crew rebelled and joined Culliford, leaving Kidd to sail home with only a handful of loyal crew.
After the encounter with Kidd, Culliford sailed to the Red Sea and captured a wealthy vessel named the Great Mohammed. He captured several more around St. Mary’s Island, but in 1699, British warships arrived at the island. They offered Culliford a royal pardon, which he accepted. Culliford traveled to London, but there he was arrested for the attack on Great Mohammed, with his pardon being declared invalid. He was convicted of piracy, but spared from hanging so that he could testify against Samuel Burgess, another pirate who served alongside Culliford on Captain Kidd’s original crew. Robert Culliford disappears from historical records after this trial.
Robert Culliford is not depicted often in pirate-themed media, despite is wide-ranging career. He is mentioned often in works about Captain Kidd, due to the multiple times he stymied Kidd’s efforts. He features most heavily in The Pirate Hunter. This book is a biography of William Kidd, but gives many details about Culliford’s own career, contrasting his open and successful piracy with the more legal and unsuccessful methods which Kidd employed.