~~April 5, 2014~~
The History and Legends of Anne Bonney and Mary Read
Anne Bonney and Mary Read are the most famous — and ferocious — women pirates in history, and they are the only ones known to have plied their trade in the Western Hemisphere.
Anne Bonney, born in County Cork, Ireland, was the illegitimate daughter of lawyer William Cormac and his housemaid. They immigrated to America after Anne’s birth in the late 1600s and settled on a plantation near Charleston, South Carolina. A headstrong young woman “with a fierce and courageous temper,” she eloped with a young ne’er-do-well, James Bonney, against her father’s wishes. James took her to a pirates’ lair in New Providence in the Bahamas, but in 1718, when Bahamian Governor Woodes Rogers offered the King’s pardon to any pirate, James turned informant.
Anne was disgusted with his cowardice and soon after, she met and fell in love with the swaggering pirate Captain Jack Rackham. Disguising herself as a male, she began sailing with him on his sloop Vanity, with its famous skull-and-crossed-daggers flag, preying on Spanish treasure ships off Cuba and Hispaniola. It is reported that she became pregnant by Jack and retired from piracy only long enough to have her baby and leave it with friends in Cuba before rejoining him and her adventurous life on the high seas.
Mary Read was born at Plymouth, England, about 1690. Her mother’s husband was a sea-faring man who left on a long voyage and was never heard from again. He’d left his wife pregnant and she gave birth to a sickly male child who died soon after the illegitimate birth of his half-sister, Mary. The mother waited years for her husband to return and when her money ran out, she took Mary to London to appeal to her mother-in-law for financial help. She knew this old woman disliked girls, so she dressed Mary in boy’s clothes and made her pretend to be her son. The mother-in-law was fooled and promised a crown a week to help support them. Mary continued to masquerade as a boy for many years, even after the old woman died and the financial aid ended.
~~Ten Facts About Anne Bonny and Mary Read~~
During the Golden Age of Piracy (1700-1725), legendary pirates like Blackbeard, Bartholomew Roberts and Charles Vane commanded mighty ships, terrorizing any merchant unfortunate enough to cross their path. Yet two of the most famous pirates from this age served on a third-rate pirate ship under a second-rate captain, and they never held an important position on board such as quartermaster or boatswain. They were Anne Bonny and Mary Read: bold women who left behind the stereotypical domestic chores of women at the time in favor of a life of adventure on the high seas! Here, we separate fact from myth in regards to two of history’s greatest swashbucklerettes.
They were both Raised as Boys
Mary Read was born into complicated circumstances. Her mother married a sailor and they had a son. The sailor was lost at sea about the time Mary’s mother found herself pregnant by another man. The son, Mary’s half-brother, died when Mary was very little. The sailor’s family did not know about Mary, so her mother dressed her as a boy and passed her off as her dead half-brother in order to get financial support from her mother-in-law. Apparently, the scheme worked, at least for a while. Anne Bonny was born out of wedlock to a lawyer and his maid. He grew fond of the girl and wished to bring her into his home, but everyone in town knew he had an illegitimate daughter. Therefore, he dressed her as a boy and passed her off as the son of some distant relations.
They were Tough and knew how to Defend Themselves
Bonny and Read may have been in a somewhat precarious situation – two women on board a pirate ship – but pity the fool who tried to take advantage of them. Before turning pirate, Read, dressed as a man, served as a soldier in an infantry regiment and as a pirate was not afraid of accepting (and winning) duels with other pirates. Bonny was described as “robust” and once badly beat a would-be rapist: “…once, when a young Fellow would have lain with her, against her Will, she beat him so, that he lay ill of it a considerable Time.” (Johnson, 164).
They Weren’t the only Women Pirates
Although they’re arguably the most famous real-life female pirates, Anne Bonny and Mary Read are far from being the only women ever to take up piracy. The most notorious is Ching Shih (1775-1844), a one-time Chinese prostitute who became a pirate. At the height of her power, she commanded 1,800 ships and 80,000 pirates! Her rule of the seas off of China was nearly absolute. Grace O’Malley (1530?-1603) was a semi-legendary Irish chieftain and pirate.They were good at being pirates.
