Thursday, September 18, 2008

When the pistols were ready, Blackbeard blew out the candle and crossing his hands discharged them at his company: Hands, the master, was shot through the knew and lamed for life, the other pistol did no execution. Being asked for the meaning of this, he only answered, by damning them:

"If I did not now and then kill one of you, you would forget who I was!"

Being one day at sea, and a little flushed with drink

"Come" he says "Let us make a Hell of our own and try how long we can bare it"

Accordingly he, with two or three others, went down into the hold, and closing up all the hatches, filled several pots full of brimstone, and other combustible matter, and set it on fire, and so continued till they were almost suffocated, when some of the men cried out for air, at length he opened the hatches, not a little pleased that he held out the longest.

The night before he was of Blackbeard's men asked whether his wife knew where he had buried his money. He answered:

"Nobody but myself and the devil knows where it is, and the longest liver shall take all!"

happy September 19th


Anonymous said...

"Long liver," underground ... methinks we should be askin' the Queen of Underland if she's got the treasure (Silver Chair, ch. X).

Andrew Rilstone said...

If I had a penny for every time I'd read that passage, I'd have £0.12. And yet I've happily repeated the old saw "Oh, the idea of buried treasure was made up by Stevenson. Real pirates didn't bury gold any more than they made people walk the plank." (Granted, Johnson's Teach is a legendary figure, even if you believe that the lamed beggar who told stories about the old days really was Hands. But it still shows that "buried pirate treasure" was part of the folklore in the days when pirates were still a going concern, and not just a literary creation.)

Andrew Stevens said...

Edgar Allen Poe in "The Gold-Bug" anticipated Stevenson by 40 years (Poe anticipated everybody in modern genre fiction - pirates, science fiction, detective stories, horror, you name it). Poe based the story off of William Kidd who did bury some treasure on Gardiner Island before sailing into New York. Knowing he was a wanted man, Kidd hoped he could use his knowledge of where the treasure was as a bargaining chip. However, the treasure (which was only a small amount anyway) was recovered by the Governor and sent to England to be used as evidence against Kidd who was hanged. Nevertheless, a belief that Kidd had buried more treasure in other places flourished in those areas of Nova Scotia, New York, and Connecticut where Kidd might have buried it.

The true Kidd event occurred ca. 1698. The passage you're quoting was published in 1723 and was probably inspired by William Kidd as well.

So both are true. Pirates did not, in fact, generally bury their treasure, but the legend has within it a grain of truth.

Andrew Rilstone said...

Yes, I knew about Kidd. In fact, I should have typed "Real pirates, with the possible exception of Kidd, didn't bury their treasure."

Now, is there a good reference to plank-walking earlier than "Peter Pan"? Some people point to an incident in Ceasar or Heroditus or someone Latin where the pirates run down the gang plank and invite a captive to walk home, but that's not quite the same.

Andrew Stevens said...

Wikipedia (if you believe Wikipedia) seems to have found some real events:

"In 1769, mutineer George Wood confessed to his chaplain at Newgate Prison that he and his fellow mutineers had sent their officers to walk the plank. In 1822, William Smith, captain of the sloop Blessing, was forced to walk the plank by the pirate crew of the schooner Emanuel. The Times reported on February 14, 1829 that the packet Redpole, Bullock master was captured by the pirate schooner President and sunk. The commander was shot and the crew was made to walk the plank. And in 1829, pirates intercepted the Dutch brig Vhan Fredericka in the Leeward Passage between the Virgin Islands, and murdered most of the crew by making them walk the plank with cannonballs tied to their feet.

"It was said that forcing loyal seamen to walk the plank was supposed, by the perpetrators, to 'avoid the penalty for murder' (by not actually killing the victims), but this would hardly have worked. Not only would most lawmen have not hesitated to prosecute any person who forced another to his death, but piracy and mutiny were also capital crimes.

"Although walking the plank plays a large role in contemporary pirate lore, in reality walking the plank was a very rare phenomenon. Most pirates, mutineers, etc., would not bother with such an elaborate (and prone to mishap) means of doing away with their captives."

Reading their citations (and other online non-cited sources), it appears most scholars don't set much store by the 1769 incident and it didn't have anything to do with pirates.

On the 1822 incident, we have this report: "a long black schooner, the name of Emanuel marked on her stern...on the following day, not producing any money, a plank was run out on the starboard side of the schooner, upon which he made Captain Smith walk, and that, as he approached to the end, they tilted the plank, when he dropped into the sea, and there, when in the effort of swimming, the [pirate’s] captain called for his musket, and fired at him therewith, when he sank, and was seen no more."

The old traditional "heave-ho" (i.e. the simple expedient of picking them up and throwing them overboard) was certainly the most common method of drowning one's enemies. "Walking the plank," while certainly not made up by J.M. Barrie, was surely selected for dramatic reasons. But well before Barrie, "walking the plank" was printed in 1788 in Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue which says:

"WALKING THE PLANK. A mode of deftroying devoted perfons or officers in a mutiny on fhip-board, by blindfolding them, and obliging them to walk on a plank laid over the fhip's fide; by this means, as the mutineers fuppofe, avoiding the penalty of murder."

No mention of pirates, it's particularly mutineers that are mentioned. How often it actually happened or why is probably not known, but it's certainly not simply an invention of Barrie since we have unquestioned published accounts well before Barrie.