Little Bits of History

Aaagh, Pirates

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 23, 2013
William "Captain" Kidd

William “Captain” Kidd

May 23, 1701: William “Captain” Kidd is hanged. Captain Kidd is probably one of the best know pirates of all time. However, some new evidence has come to light that supports the idea that he was not a pirate at all, but a privateer. The difference lies in a technicality. A pirate is someone who commits robbery on the high seas. A privateer is a pirate with a commission or authorization of a government or sovereign. Privateering was an accepted part of naval warfare from the 16th to 19th centuries.

William was a Scottish sailor born around 1645 and was a “trusted and well beloved” captain by 1695 when a group of wealthy Whig English noblemen asked Kidd, through a governor in the colonies, to attack several known pirates and any enemy French ships he encountered. Kidd commanded the Adventure Galley, a 284 ton ship with 34 cannons and oars – making it perfect for the task of capturing pirate ships.

Kidd and his crew failed to salute a British Navy ship before even leaving London. The ship was boarded and many of the crew were pressed into service for the Navy. Kidd sailed away shorthanded but captured some French ships and pressed sailors from those crews into service on his ship, bringing his staff up to the required numbers. Eventually escaped prisoners alleged Kidd’s cruelty but it may have been his mutinous crew who were inhumane. He remained at sea for years, spanning most of the globe, and as he was returning to New York City he found out he was wanted for piracy.

One of the original investors offered Kidd protection and then took him as prisoner back to England, hoping to save himself from accusations of piracy. Kidd refused to name his backers. A Tory regime was now in charge. Kidd thought he would be rewarded for his silence. Instead he was charged not only with piracy, but murder as well. His Whig backers, afraid of repercussions, made sure Kidd’s funds were depleted and Kidd stood trial without representation. He was found guilty of all charges and sentenced to hang. The first attempt to hang the Captain ended with the rope breaking. Kidd was hanged again, this time successfully, and his body left in a cage above the Thames to act as a warning to others.

“Pirates who were hired by many countries, especially in times of war, were businessmen and capitalists of every background searching for a profit in the Atlantic Ocean. Governments armed pirates’ ships and directed the pirates to attack ships of other warring countries.” – Frank Lambert

“It must have been quite a sight as that big pirate ship came loose and ran aground during the hurricane.” – Paul Collins

“If you can’t find something here, you can’t find it anywhere, … There’s a pirate in everyone!”” – Michael Egan

“With the first ‘Pirates,’ we believe we elevated pirates to pirate chic. It’s not about the pirates you knew about 10 years ago. It just seemed these things were meant to be together, these movies and this race.” – Donald Evans

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: Piracy is the name of a specific crime under customary international law as well as a number of crimes under municipal or state law. Privateering was commerce raiding and outlawed by the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 by the signatories of those documents. There is no beginning date for this crime, but it is assumed that piracy developed at the same time as seafaring commerce. The first recording about piracy comes from the Sea Peoples threating the Aegean and Mediterranean in the 14th century BC. In classic antiquity both the Illyrians and Tyrrhenians were considered pirates but so were the Greeks and Romans. The Phoenicians also used piracy to obtain boys and girls sold into slavery.

Also on this day Patience and Fortitude – In 1911 the main Research Library of the New York Public Library is dedicated.
Two for the Price of One – In 1785, Ben Franklin claimed to have invented bifocals.
Squeezebox – In 1829, a patent for an accordion was granted to Cyrill Demian.

2 Responses

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  1. Bobby Dias said, on May 23, 2013 at 12:26 pm

    A modern day privateer example is an IRS employee who takes orders from the government, Barack Obama, to persecute Barack Obama’s political opponents, such as any group that has patriot in it’s name. Everybody pretends to be ignorant when the IRS or FBI or whoever is found to be doing Barack Obama’s orders- that is similiar to the protection a privateer would get in some situations.

    • Sherry said, on May 25, 2014 at 2:51 pm

      It’s amazing how you can take any subject and turn it into an anti-Obama tirade, Bobby. And I don’t mean amazing in a good way, either.

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