“Helpless” Woman Helps Pirate—Sarah Kidd

During Colonial days in America, women were considered so weak that they needed the support of a husband or father to accomplish anything. Girls were seldom taught to read or write because those were skills they would never need. But Sarah Kidd demonstrated that a determined woman could handle property, raise a family, and support her husband’s cause even though she didn’t learn to sign her name until she was a middle-aged woman.

Sarah was born in England in about 1645. Like most girls of her time, she married young and soon had a daughter to care for. She and her husband emigrated to America with their young daughter hoping to find more work and greater prosperity. America offered opportunity, but it was also filled with dangers, especially from illness. Sarah’s husband soon died, leaving her with a child to raise and no chance of employment.

Like most young widows, Sarah married again. Her life seemed to be following a familiar path, but there was little certainty in colonial life. Her second husband, Samuel Cox, was a merchant and Sarah soon learned a lot about taking care of property and managing shops. She became a wealthy woman. Unfortunately, Cox was considerably older than she was and he died, leaving her again a widow.

Her third marriage was short, but during it she found the man who would define her life—Captain William Kidd. He was clearly the love of her life and they were partners in business and in life. At the time they met, Kidd was a respected and successful ship’s captain and a privateer.

Captain Kidd

Today we think of privateers as criminals, but things were different back in Sarah’s time. The American colonies were struggling to remain free from what they viewed as unfair rules imposed by England. New York, for example, was pushed to become a part of New England instead of maintaining its status as a separate colony.

Sarah and Kidd were a prosperous and popular couple during the first years of their marriage. They owned property, gave parties, and were friends of many of the most important citizens of New York.

One of their friends was the Earl of Bellomont, who was governor of a large area from Massachusetts to New York. He commissioned Kidd to hunt down pirates and enemy French ships in the Indian Ocean. Kidd’s trip was a long one, but he hoped to return in a year and be with Sarah, who was pregnant with another child at the time he left.

Time dragged on and everything seemed to go wrong on the trip. Men who had signed on hoping to enrich themselves were bitterly disappointed as the months went by. Several of them rebelled and Kidd punished them harshly. At least one man died after his punishment. Kidd declared it was an accident, but some of the sailors began calling Kidd a murderer.

Sarah struggled to take care of her children in New York where Kidd had left her. Finally, she got a message telling her to go to Boston to meet her husband. She hurried to meet him, but he was no longer a free man. Political feelings had changed in England. Privateers were no longer needed and the government was attempting to get rid of pirates. Kidd found himself condemned by the people who had hired him. His friend Bellomont turned against him and refused to defend him. He spent two years imprisoned in Boston and was finally sent to London where he was kept in prison for another three years before finally being hanged in 1701.

 After Kidd died, Sarah was left a widow again. Not only had she lost her husband, but she had also lost her social position and credibility. Within a few months after his death, ballads about the “notorious Captain Kidd” were circulating in both London and New York. Sarah and her children lost a husband and father as well as their reputations. They also lost Kidd’s property, which was confiscated by the state. For two years they lived in seclusion in New York.

Fortunately, Sarah still had a father and a brother. When the brother died, she received his property and was able to move to a more suitable house than the one she had been living in. She married one last time, changed her name to Rouseby and lived respectably until her death in 1744.  Somehow, out of all the troubles of her life, she managed to demonstrate that she was far from helpless. She worked her way out of poverty and raised her children to become prosperous citizens of the new country. You can learn more about her life by reading a recent book written by Daphne Palmer Geanacopoulos, The Pirate’s Wife: The Remarkable True Story of Sarah Kidd (2022)

Sarah Kidd did not leave many written records of her life and questions remain, but she demonstrated that she was a strong, clever head of the family. Despite being a mere woman, she built a satisfying life for her children and descendants.

4 thoughts on ““Helpless” Woman Helps Pirate—Sarah Kidd

  1. What an amazing woman! And what a wonderful post about her! Thank you for introducing me to another fascinating woman I might never have heard of if not for you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.