2002: Johnny Joe Martinez 1726: √Čtienne-Benjamin Deschauffours

1701: Captain Kidd

May 23rd, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1701, the pirate William Kidd hanged at London’s Execution Dock; his body was afterwards gibbeted at Tilbury Port.

Alhough his famous buried treasure and its subsequent literary afterlife has helped make Kidd one of history’s best-known buccaneers, the man more closely resembles a startup entrepreneur … just a monumentally unlucky one.

The Scotsman had done well enough as a relatively legitimate privateer raiding enemy French ships to settle down in colonial Manhattan in the 1690s. He made a prosperous marriage to a wealthy widow, and for several years he dwelt as a respectable burgher who helped underwrite construction of the still-extant landmark Trinity Church.

Induced by whatever reason of restlessness or cupidity, Kidd in 1696 came to captain the venture that would be his undoing: the voyage of the aptly if unimaginatively christened Adventure Galley. Backed by a who’s who of Whig worthies up to and including the king himself, Kidd set out for the Indian Ocean bearing letters of marque that authorized him not only to prey on the French, but to attack “Pirates, Freebooters, and Sea Rovers,” which is like when Willie Sutton explained that he robbed banks because that’s where the money is.

The adventure flopped owing to the galley’s singular infelicity with locating suitable prizes. As 1697 stretched into 1698, there grew the prospect of ruin and the discontent of the crew — who, like Kidd’s investors, would only be paid out of such loot as their ship could capture. Desperation drove Kidd to increasingly reckless attacks against unauthorized targets, most notoriously an Armenian-owned merchantman called the Quedagh Merchant, heavy with trade goods owned by an Indian nobleman well-connected to London through the Mughal court. Kidd would argue that French passes purchased by that ship’s English captain made this a legal prize, but you can’t muddle high statecraft and big business on legal chicaneries. In English eyes he had by this and several other incidents gone the full pirate himself; on top of that, he also fatally bashed a truculent gunner about the head, which added charges of murder to his eventual indictment.

Kidd’s career ended in the New World where his reputation as a criminal hunted by the English Navy precluded protection — everywhere from the Caribbean to his own former haunts in the North American colonies. Eventually it was the Earl of Bellomont (who was also governor of New York) who clapped Kidd in irons, possibly concerned to display a profligacy of zeal lest his own early sponsorship of Kidd’s disastrous mission redound against Bellomont himself. Kidd’s unsuccessful attempt to bargain with his patron turned jailer using the promise of hidden pirate booty is one source of the legends that have followed his name down the years.

Another source is the public and greatly protracted nature of the proceedings against Captain Kidd. It was nearly two years from his arrest to his execution, an age that saw him returned to England and examined personally by Parliament — product of an attempt by Tories to tar their political rivals with the association.

Kidd for his own part pleaded innocence and wrote plaintive letters to the king from his stinking cell in Newgate, to no avail. “It is a very hard Sentence,” he reproached the judge upon hearing his fate. “For my part, I am the innocentest Person of them all, only I have been sworn against by perjured Persons.”

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Famous,Gibbeted,Hanged,History,Infamous,Murder,Pelf,Piracy,Pirates,Public Executions

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