Captain William Kidd was a privateer who worked for the British government raiding French ships at the end of the 17th century. He quickly fell out of favor when his supporters lost political power, and was executed for piracy in 1701. His rotting body was hung from a gibbet over a busy port in the Thames, to discourage piracy.
Illustration taken from The Pirates' Own Book, by Charles Ellms (1837)

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  • On May 23, 1701, the notorious Scottish pirate William Kidd, nicknamed Captain Kidd, was executed in London, England. His rotting corpse was hung over a busy port on the Thames River for three years, as a warning to those considering piracy.
    Captain Kidd may not have even been a pirate at all. He was certainly a privateer. A privateer is a person who has permission from their government to raid foreign ships during a time of conflict. Great Britain and France were continually in conflict during Captain Kidd’s career. Captain Kidd made his living raiding French ships.
    As a privateer, Captain Kidd worked for the British American government based in New York City, New York, and Boston, Massachusetts. He was hired to attack French ships in the Caribbean Sea, off the East Coast of what is now the United States, and as far away as Madagascar, in the Indian Ocean. In the Indian Ocean, Kidd’s crew raided a French ship . . . with an English captain. Kidd was arrested and served time in prisons in Boston and London before being executed.
    Many stories have sprung up about Captain Kidd. American authors from Washington Irving to Mark Twain wrote about the fabled pirate. Perhaps most famously, Edgar Allen Poe wrote about the buried treasure of Captain Kidd in his short story “The Gold Bug.” Treasure hunters continue to search for his hidden riches—which most historians say don’t exist—from Grand Manan Island in the Bay of Fundy, Canada, to Block Island, Rhode Island.
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    arrest Verb

    to take into legal custody.

    conflict Noun

    a disagreement or fight, usually over ideas or procedures.

    consider Verb

    to think about.

    corpse Noun

    dead body.

    execute Verb

    to put to death by order of the law or in a well-planned manner.

    fabled Adjective

    legendary, celebrated, and largely fictitious.

    government Noun

    system or order of a nation, state, or other political unit.

    migrant worker Noun

    person who lives away from home part of the time, in order to work.

    notorious Adjective

    well-known for negative reasons.

    piracy Noun

    illegal use or reproduction of a copyrighted work of art or intellectual property.

    port Noun

    place on a body of water where ships can tie up or dock and load and unload cargo.

    Encyclopedic Entry: port
    prison Noun

    buildings that house convicted criminals and people accused of a crime and awaiting trial.

    privateer Noun

    private ship or person commissioned by a government during war.

    raid Noun

    to stage a sudden, violent attack, usually for robbery.

    rot Verb

    to decay or spoil.

    treasure Noun

    wealth, riches, and other valuable materials.

    William Kidd Noun

    (1645-1701) Scottish navigator and sailor, hanged for piracy.