1701: Captain Kidd

Add comment 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.”

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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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1701: Gottfried Lehmann, Ferenc Rakoczi liberator

Add comment December 24th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1701, the Prussian commander of Vienna Castle was beheaded and then quartered for abetting the escape of Hungarian national hero Ferenc (Francis) Rakoczi.

Gottfried Lehmann was the name of this remarkable Pomeranian dragoon, who as Rakoczki’s jailer became convinced that his charge would inevitably be executed.

His conviction on this point was merited: Rakoczi’s maternal grandfather, Petar Zrinski, had been executed for rebelling against the Austrian empire, and his father, also named Ferenc Rakoczi, had been fortunate to avoid the same fate. After Ferenc pere died young, his widow remarried to yet another anti-Habsburg rebel, one who had aided the Turks at the 1683 Battle of Vienna. Thus, our Ferenc Rakoczi — who is also the Ferenc Rakoczi — labored under close imperial supervision through his childhood and into adulthood. No surprise, his flirtation with aiding the French as a fifth columnist during 1700-1701 outset of the multifaceted War of Spanish Succession led speedily to Rakoczki’s arrest as a for disloyalty.

The prospective doomed was blessed with an intrepid wife, Charlotte Amalia, who went to work charming the King of Prussia — whose intercession to Lehmann on Rakoczi’s behalf was impactful since the commandant was Pomeranian and considered Prussia a primary loyalty — and likewise directly charming Lehmann himself. Only the faithless officer’s shade can ever account which proved decisive in the end: the wife’s charisma, the sovereign’s authority, or the prisoner’s own persuasiveness in his daily interactions with the commandant. For any or all of these reasons, Lehmann eventually agreed to facilitate Rakoczi’s escape.

To this end, he supplied Rakoczi with an officer’s uniform and his quarters to change into it, then looked the other way as Rakoczi bluffed his way out the gates where a coach spirited him away. Within a week the fugitive had reached the safety of Polish soil … but far behind him, Gottfried Lehmann was in irons and under torture. He would lose his head on Christmas eve, his body chopped into quarters for his treason — but gain the eternal gratitude of the Hungarian nation.*


(cc) image by Tulipanos.

Events would prove the Habsburg emperors correct to fear this youth — only 25 years old at the time of his Lehmann-aided flight.

Eighteen months later, Rakoczi stood at the head of a war of national liberation that would run for eight years. Rakoczi’s War of Independence did not secure its titular objective, but it stood long afterwards as a signal of Hungarians’ patriotic aspirations.

* He also gained a lifetime annuity for his widow and son from Rakoczi’s purse.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Austria,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Hungary,Martyrs,Soldiers,Torture,Treason

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1701: Esther Rodgers, repentant

Add comment July 31st, 2015 Headsman

O my dear Friends — Take Warning by me. Here I come to Dy, and if God be not Merciful to my Soul, I shall be undone to all Eternity — If I do not turn by Repentance. I Bless God, I have found more Comfort in Prison, than ever before. O Turn to God now. O how hard it is to Repent; If you go on in Sin, God may give you up to a hard Heart. Oh! Turn whilst the Day of Grace lasts.

These, shouted to a crowd of thousands, were the last uttered by repentant sex worker and infanticide Esther Rodgers at her hanging in Ipswich, Mass., on this date in 1701. Esther Rodgers’s life story and jailhouse conversion in New England are richly explored by author and sometime Executed Today guest blogger Anthony Vaver on his site, Early American Crime. Take a look here.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Abortion and Infanticide,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Massachusetts,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Public Executions,USA,Women

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