"Walk the plank", 1763 (UNCLASSIFIED)

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Tue Oct 11 21:30:05 UTC 2011

I don't trust the 1860 explanation of a temporary
dunking (if interpreted as the sole meaning), nor
the implication that because looking for
"pirates" leads mainly to fiction therefore
walking the plank was not done by pirates.

First, 1860 is late enough that walking the plank
to "destroy" someone was "obsolete":
1867    W. H. Smyth Sailor's Word-bk.,   Walking
a plank, an obsolete method of destroying people
in mutiny and piracy, under a plea of avoiding the penalty of murder.

Second, some of the presumably-factual newspaper
reports in the 18th and early 19th centuries come from piratical events.

One should look for variants from "walk the
plank", such as the 1763 "walk into the sea upon
a plank".  And one should look also for
"privateer" -- there was not much discrimination
in the 18th century and earlier.

The 1763 report (still the earliest, I think) is:
"   According to our last advices from St. Christophers [date set
for execution of 4 persons for piracy] ...four other small vessels
... were cruising ... 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."

He was not taken back aboard.  And the others, presumably, died.

In a previous message I provided 5 additional
news reports from American newspapers, from 1779
to 1835.  While the 1779 appears to be a
"temporary" punishment, the 1784, 1822, and 1835
are about piracy. (The fifth, from 1796,  is a
report from England about a trial.  It contains a
quotation from a captain who said he would "take
a plank and walk overboard" before he would let
mutineers kill him.)  And these were from only EAN Series 1 and 2.

Now also --

1823 -- from Grose, _Classical Dictionary of the
Vulgar Tongue_:  "A mode of destroying devoted
persons or officers in a mutiny or ship-board, by
blindfolding them, and obliging them to walk on a
plank, laid over the ship's side; by this means,
as the mutineers suppose, avoiding the penalty of
murder."  [  Possibly also present in 1811 (no
preview available).  Although this is mutiny, not
piracy, it is surely not temporary.  And by that
time, perhaps piracy was a diminished threat.]

1839, James Fenimore Cooper -- no, not fiction
but _The History of the Navy of the United States
of America_, vol. 1. p. 103:  "To each of the
lieutenants was to have been offered the option
of navigating the ship into the nearest British
port, or of walking a plank."  [This is about a mutiny, but permanent.]

1853, The evangelical pulpit: twenty-eight
sermons by the most eminent ... - Page 132: "walk upon a plank".

Rareness of the expression in factual reports is
another question.  But might there have been few
survivors to give interviews to newspapers, and the pirates surely would not.


At 10/11/2011 12:50 PM, Dan Goncharoff wrote:
>An interesting dichotomy -- searching for "walk the plank" and mutiny
>finds mainly non-fiction hits; changing mutiny to pirate leads mainly
>to fiction.
>On Tue, Oct 11, 2011 at 12:38 PM, Jonathan Lighter
><wuxxmupp2000 at gmail.com> wrote:
> > ---------------------- Information from the
> mail header -----------------------
> > Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> > Poster:       Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM>
> > Subject:      Re: "Walk the plank", 1763 (UNCLASSIFIED)
> >
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> >
> > Good find.
> >
> > 1860.
> >
> > No pirates.
> >
> > ("Nore muling" is scannerese for "Nore
> mutiny," alluded to in _Billy Budd_.)
> >
> > JL
> >
> > On Tue, Oct 11, 2011 at 12:32 PM, Dan
> Goncharoff <thegonch at gmail.com> wrote:
> >> ---------------------- Information from the
> mail header -----------------------
> >> Sender: Â  Â  Â  American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> >> Poster: Â  Â  Â  Dan Goncharoff <thegonch at GMAIL.COM>
> >> Subject: Â  Â  Â Re: "Walk the plank", 1763 (UNCLASSIFIED)
> >>
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> >>
> >> Adding to the confusion is the claim that making someone "walking the
> >> plank" was not an act of murder but a dunking:
> >>
> >> The sailors' and soldiers' magazine, Volume 40 (1860) p313
> >>
> >> [About twelve years ago, it was generally rumoured in Penzance that G.
> >> C. Smith would appear at the Guildhall beiore the Mayor, respecting
> >> some interruption that disturbed him in the chapel where he preached.
> >> The consequence was that a large assembly gathered at the Hall upon
> >> the occasion referred to; and Mr, Dark, a respectable attorney, stood
> >> up, near the Mayor, to address G. C. S. in cross examination, to such
> >> an unlookedfor extent, that at length G. C. S. seeing the design of
> >> the attorney, by various appeals, was to defeat the object he had in
> >> view, ha said," Had you, sir, been with us in the Nore muling, you
> >> would haw been ordered to walk the plank, if yon had been thus severe
> >> with any of us on board then." G. C. 8. was Midshipman in H.M.S.
> >> Agamemion, 64, belonging to Admiral Lord Duncan's North Sea fleet, in
> >> the year 1797, when the ship's company of five hundred men took
> >> possession of her, and ran that ship to the Nore, to join the other
> >> ships in mutiny there; and confined all the officers in the cabins,
> >> but some with a rope round their loins, which denoted they were to
> >> walk the plank, as it wai called, and sink overboard傭ut to be pulled
> >> up again and fixed in their berths. To " walk the plank" therefore,
> >> became a common expression for temporary punishment; but when G. G. S.
> >> mentioned this in the Town Hall about Mr. Dark, the Mayor very
> >> naturally called upon him to demand of the words, and G. C. S.
> >> replied," He would have got a dipping in the sea."]
> >>
> >>
> >> DanG
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >> On Tue, Oct 11, 2011 at 12:13 PM, Jonathan Lighter
> >> <wuxxmupp2000 at gmail.com> wrote:
> >>> "walk the plank"
> >>
> >> ------------------------------------------------------------
> >> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
> >>
> >
> >
> >
> > --
> > "If the truth is half as bad as I think it is, you can't handle the truth."
> >
> > ------------------------------------------------------------
> > The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
> >
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