29 Dec: Best of 2023: Captain Kidd: Pirate or Privateer?

We’re back with new episodes on New Year’s Day, but, before we finally turn our backs on 2023 for good, here’s Olly’s choice for his favourite episode of the year – our story from 23rd May, the day in 1701 when sea captain William Kidd was executed for piracy and murder. 

From the gallows, Kidd proclaimed to the large assembled crowd that he was innocent of the crimes, as he was a licensed privateer. 

The vessel he’d captured, the Quedagh Merchant, was indeed sailing under a ‘French pass’ – though the documents that prove this lay unearthed until the 20th century. His trial was used by the governing Tory party as a political opportunity to embarrass his Whig sponsors, and he was convicted on all counts.

In this episode, The Retrospectors explain what happened to his body after his botched hanging; reveal the extraordinary monetary value of his plunder; and explain how, despite his established prowess as a seaman, he became seen as a public enemy…

Further Reading:

‘Accidental Pirate’ (National Geographic, 2008):