Mary Read and Anne Bonny -
Pirate Women of the Caribbean
by Cherie Pugh
Cherie Pugh discovered the true story of the Nassau pirates when sailing through the Caribbean on a traditional wooden ship. She found the court records of their trial in London, and spent years researching and writing
“Mary Read – Sailor, Soldier, Pirate”.
This ultimate pirate yarn is now available as an ebook or paperback from www.womanpirate.com
On a steamy Jamaican afternoon in 1721, the crowd in the courthouse of Saint Jago de la Vega cheered as the Judge convicted the infamous pirate Captain Jack Rackam and his crew for piracy. When he demanded why Sentence of Death should not be passed upon them, two of the pirates stepped forward. “My Lord, we plead our bellies!” the redhead declared. There was an uproar. Both pirates were women, and they swore they were pregnant.
Days later, Anne Bonny and Mary Read watched their mates marched off for execution. And when Jack Rackam begged for one last, kind word from Anne, she declared that if he’d fought like a man, he’d not have to die like a dog.
When the pirate women were called to trial again, witnesses swore they had brandished weapons, cursed terribly, and had been ready to do anything aboard ship. They were condemned to hang immediately following childbirth.
[For more information on the pirate life, see my other article
“The Real Pirates of the Caribbean”]
When captured, Anne Bonny was eighteen, an attractive redhead, and a hellcat by reputation. At sixteen, she had sailed into the infamous pirate port of Nassau, dressed as a boy, and newly married to a deserter from the English Navy. Anne soon left him to befriend the more successful pirate captains.
Yet within a year, Anne was dressed as a boy again, and out on the account with the infamous pirate Captain Charles Vane. Perhaps this was because handsome Jack Rackam was the crew’s quartermaster. Perhaps it was because the Nassau pirates had deserted Vane for the King's Pardon, most returning home to their families.
[For more information on Nassau, see my other article
“Nassau – Pirate Haven in the Caribbean]
But not Charles Vane's Company, and not Anne Bonny. Soon after sailing, Vane ignored the pirate code, promoting one of his favourites instead of calling for a vote. Rackam denounced his old comrade, and the Company voted him their Captain. After a highly successful cruise, the crew indulged in a wild pirate revel, during which Anne Bonny let Rackam into her secret. He then returned to Nassau with his loyal followers, half the loot and a French brigantine, to take the Pardon. Anne Bonny soon declared herself pregnant to him, her time as a pirate still a secret to all but Jack and Mary.
Mary Read had arrived in Nassau the year before, when she was twenty-six. Her mother had dressed her in boy's clothes since the age of three, when a sickly boy from a previous marriage died, so that they could defraud his grandmother.
At fourteen, Mary ran away to sea as a cabin boy. At sixteen, she joined the Army to fight the French in Flanders as a foot soldier. She ended the war as a cavalryman, when she was wounded in an ambush, and her secret was discovered by her Dutch Corporal. He asked her to marry him, and they ran a tavern together in Holland.
When her husband died of fever, Mary sailed away on a Dutch merchantman, and when her ship was taken by pirates, she joined them. Then she took the Pardon, and stayed on in Nassau under the Governor, still masquerading as a man.
Governor Rogers was an ambitious Puritan, with little time for women, and none for the pardoned Brethren. When he heard that Jack Rackam intended to pay off Anne Bonny’s first husband, so that they could marry, Rogers denounced Anne as a whore, threatened her with whipping, and declared that Jack would wield the lash.
Within days, Rackam’s crew was back on the account, Mary Read with them, still masquerading as a man. Anne left her baby with Jack’s family on Cuba, and stayed at sea, living openly as a woman pirate.
Yet continued piracy had made merchant traders scarce, and now that hanging was the sentence for all, sailors were reluctant to join them. Needing the numbers, the desperate rovers began forcing sailors aboard against their will, sure they would sign the articles when the company's luck turned.
[For more information on the British Government's slaughter of these pirates,
see my other article “The End of the Pirates of the Caribbean”]
When they forced Tom Deane to join them, Mary fell in love and disclosed her real identity. And the pirate Fleet split, possibly because they did not believe that Rackam had been ignorant of Mary’s deception, possibly because Anne was pregnant again. Rackam was then left with two sloops and barely enough hands to crew them.
And then the Navy attacked. Rackam ordered everyone below, hoping to bluff his way out, but soon surrendered. Yet when the Navy prepared to board, the two women refused to cede, Mary firing a swivel gun full of shot at the boarding party, while Anne and one other pirate met them with pistols blazing. Then they fought hand-to-hand, Anne even firing a shot at the cowards in the hold.
It was this fierce resistance that saw their fate sealed. They could not claim to be mere passengers, or to have been forced aboard against their wills. It was when awaiting trial, that Mary Read discovered she was also pregnant. Before she could give birth, she died of fever in Spanish Town jail. She and her child are buried in the cemetery there.
However, there is no record of either burial or hanging for Anne Bonny. Legend has it that her rich father helped her escape, and that she settled down with both her children to run a tavern in Cornwall, and boast of her wild days with the Brethren of the Sea.
The ultimate pirate yarn is now available as an ebook or paperback from www.womanpirate.com