Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Bonny and Read were pretty lookin' people, but I can tell you people, they were the devil's children

By fortuitous coincidence, today is not only International Women's Day, but also the (purported) 320th anniversary of the birth of one of history's most feared pirates - who was even more notorious due the fact she was of the so-called "fairer sex" - Anne Bonny. Between her and her pirate chum Mary Read, that testosterone-fuelled world of contraband, looting and buccaneering must have been quaking in its boots!

From The Way of the Pirates here is Anne's story:
It is hard to separate the legend from the facts of Anne Bonny.

...There are a lot of stories about her teen years; some of them even claim that she murdered a servant girl with a knife, and there is one about a young man that she put in the hospital for several weeks, after his failed attempt to sexually assault her.

When she was sixteen years old, she fell in love with a small-time pirate James Bonny, who just wanted her estate. Her father was against their relationship, but she was stubborn and married him... so he turned her out of his home.

James took his wife to the pirates' hideout of New Providence. He had a hard time supporting her, and in the end he became a pirate informer for the governor, Woodes Rogers. Anne was disappointed because she had made many pirate friends. With the help of her good friend, Pierre, a celebrated homosexual who ran a famous "ladies' establishment", Anne left her husband. She ran away with Calico Jack Rackham, romantic Pirate Captain, who even offered to buy her from Anne's husband.

...[When she fell pregnant by him] he left her in Cuba to deliver the baby. There are several theories about what happened to Anne's first child. Some people think that she just abandoned her, some believe that Calico had a friend with a family in Cuba who agreed to raise their child. Some even believe that her child died at birth.

After few months, she returned to Rackham's ship, but now the infamous Mary Read was also on board...
...and here's Mary's:
Mary Read was born in Devon in the late 17th century ...Her father had died before she was born and her half-brother Mark passed away soon afterwards. Mary's paternal grandmother supported Mary and her mother, only because she thought that her grandson Mark was still alive. To keep the death of Mary's brother as secret from his grandmother Mary was raised as a boy, pretending to be her older brother.

When Mary Read was about thirteen years old, her grandmother died. Mary still dressed as a boy and with boyish habits, had to find a job. She became a footboy to a wealthy French woman, who lived in London. Unsatisfied with her current position, she escaped and boarded a Man-o-War. Few years passed, and she became bored again. This time she joined the Army, where she met her future husband. After confessing love and true gender to him, they left the army, married and opened an Inn called Three Horseshoes near Castle Breda.

Mary Read was always surrounded by death. After just a few months of marriage, her husband got sick and died. Desperate, she just wanted to escape from everything and ...boarded a Dutch ship that sailed to the Caribbean. Almost at the reach of its destination, Mary's ship was attacked and captured by Calico Jack, who took all the English captured sailors as part of his crew. Unwillingly she became a pirate. However, soon after, she started to like a pirate way of life. When she had a chance to leave Rackham's ship, Mary decided to stay.

On Rackham's ship, she met Anne Bonny. Being the only women on the ship and sharing a lot in common, they quickly became good friends. Some people believe that Mary Read was in a romantic relationship with Anne Bonny, Rackham or even one of the crewmembers.

However Mary's pirate career ended in October 1720... Captain Barnet, ex-pirate, now commander in the British Navy attacked Rackham's anchored ship "Revenge". Almost the entire crew was drunk. They were celebrating all night because they managed to capture a Spanish commercial ship. The fight was short because only Mary and Anne resisted. However, in the end, they were also overpowered.

The crew of "Revenge" was taken to Port Royal to stand trial. The trial was a big sensation because the background of the female prisoners was reviled. Anne and Mary were women who escaped from traditional restrictions and in their way, fought for equality between men and women.

Everybody was found guilty for the crime of piracy. The sentence was death by hanging. However, Anne and Mary were spared, because they claimed to be pregnant.

Mary died in a Jamaican prison from fever, but the fate of Anne Bonny is unknown.
Cross-dressing. Swashbuckling. A celebrated homosexual brothel-keeper. A romantic Pirate Captain. Hints of lesbianism...

These two women have been a constant source of fascination for me over the years. Arr!


  1. Fascinating post, Jon! I did a play years ago here in NYC a(t the Rattlestick theater) called A Pirate's Lulluby by Jessica Litvak. It's a wonderful little piece about Bonny and Read (purporting a love affair between them). The script may be available in the UK -- worth a read if you can get a hold of it. Cheers! xoNeely

    1. I am surprised there hasn't been more dramatisation of their story - although (at least parts of) their legendary exploits must obviously been in the minds of the creators of "Pirates of the Caribbean"... Jx


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