Letter of Marque
About Captain Kidd 1695
Captain William Kidd was sometimes also called William Kidd or Robert Kidd. He was a successful land owner in Manhattan Island in the American Colonies and wanted to try his hand at Privateering. He received this particular Privateering License together with a Letter of Reprisal against French merchant ships. He sailed with both commissions out of Plymouth, England in May 1696 on board the Adventure Galley. His ship carried 30 guns and had 80 crewmen. After many months at sea with no booty his crew mutinied and they all became pirates.
When Kidd eventually sailed into Boston in May of 1699 he was jailed on suspicion of piracy. A vessel was sent from England to return him for trial which took place at the Old Bailey in May 1701. Captain Kidd was condemned and found guilty of piracy because he could not produce the commissions (Letters of Marque or Reprisal) which would prove that the two French vessels he had captured, were lawful prizes. Unfortunately for Kidd these papers were not discovered until 200 years later in the Public Record Office Kidd was executed at Wapping, England on May 23rd, 1701. After being hanged at Execution Dock, the body of Kidd was fitted into iron hoops and chains, covered with tar and suspended from a gibbet at Tilbuty Point on the lower reaches of the Thames estuary for three years until there was nothing left but bones.
This was fair warning to the rest of the population that piracy carried a death sentence. Below is the text of his Letter of Marque that could have saved his life.
Below is the text of Captain Kidd 1695.
Letter of Marque
William the Third, by the grace of God, King of England, Scotland, France and Ireland, defender of the faith, &c. To our trusty and well beloved Capt. Robert Kidd, commander of the
Adventure Galley with a crue of 80 men and mounting 30 carriage guns.
Greeting: whereas we are informed, that Capt. Thomas Too,
John Ireland, Capt. Thomas Wake, and
Capt. William Maze or Mace, and other subjects, natives or inhabitants of New-York, and elsewhere, in our plantations in America, have associated themselves with diverse others, wicked and ill-disposed persons, and do, against the law of nations, commit many and great piracies, robberies and depredations on the seas upon the parts of America, and in other parts, to the great hindrance and discouragement of trade and navigation, and to the great danger and hurt of our loving subjects, our allies, and all others, navigating the seas upon their lawful occasions.
Now know ye, that we being desirous to prevent the aforesaid mischiefs, and as much as in us lies, to bring the said pirates, freebooters and sea-rovers to justice, have thought fit, and do hereby give and grant to the said Robert Kidd, to whom our commissioners for exercising the office of Lord High Admiral of England, have granted a commission as a private man-of-war, bearing date the 11th day of December, 1695,) and unto the commander of the said ship for the time being, and unto the officers, mariners, and others which shall be under your command, full power and authority to apprehend, seize, and take into your custody as well the said Capt. Thomas Too, John Ireland, Capt. Thomas Wake and Capt. Win. Maze or Mace, as all such pirates, free-booters, and searovers, being either our subjects, or of other nations associated with them, which you shall meet with upon the seas or coasts, with all their ships and vessels, and all such merchandizes, money, goods, and wares as shall be found on board, or with them, in case they shall willingly yield themselves; but if they will not yield without fighting, then you are by force to compel them to yield.
And we also require you to bring, or cause to be brought, such pirates, freebooters, or sea-rovers, as you shall seize, to a legal trial, to the end they may be proceeded against according to the law in such cases. And we do hereby command all our officers, ministers, and other of our loving subjects whatsoever, to be aiding and assisting to you in the premises.
And we do hereby enjoin you to keep an exact journal of your proceedings in execution of the premises, and set down the names of such pirates, and of their officers and company, and the names of such ships and vessels as you shall by virtue of these presents take and seize, and the quantities of arms, ammunition, provision, and lading of such ships, and the true value of the same, as near as you can judge.
In witness whereof, we have caused our great seal of England to be affixed to these presents. Given at our court in Kensington, the 26th day of January, 1695, in the 7th year of our reign.