"Walk the plank", 1763

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Fri Oct 7 17:52:22 UTC 2011

The following, located by a correspondent, is an antedating of the
OED (third ed., June 2006), "plank, n.", P2, a.  The earliest OED
quotation is 1789; also, the 1789 pertains to slave ships whereas the
following pertains to pirates.  It's not literally "walk the plank"
but rather "walk into the sea upon a plank", so perhaps it merely
deserves bracketing.

One presumably should be able to antedate this from the South
Carolina Gazette (or perhaps the Virginia Gazette), perhaps 4 to 6
weeks earlier.  I might try to find such (my experience with a
text-searchable database of the SCG has not been pleasant, but there
is always the microfilm.)


>From: John Sullivan
>An earlier appearance, from 1763 (London Chronicle, Tuesday, June 21);
>the plank shows up at the end, for any who want to skip to it:
>Charles Town, South Carolina, April 13. According to our last advices
>from Christopher's, by Capt. Condon, the 2d instant was fixed for the
>execution of two Spaniards, a Frenchman, and an Englishman, at St.
>Eustatius, for piratically landing on Guadaloupe, most barbarously
>cutting off the breasts of two Women, and stealing fourteen Negroes,
>which they brought down to and sold at St. Eustatius. They went out in
>a pettiagur belonging to that island, and their villainy and
>inhumanity would have passed undiscovered, but for a quarrel that
>happened among them upon the division of their ill-gotten spoil, when
>one of their confederates, a Spanish lad about eighteen years of age,
>turned, and was admitted evidence against them: The schooner was
>seized and sold for the States, and the Negroes ordered to be restored
>to their owners at Guadaloupe. It did not appear that these pirates
>had any consort, but four other small vessels of the same sort were
>cruising around the Granades and Guadaloupe, manned by Spaniards and
>Caribbee Indians, who had taken several vessels; and among others, one
>belonging to the Grenades, whose crew, being English, they obliged to
>walk into the sea upon a plank fixed for that purpose: this was
>related by one who, through good swimming, got ashore at the Grenades.
>The French they threatened to put to all the tortures imaginable, by
>cutting on their noses, ears &c.

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