23rd May 1701

Scottish pirate William Kidd is executed

William Kidd’s early life is unclear, but by the 1690s, by which time he would have been in his mid-40s, records suggest he was a member of a pirate crew operating in the Caribbean. Despite this, he wasn’t entirely shunned by British authorities, as he was useful to them.

Britain and France were at war, and when Kidd and his crew mutinied the British appointed them privateers, effectively fighting the French in waters claimed by Britain – and French territory in the vicinity – with a right to take whatever loot they could from French settlements.

A government commission

Soon, Kidd’s involvement with the British government was put on a more formal basis. After dealings in New York and Boston, he was asked specifically by the governor of that state, who had been appointed by the English King William III, to start attacking not only French ships in nearby waters, but anything that might count as a pirate ship, too. Kidd did as he was asked, but first upgraded to a ship better suited to the job in hand.

From this point forward, though, Kidd’s luck appears to have taken a downturn, and he lost several crew through conscription, desertion and illness. His authority with them was also severely dented. At one point, Kidd and his crew captured a ship sailing under French protection. Unbeknown to them, it had an English captain and, when the pirates refused to release it, Kidd was transformed, in the eyes of the British, from useful privateer to dangerous pirate. A price was immediately put on his head – and the heads of his crew.

Arrest, trial and execution

When he was eventually arrested, in Boston, he was held for a year then sent back to London where he stood trial on charges of piracy and murder. He was found guilty, sentenced to death, and hanged in Wapping, London, on 23 May 1701. His body was hung in chains over the Thames as a warning to others against setting off on a life of piracy.



Other events that occured in May

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