Did Pirates Really Make People Walk the Plank?

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Reader Aseoya wrote in to ask, “Did pirates really make people walk the plank?”

Yes, but not as often as modern pop culture would have us think. Despite the depiction in books and movies that plank walking was a common occurrence, it was actually pretty rare as far as the evidence can tell us. Recorded instances are few and far between, and most of those occurred long after the “golden age” of piracy. One of the most infamous instances was reported in 1829, when a group of pirates boarded the Dutch ship Vhan Fredericka in the Caribbean and forced the entire crew to walk the plank, blindfolded and weighted down with cannonballs.

Theatrics like this did pirates very little good. If the crew was of no use, then it was quicker and easier to just toss them overboard. If a little cruelty and torture were called for, it was usually in the service of getting information, not a prelude to killing someone. Historians think that, given its rarity and the situations that it happened in, forcing people to walk the plank was employed because it entertained the pirates when there was time for it, and not because it was a practical means of disposing of victims.

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March 4, 2013 - 9:30am
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