In The Golden Age of Piracy: The Truth Behind Pirate Myths, I’ve devoted an entire chapter to this myth of walking the plank. The image above is of a Dutch flotilla commanded by Captain Lambert Hendrikszoon in the early 1680s harshly negotiating a peace treaty with Algiers, notorious for its “Barbary corsairs.” Note that a corsair was a privateer, not a pirate, although often the Barbary corsairs were referred to as pirates–after all, they were not “Christians.” Even so, they were lawfully commissioned and were pirates only if they went to sea without a commission to hunt prey. A major part of Barbary corsair plunder consisted of prisoners–Christians, often–taken as slaves. This was naturally an objectionable, heinous, barbaric (note the origin of the word) practice. Yet Europeans often hypocritically failed to note the irony that Barbary corsairs were enslaving people who themselves engaged in the slave trade of Africans, Native Americans, mixed races, and sometimes even of Asians–and, at least to the early 18th century, North Africans.
In the detail below, Algerine prisoners are being murdered in reprisal, in this case via “walking the plank”–but clearly no plank was necessary.