You Are There: Season 2, Episode 25

The Hanging of Captain Kidd (May 23, 1701) (14 Feb. 1954)

TV Episode  |   |  Drama, History
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Himself - Host - Narrator
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Captain Kidd
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14 February 1954 (USA)  »

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"Oh my name is William Kidd, as I sailed, as I sailed..."
1 January 2007 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

Henry Jones played Captain William Kidd in this episode of You Are There. The somewhat wormy looking, somewhat smooth talking Jones was pretty good casting for that role. To this day we imagine Captain William Kidd was an opportunist, with a good line of talk (to a point), but who could not win. With his hangdog looks, Jones hearing the death sentence that Kidd eventually heard in London was probably quite effective in the role.

In 1697 war ended between Britain and France (temporarily) with the Treaty of Ryswick. However there were numerous pyrates (what we would call pirates today) who had been attacking British trading ships around the globe. King William III and several nobles (including the new Governor of New York colony, the Earl of Bellomon) were willing to hire Kidd to go privateering against these pirates. He was given two special "French Passes" that entitled him to attack pirates, seize their ships, and bring their goods back to New York City or other British ports for dividing the loot with the aristocrats backing the scheme. He was given the ship the "Adventure Galley" and set sail in 1697.

Soon reports came that Kidd was not following instructions. He was attacking merchant vessels of Britain and it's allies, and that one was the phenomenally rich Bengal ship, the "Quedagh Merchant". Also there was report that he killed a gunner on his vessel, one William Moore (who is mentioned in the old song I quoted in the "Summary Line"). Kidd was now recognized as a pirate. King William and his fellow investors were determined to catch him, and bring him to justice before their position as backers became publicly known.

In 1699 Kidd returned to New York City, anchoring his ship off Gardiner's Island in Long Island. He possibly buried some treasure there, and later may have buried some other portion in New England. He went to Boston, where Bellomont was currently residing. After contacting the Earl, Kidd was amazed to find he was under arrest. He was soon transported to England for trial.

The trial was not until 1701. It was such a major event of the period that Thomas Macauley discusses it in his HISTORY OF ENGLAND, and it has a volume of it's own in THE NOTABLE British TRIAL SERIES. Kidd insisted he lived up to the agreement, but the government there was none. In fact, the key evidence for Kidd was the two French passes he had. But they were handed over to Bellomont when Kidd was arrested, and then vanished. Unable to give any supporting evidence that he had been an "honest" privateer, and under contract to King William and his friends, Kidd was found guilty of the murder of Moore, whom he hit on the head with a bucket (Kidd insisted that Moore was trying to cause a mutiny - we don't know).

He was hanged on a gallows near the Thames. The rope broke once when he was hanged. They had to hang him again. Then his body was hung in a cage for decades as a symbol of government fighting of piracy.

Was he guilty? Like the cause of the death of Moore we don't know. But we do know the British Government did not play the legal game fairly. The two missing French passes turned up in a file in the 1920s. They'd been conveniently lost!


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