envy women pirates, women who threw caution to the wind to brave the high
seas, living with and besting the most nefarious of men. The most notorious
of these infamous women were Anne Bonney and Mary Read. Most of their
story is steeped in lore and legend up until their uncertain end.
Anne Bonney was born in County Cork, Ireland, some time around the end
of the 1600's to the well-to-do attorney William Cormac and his maid.
Disgraced by the pregnancy, the two fled to the Carolinas to begin a new
life free from knowing glances and whispers. Her father was fortunate
enough in his endeavors to amass a large fortune, enabling him to purchase
a large plantation. Anne was a headstrong girl from the get-go with a
fierce sense of determination as well as a violent temper. She met up
with a 'pirate' of sorts, named James Bonney, and the two eloped. In truth,
James Bonney was a failing pirate and Anne grew bored and restless with
the life he had made for them. They moved to the Bahamas where James Bonney's
spineless nature came into the forefront. When Bahamian Governor Woodes
Rogers offered a King's pardon to any pirate willing to turn traitor,
James Bonney took him up on his offer, turning in many fellow pirates,
and Anne had had enough.
Anne caught the eye of an up and coming pirate by the name of Captain Jack Rackham and before long the two had become an inseparable pair. Anne, often dressed as a male, began sailing with him aboard his sloop, Vanity. Vanity bore the famous skull and crossed daggers flag, and the two pirates aboard the sloop wreaked havoc throughout Cuba and Hispaniola. According to speculation, Anne became pregnant during their reign on the high seas and settled in Cuba, only long enough to give birth to her child and leave the baby behind with friends. Anne was not one to settle and a baby was sure to tie the adventurous woman down. The child is said to have died, however, of complications from a premature birth.
Mary Read, who would soon join Jack Rackham's gang, was born in Plymouth, England, probably around 1690. When Mary was a young child, her stepfather, a sea- faring man, left her and her pregnant mother. Her sibling died as an infant and Mary and her mother waited for many years for the return of her stepfather, but he never came. In desperation, Mary's mother took her to London to plead with her in-laws for help. Knowing her mother-in-law's dislike for girls, Mary's mother dressed her as a boy and introduced her as her son. Mary posed as a boy for many years in order to receive aid from the old woman, continuing to do so even after her grandmother-in-law had died.
Having lived most of her growing life disguised as a boy, Mary became
quite adventurous herself, eventually working aboard a man-of-war. She
remained in this job for a short time until moving on and taking one masculine
job after another, remaining secretly female. After meeting a man and
falling in love, she began to dress in feminine costume for the first
time in many years. She married and settled down for a short while, keeping
an inn with her husband. Her husband sadly died young, causing their small
fortune to soon run out. Realizing that life at that time was much simpler
for a man, she reverted back to her old ways and began dressing as a man
Mary found work on a Dutch ship, which was eventually taken over by none other than Captain Jack Rackham (by then known as "Calico Jack"). The life of a pirate appealed to her adventurous nature and she turned pirate at this time. Interestingly, she was still disguised as a man and no one was the wiser, until a certain Anne Bonney began making advances at Mary. Her cross-dressing was revealed and the two became great friends. How close these two were remains highly speculative. It is rumored the two were lovers and at times shared their relationship with "Calico Jack". This has never been proven and is one of the great mysteries of their story.
The duo of Anne and Mary were known for their fierce and violent tempers,
often called "the fierce hell-cats". No one onboard ship was
as bloodthirsty as these two women. During a siege, when a British Navy
ship tried to take over control of the Vanity, the drunken and lazy crew
hid below decks while Anne and Mary fought violently, yelling to the crew,
"Come up, you cowards, and fight like men!" The women proved
no match for the British army and were overtaken. The members of Calico
Jack's crew were sentenced to hang. Anne visited Captain Jack Rackham
in his cell and said to him, "Had you fought like a man, you need
not have been hang'd like a dog."
After Calico Jack's hanging, Mary and Anne had their trial. The verdict
of their trial read:
They were found guilty but had one last trick hidden high up their masculine sleeves. Both women plead with the court saying, "Mi'Lord we plead our bellies." The women were both pregnant at the time and according to British law could not be hanged. Thus their sentences were stayed.
There are many rumors surrounding the fate of Anne and Mary. It is said
that Mary was sentenced to hang after the birth of her child, but died
of a fever before the hanging. Anne was granted a reprieve but it is unknown
what happened to her after. Possibly she returned to piracy or perhaps
returned to her husband, although after living the life of a pirate I
can hardly see her becoming a domestic. The most popular theory is that
her father forgave her and bailed her out of prison, taking her back to
the plantation with him. It seems we will never know what really happened
to the mysterious Anne Bonney.
Anne Bonney's Genealogy Coming Soon
Biography and musings by Lisa Munoz