Many of the popular myths about pirates and piracy came about thanks to Robert Louis Stevensons’ Treasure Island and the media’s fascination with all things pirate. Most of these myth are, however, just myths. While ‘walking the plank’ is not entirely a fallacy, the frequency of its use is much less than movies and pirate novels would have us believe.
Pirates Preferred to NOT kill their Victims
The fact is that most pirates during the golden age of pirates actually preferred to avoid killing their victims than torturing them by walking the plank and other such methods. Not out of some moral inclination, you see, but because if they gained a reputation for killing all of their enemies then no-one would ever surrender; preferring to take their chances in battle first. Pirates’ primary goal was to gain wealth: money, gold… “booty”, as such, and would have preferred a quick grab and run to a lengthy, bloody battle.
Even some of the more sadistic pirates, like Black Bart Roberts who displayed psychotic tendencies and often tortured his victims, very rarely made victims walk the plank. This is probably because they lacked the time to pursue the lengthy coercion process that convincing someone to drown themselves might entail. In all honesty, if they really wished to dispose of someone, they were probably quicker just pushing the poor victim over the side of the ship. In all his years of piracy, despite his notably violent tendencies, Black Bart is only known for sure to have made one individual walk the plank.
Death by Drowning
There were those pirates who were rather more prolific. In 1829, pirates raided the Dutch vessel Vhan Fredericka and murdered nearly every crewman by tying cannonballs to their feet before making them walk overboard to their deaths. Sadly for pirate fans and movie-goers, however, there are only five cases where it can be proven historically that someone was made to walk the plank. When you think about it, though, that was probably a good thing for the law abiding sailors who risked their lives on the high seas day in day out.