Captain Kidd

This is an excerpt of this book

Captain William Kidd was hanged on May 23, 1701. Then the rope broke, and they had to hang him again. His whole life was like that--one crazy thing after another.

Take this business about him being a pirate. It's topsy-turvey. There Kidd was, trying to do his job as a catcher of pirates, when suddenly one day somebody accused him of being one.

Kidd wasn't even the pirate type. I don't know what the hell he looked like, but he was wealthy, had a nice little family, and went to church. He didn't even growl.

Seeing as how we think he was British through and through, I should mention that he lived in New York. The reason nobody knows this is that New York kindly let the British claim him after he got into trouble.

Kidd, if anything, was a little too good. I have in mind the time that he went back to England to complain to the authorities about the way the British governor of New York had rigged an election. To me, this sounds a bit much. I mean it's not like he could jump on the Concorde, do his business, and get back in time for lunch. He had to go by BOAT!

But the British were impressed, and soon after they made him an official pirate catcher. Unfortunately, as a pirate catcher, Kidd didn't do to well. In fact, in more than a year on the high seas, he managed to catch, to be precise, none.

This was something of a feat, as there were more pirates in those days than normal people.

After a while, unfortunately, tired of chasing pirates and not catching them, he himself started raiding ships and stealing their cargo. Which, on the face of it, looks pretty bad. But in the old days, this was legal if you had a permit, and Kidd had one.

The trouble was he was only supposed to raid French ships and the two ships he raided were not French. Kidd's excuse for the raids was that the ships were travelling under French safe-conduct passes, which, if true, would have been somewhat exculpatory. But when he was asked at his trial to produce the passes, he couldn't.

Which brings me to: Kidd's trial.

As this was England--home of the MAGNA CARTA!--Kidd's trail was, of course, fair. There were judges, lawyers, a jury and everything. The state even saw fit to give Kidd some money so he could hire a couple of attorneys to help with his defense.

On the downside, he wasn't allowed to consult with his attorneys until the day of the trial and on the second day, they didn't even show up. Which was somewhat harmful to the defense, as it was a two-day trial.

But what really damaged his cause, as I mentioned, was his failure to produce the French passes. Which brings me to the moment you've been waiting for, the moment it becomes clear an outrageous injustice has been done. It turns out the passes Kidd needed so badly were hidden in the prosecutor's drawer.

The prosecutor, of course, denied knowing anything about the passes, but after the trial, they mysteriously turned up. Today, they can be seen on display in the London Public Records Office.

Kidd himself was not entirely blameless in the whole affair, as nobody ever is. You may have heard, for instance, that he hobnobbed with pirates on Madagascar, which is, I grant, interesting behavior for someone supposedly out catching pirates. But I suppose you and I would have done the same thing too, if we'd been stuck on Madagascar, since the place was crawling with pirates, many of whom didn't think too highly of pirate catchers.

To give him his due, Kidd, upon sailing into port, actually tried to make a couple of arrests, but as the crew refused to follow his orders, and they were in general mutiny, and as he was outnumbered, he decided not to do so.

You may have also heard that he'd struck one of his own sailors over the head with a bucket and killed him. This is also true. But as the sailor was refusing to follow orders, you can maybe understand why he did it. At worst, he was guilty of manslaughter, but he was charged with murder.

Why, if Kidd was not a pirate, has he been made out to be one? Why has he gone down in history as one of the baddest men who ever lived? It was because of politics. It had been the Whigs who'd sponsered his expedition, and when it didn't go too well, the Tories dragged him into court to make the Whigs look bad. Poor Kidd was just a scapegoat.

I am reachable at
Back to the Jokes & Quotes Page