In most stories about pirates, the women appear as the characters that need to be rescued from the men. But did you know some women became pirates, too? One of the most famous female pirates was Anne Bonny.
Anne was born around 1697 in Ireland. She was the illegitimate daughter of a lawyer and his servant. Once his wife discovered the affair, Anne’s father moved to Charleston, South Carolina to start over with his new family. Unfortunately, Anne’s mother died soon after the move, and Anne grew up headstrong because her father didn’t have the heart to discipline her. One rumor claimed that Anne stabbed the family’s cook over an argument about dinner. Another said she beat a man who tried to harm her.
Anne disappointed her father when she decided to marry a poor sailor. The couple moved to New Providence, but Anne soon became bored with the marriage. She started spending time at local taverns and making friends with the pirates who stopped there. Eventually she met pirate Jack Rackham, known as Calico Jack for the calico-cotton pants he wore. Jack offered to pay Anne’s husband in exchange for her hand in marriage, but he refused. Dressed in men’s clothes, Anne arranged to meet Jack and some of his men at the waterfront. Anne’s career as a pirate was about to start.
Jack, Anne, and the rest of Jack’s crew focused on capturing merchant ships and fishing boats around Jamaica. Though she dressed as a man and used the name Tom Bonny, the crew must have known that Anne was Jack’s common-law wife. That did not mean that she acted like a lady, however. During the crew’s capture of one ship, Anne climbed aboard the other vessel and threatened the men in the ship’s cabin that if they “make a noise, she would blow out their Brains” with her pistol.
At some point, another female pirate joined Jack’s crew, though historians can’t agree on when and how this occurred. We know that Anne and the new pirate, Mary Read, became friends. Because Mary was wearing men’s clothing, Jack was afraid that his wife had fallen in love with her, so she revealed her true identity to him. Jack allowed both women to stay on the ship—a dangerous choice in the 1700s since Jack faced death if disguised female pirates were discovered on his ship. Both women proved to be valuable assets as they fought alongside the men. Anne Bonny was known for her leadership and Mary Read for her navigational skills.
Anne and Mary were clearly the most competent pirates on the ship when it came under attack. Jack and his crew had recently robbed a schooner. Unfortunately, the man they robbed gave a good description of the crew to the authorities. The authorities discovered Jack’s ship in a sheltered cove while the men, believing they were safely hidden, partied and drank below deck. The only two “men” on deck were actually Anne and Mary. They screamed for the crew to come out and help them fight, but they were too drunk. Though the women stood their ground by firing pistols and brandishing their swords, Jack’s entire crew was captured.
The pirates were put on trial and sentenced to death, with two exceptions. Anne and Mary “pled their bellies,” which meant that they were pregnant, so the judges set them free.