While watching “True Caribbean Pirates” on the History Channel, I was immediately excited to find out that there had been two female pirates in the 1700’s!!!! I am extremely fond of the quote by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, “Well behaved women seldom make history.” Anne Bonny and Mary Read give a whole new meaning to that quote!
From a very young age, Anne Bonny had a tempestuous nature. She gave her well-to-do parents no shortage of trouble and wound up marrying a small-time pirate by the name of James Bonny. Her father disowned her soon after. While living in the Bahamas with her husband, Anne soon began carousing with the pirates at the local taverns. It was at that time that she met John “Calico Jack” Rackham. She proceeded to have an affair with him.
James Bonny was furious about the affair and dragged Anne before the Governor, demanding that she be flogged for adultery. To save her from this, Calico Jack offered to buy her in a divorce-by-purchase sort of situation, but she refused to be “bought and sold like cattle.” She managed to escape with Calico Jack and the two lived together as pirates on the sea.
Mary Read is the only other woman besides Anne Bonny recorded in history as being a female pirate. When she was a child, Mary’s mother disguised her as a boy to keep receiving an inhertance from their family. This ruse worked until she was in her teens. She found work as a footboy, and then later found employment on a ship. I believe it just became a way of life for her to masquerade as a boy… she really didn’t know much else. She joined the British military, quickly proving her worth in battle. She soon fell in love with a Flemish soldier. When they married, she dressed as a woman for the first time in her life. Upon her husband’s early death, she then resumed dressing as a male and began military service in Holland. She quickly realized there was no room for advancement, so boarded a ship for the West Indies.
And now, we come to how Anne Bonny and Mary Read met. Read’s ship was overtaken by pirates and she was forced to join them. She obtained a pardon from the King and took a commission as a privateer, until that ended with her joining the crew in mutiny. She joined Calico Jack and Anne in 1720.
Read remained dressed as a man at first. No one realized she was a woman until Bonny began taking a liking to her, thinking she was a handsome young man. It forced Mary to reveal to Anne that she was a woman. Calico Jack had become jealous of Mary and had threatened to cut her throat. To prevent her death, Jack was also let in on the secret. Eventually, Read and Bonny would wear male clothing while attacking merchant ships in Jamaica, but wear female clothing at other times. There are rumors that Anne and Mary were lovers, but nothing is proven one way or the other.
Anne and Mary were captured when Calico Jack’s ship was taken by surprise during a party. Rackham’s crew and guests fled to the hold for safety, leaving the two women fighting on their own. It is said that Read was so angry at this cowardice that she fired her gun into the hold, killing one and wounding others. I can’t say that I blame her at that point, I think it’s pretty cowardly too!
The ship was finally overtaken and when tried for their crimes, Mary and Anne both “pleaded for the bellies,” claiming to be pregnant. It is said that Mary and her child died in childbirth, but there is no record as to what became of Anne. Some think her father came forward and paid for her release, some think she escaped and lived somewhere in obscurity in Colonial America until her death at an old age. One will never know for sure, but it’s kind of fun to wonder…….
I always enjoy researching and writing about strong, independent women throughout history who were ahead of their own time. They usually encountered quite a bit of resistance in one way or the other, but managed to just keep pushing on. I admit, Anne and Mary were not exemplary figures… they were criminals…. but I do admire their strength and courage and the fact that they are a rarity.
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