You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16

Monday, July 1, 2013

Female Pirates Anne Bonny and Mary Read

Susan F. Craft

Anne Bonny and Mary Read as depicted on a Jamaican stamp
While researching for my work in progress, Cassia, a post-Revolutionary War romantic suspense that takes place in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, I wanted to learn all I could about pirates. I ran across some fascinating (at least to me) information about two female pirates - Anne Bonny and Mary Read.
Anne Bonny, born in the late 1660s in County Cork, Ireland, was the illegitimate daughter of William Cormac, a lawyer, and his housemaid. The family immigrated to a plantation in Charleston, SC, where she grew up and eventually eloped with James Bonny, who took her to a pirates’ lair in the Bahamas. She left Bonny in 1718 to become the mistress of Captain John “Calico Jack” Rackham.

Captain John "Calico Jack" Rackham
She claimed that Bonny had turned informant in order to receive the king’s pardon offered by Bahamian Governor Woodes Rogers. She sailed with the captain on his sloop Vanity and, dressed as a man, soon became an infamous pirate. She had a child by Rackham and retired from piracy long enough to deliver the baby. She left her infant son with friends in Cuba and returned to piracy.
Mary Read, born about 1690 in Plymouth, England, was the illegitimate daughter of a woman whose seaman husband left on a long voyage and was never heard from again. When their money ran out, Mary’s mother took her to London to ask her mother-in-law for help. The woman didn’t like girls, so Mary’s mother dressed Mary as a boy and made her pretend to be her son. Mary masqueraded as a boy for many years, even after the woman died. After working as a footboy to a French woman, she enlisted as a male in a foot regiment in Flanders and later in a horse regiment, serving with distinction. Giving up her double life, she fell in love with and married a fellow soldier, and they became innkeepers of the Three Horseshoes in Holland. Her husband died young, and when Mary’s finances dwindled, she reverted back to men’s clothing and went to sea on a Dutch merchant ship. English pirates commandeered the ship that eventually was overtaken by Captain Rackham.

Anne Bonny as depicted from a
Dutch version of Charles Johnson's
A General History of the Pyrates
(the authorship of this book is a
mystery in itself).
Anne and Mary discovered each other’s cross-dressing secret and became close friends. Mary fought in a duel to protect her fiancĂ©, killing her opponent. The women became known as ruthless and bloodthirsty “fierce hell cats,” with violent tempers.
In late October 1720, Rackham's ship was attacked by a British Navy sloop. The drunken male pirates quickly hid below deck, leaving Anne and Mary to defend their ship, but they were soon overwhelmed, and the entire crew was captured and taken to Jamaica for trial.

In the 17th and 18th centuries many pirates
sailed under a plain black flag, conveying
that they were outlaws not bound by any
rules of engagement.
Calico Jack and the male members of his crew were tried on November 16, 1720, and sentenced to hang. Anne and Mary were tried one week after Rackham’s death and were also found guilty. But at their sentencing, when asked by the judge if they had anything to say, they replied, “Mi’lord, we plead our bellies.” Both were pregnant. British law forbade killing an unborn child, so their sentences were temporarily stayed.
Some say Mary died of a fever in prison before the birth of her child. Other reports say she escaped. There is no record of Anne’s execution. Some reports say her wealthy father bought her release after the birth of her child, and she settled down to a quiet family life on a small Caribbean island. Others believe she lived out her life in the south of England as a tavern owner who entertained the locals with tales of her exploits. If the latter, what tales those must have been!!!

If you liked this post, you might like  South Carolina Backcountry Women of the Revolution.       

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Today I'm linking up with Gail at Bible Love Notes.



  1. Wow! What a tale. Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, isn't it? Never heard of a female I learned something. Thanks for linking to Bible Love Notes TGIF. Bless you.

    1. Gail, they were notorious women not at all like the dainty women we're used to hearing about in that era. I'm from South Carolina, so it was interesting to me that Anne Bonny lived in Charleston. I discovered them while doing research of pirates for my work in progress, a novel that takes place in the Outer Banks of NC. It's the third in a trilogy that began with The Chamomile, published in 2011. I love your blog and plan to check out your tips on blogging.

  2. Aye! These were riotous women unafraid of adventure unknown to women at the time. I've got books on these pirates! Love this!

    1. Katherine, thanks for stopping by. I'm researching for a novel I'm writing about pirates in the Outer Banks. Can you give me the name of some of the books that might help me?