Thanks to a recent online release of old books of piracy trials in the nineteenth century by the Law Library of Congress, we can brush up on what it meant to be a pirate back then.
And it’s not a pretty picture.
Take, for example, Joseph Baker, a Canadian pirate hanged in Philadelphia in 1800. Evidently, he was part of a failed mutiny aboard the schooner Eliza on her voyage from Philadelphia to St. Thomas, during which the captain, William Wheland, was killed. His published “confession,” though difficult to read in the image PDF, is worth dipping into.
He also examines Captain Kidd:
Fascinatingly, the “arraignment, tryal, and condemnation of Captain William Kidd, for murther and piracy” is here also. Capatain [sic] Kidd, the notorious Scottish pirate (or privateer—take your pick), was brought before a grand jury of seventeen at the Admiralty Sessions at the Old Baily on the 8th and 9th of May in 1701. And right away the transcript grips you — well, if you’re a lawyer, it does. Kidd asks for legal counsel at the outset.
What trial do you find most interesting? From International Talk Like A Pirate Day to having Pirate English as your default language setting on Facebook, why do pirates continue to fascinate us? We occasionally write about modern day pirates in the Global Legal Monitor, including a U.N. Security Council Resolution and when an anti-piracy agreement was signed.