The Americans are terrible fellows for curiosity. One of them, coming to England for the first time, had beguiled his leisure on the boat by reading the "Tales of a Traveller" by Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., and nothing would suit him on landing but to ask to see the place where they put away "Kidd, the Pirate," as that very gallant gentleman is discourteously called. "Kidd, the Pirate," indeed; but this is not all; he is variously described by Mr. Crayon as.
An equivocal character; one of those nondescript animals of the ocean that are neither fish, flesh, nor fowl . . . . somewhat of a trader, something more of a smuggler, with a considerable dash of the pickaroon . . . this cutpurse of the ocean.
You will see that Mr. Crayon had a bias against the Captain, and it is with evident pleasure that he tells of his trial and how he was hanged at Execution Dock.
Kidd died hard, for the rope with which he was first tied up broke with his weight, and he tumbled to the ground. He was tied up a second time, and more effectually. From, hence came doubtless the story of Kidd's having a charmed life, and that he had to be twice hanged.
Certainly he had a charmed life, which goes on for ever in the pages of London history. Our inquiring American is just in time, for it was on May 24, two hundred and twenty-one years come Wednesday, that the Captain set off for Wapping. The Marshal of the Admiralty went ahead in his carriage; the Deputy Marshal carried the Silver Oar; the two City Marshals would not have been out of the picture for any money. It was a brave company, and not the least brave was Captain William Kidd, looking with a calm, unflinching eye on the vulgar herd waiting for the final scene in his romantic career. He was not the first of his profession to go to Execution Dock, which, as Stow has reminded us, was the usual scene of execution for hanging of pirates and sea-rovers at the low-water mark, and there to remain till three tides had overflowed them.
Some of the bodies were painted over with pitch and went to adorn the Isle of Dogs, a custom which had the warm approval of Townsend, the worthy old Bow-street runner, as a warning to sailors who might be disposed to murder revenue officers. So Kidd, as we say, did not set the fashion in these matters, when he came down to take his place on the gallows set on the uncovered beach when the tide was low.
It was an insult to a man of his mettle (says Mr. Bell), with so many high crimes to his account, to hang him for having killed a common seaman on his own ship by banging him over the head with a bucket.
So it was. But the Law was never notable for such niceties where murder was concerned. Hang him they did, on May 24, 1701, and he protested his innocence to the last.