They were good at being Pirates
If Bonny and Read are any indication, the pirate captains of the golden age were missing out by sticking to all-male crews. The two were every bit as good at fighting, manning the ship, drinking and cursing as any other member of the crew, and maybe better. One captive said of them that they “were both very profligate, cursing and swearing much, and very ready and willing to do any Thing on board.”
They both chose Piracy as a Career
Like most of the pirates of the era, Bonny and Read made the conscious decision to become pirates. Bonny, who was married and living in the Caribbean, decided to run off with Calico Jack Rackham and join his pirate crew. Read was captured by pirates and served with them for a while before accepting a pardon. She then joined an anti-pirate privateering expedition: the would-be pirate hunters, most of whom were former pirates themselves, soon mutinied and returned to their old ways. Read was one of those who actively convinced the others to take up piracy again.
They had a Complicated Relationship with one another
According to Captain Charles Johnson, a contemporary of Read and Bonny, the two met while both were serving on Calico Jack’s pirate ship. Both were disguised as men. Bonny became attracted to Read and revealed that she was really a woman: Read then also revealed herself to be a woman, much to Bonny’s disappointment. Calico Jack, Bonny’s lover, was allegedly very jealous of Bonny’s attraction to Read until he learned the truth, at which point he helped both of them cover up their real gender.
They didn’t Fool Anyone
Rackham may have been in on the ruse, but it apparently wasn’t much of a secret. At the trials of Rackham and his pirates, several witnesses came forth to testify against them. One such witness was Dorothy Thomas, who had been captured by Rackham’s crew and held prisoner for a time. According to Thomas, Bonny and Read dressed as men, fought with pistols and machetes like any other pirate and were twice as ruthless: they wanted to murder Thomas to prevent her from eventually testifying against them (which so happened, as it turned out). Nevertheless, Thomas knew them at once to be women “by the largeness of their breasts.” Other captives said that although they dressed like men for battle, they dressed like women the rest of the time.
They didn’t go out Without a Fight
Rackham and his crew had been active in piracy on and off since 1718. In October of 1720, Rackham was discovered by pirate hunters led by Captain Jonathan Barnet. Barnet cornered them off the coast of Jamaica and in an exchange of cannon fire, Rackham’s ship was disabled. While Rackham and the other pirates cowered below decks, Read and Bonny remained on the decks, fighting. They verbally berated the men for their spinelessness and Mary Read even fired a shot in to the hold, killing one of the cowards. Later, in one of the most famous pirate quotes of all time, Bonny told Rackham in prison: “I’m sorry to see you here, but if you had fought like a man you need not have hanged like a dog.”
They escaped Hanging because of their “Condition”
Rackham and his pirates were swiftly tried and found guilty: most of them were hanged on November 18, 1720. Bonny and Read were sentenced to hang, but both of them declared they were pregnant. A judge ordered their claim checked out and it was found to be true, a fact which automatically commuted their death sentence. Read died in prison shortly thereafter, but Bonny survived. No one knows for sure what became of her and her child: some say she reconciled with her rich father, some say she remarried and lived in Port Royal or Nassau.
~Their Tale has Proved Very Inspirational~
The story of Anne Bonny and Mary Read has captivated people ever since their arrest. Captain Charles Johnson made a big deal of them in his book, which certainly helped his sales. Later on, the notion of female pirates as romantic figures gained traction. In 1728 (less than ten years after Bonny and Read’s arrest), noted playwright John Gay wrote the Opera Polly, a sequel to his acclaimed Beggar’s Opera. In the opera, young Polly Peachum comes to the New World and takes up piracy as she searches for her husband. Ever since, female pirates have been part of romantic pirate lore. Even modern fictional she-pirates like Angelica, played by Penelope Cruz in Pirates of the Caribbean: on Stranger Tides (2011) owe their existence to Read and Bonny. In fact, it’s safe to say that Bonny and Read have had a far greater impact on popular culture than they ever had on eighteenth century shipping and commerce.
We ALL are connected through HISTORY!!
~Pirates on the seven seas, Ann Bonny, Mary Read, filibusters of the Indies~
~~Published on Oct 29, 2012~~
The Irish Mary Read dressed as a boy sails as a seaman to the new colonies in the Caribbean and then joins the crew of the pirate Calico Jack. She makes the acquaintance of English Ann Bonny, also disguised. Intrepid adventurers, they scour the Caribbean until the last fight where, despite the courage of these two women, the drunken crew surrender.
We ALL are ONE!!