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THE LADIES

Anne Bonny, image modified from background of 'Domain of Anne Bonny' (1697/8 - 1720?)
was born Anne Cormac in County Cork, Ireland, the daughter of a servant woman, Mary Brennan, and her employer, lawyer William Cormacwhose cunning wife soon discovered the affair. Fleeing the scandal, William Cormac, Mary Brennan, and young Anne sailed across the Atlantic, to settle in Charleston, S.C.
Apparently bored with life on her father's plantation, Anne was drawn to a life of adventure. Pirates frequented Charleston, and before Anne was out of her teens she had married James Bonny, a renegade seaman and sometimes pirate. Apparently, James planned to steal William Cormac's land through the marriage, and Anne's father disowned her. Legend has it that in retaliation, Anne burned the plantation.

The couple fled to the pirate haven of New Providence, in what is now Nassau. James proved a coward and a traitor, becoming a paid snitch for the governor. Anne distanced herself from him, preferring the company of the island's notorious pirates and the women and gay men who loved them.

Calico Jack Rackham: big nose, big chin, big ears, big sword...but
 a pathetic weenie (read on)...! Pirate Image Archive
Jack's flag Calico Jack Rackham
and the flag heand Anne, and Mary Readraided under
She soon became romantically involved with the dashing pirate "Calico Jack" Rackham (nicknamed for his loud striped pants), who had just commandeered a ship full of liquor from his former boss, pirate captain Charles Vane. When James Bonny objected to the affair, he abducted Anne, brought her naked before the governor and charged her with the felony of deserting himAnne was considered to be stolen property. Calico Jack suggested instead putting Anne up for sale to the highest bidder, a 'kinder' legal practice for divorce at the time. Despite Jack's rather less-than-romantic proposal, as well as a court order James got forbidding Jack and Anne to see each other, Anne ran away with Calico Jack, joining his ship's crew, apparently disguised as a man.

Anne proved a daringand deadlyfighter, using a sword and pistols. There are many tales of her violent temper, beginning with her alleged stabbing murder of an English serving-maid while Anne was a teen on her father's plantation (I've read that slavery was not fully institutionalized at that time, btw). Supposedly, while on shore in New Providence she became such an expert fencer and troublemaker that she publicly stripped her fencing instructor with her sword, and that she severely beat a man with a chair for making a pass at her. While much of these stories is probably pure b.s., it's no more so than the exaggerated tales of male pirates and outlaws.

However, it is her exploits at sea that gained Anne the most notoriety. She not only raided with Calico Jack, but also Jack's lieutenant, with whom she developed a mutual attraction. 'He' turned out to be none other than Mary Read. The two women revealed their gender to each other, and may have had a lesbian romance. Eventually, both were known as bloodthirsty, daring female pirates, swinging their blades and boarding ships, fighting with even more courage than the menas they proved in their final battle.

In 1720, a former pirate turned pirate-hunter, Captain Barnet, attacked Calico Jack's ship. Rackham and almost all the pirates were drunk, and the cannonfire was so thick the men hid belowdecks. Anne Bonny and Mary Read stood their ground, fighting furiously. Outraged by the men's cowardice, Anne is said to have shouted, "If there's a man among ye, ye'll come out and fight like the men ye are [thought?] to be." When this got no response, Anne and Mary shot the male pirates, killing one and wounding severalincluding Jack Rackham. But despite Anne and Mary's ferocity, the pirates were captured.

All were hangedexcept for Anne and Mary, who "plead their bellies," claiming to be pregnant because while the ever-'chivalrous' laws of the time gave women no rights whatsoever, it was illegal to execute a pregnant woman (...so 'pro-life,' isn't it?). After the trial, Anne Bonny disappears from the historical record; she may have been hanged a year later, but apparently, she was granted a reprieve. Patriarchal theories abound: some say she reconciled and returned to her father, others her husband, and there's even the ridiculous myth that she became a nun. However, regardless of her fate, I would guess that after such a life of adventure, she could never stand a traditional woman's constrained life, or even obey the law. The fact that we hear nothing more about Anne may speak volumes; there may be nothing to tell, or there may have been something to cover up....

Sources and Links

Discovery Channel Online:
"Wild Women and Salty Dogs"

Article about Anne Bonny and Mary Read. I first heard of them through a Discovery Channel special.
Domain of Anne Bonny
From a Geocitizen who apparently shares Anne Bonny's name
Queer History and Literature
Rictor Norton's article about Anne Bonny and Mary Read as lesbians / bisexuals. Much information here about them, and the lives of other "gay buccaneers."
New Pyrates Providence
There's nothing about Anne individually here yet (though apparently there will be), but this is an excellent, well-designed site for information on pirate ships, weapons, etc.
Another Anne Bonny site
Um, if you like glowing-eyed skulls and dripping blood...
Anne Bonny
brief bio at Information Trade
Pirate Flags
at Pirate's Hold, by fellow Geocitizen tpaine2
Pirate Image Archive
Source of many images on this page

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Mary Read (16?? - 1720)
spent most of her life disguised as a man. In fact, her mother raised Mary as a boy almost from birth her father died before she was born, and her infant brother (whose name may have been Mark), the only legal heir under patriarchal system of primogeniture, also died. So, her mother had Mary take her brother's place to keep them out of poverty. From this ruse, Mary's paternal grandmother (who somehow controlled the money) supported the family until she, too, died. By the way, all this dying and disguising took place in Devon County, England.

After this, Mary was on her own. She first held a job as a footboy, but she was apparently not the subservient type. She wanted action, and found it by enlisting in the infantry, fighting in Flanders (now parts of Belgium, France, and the Netherlands). Mary served with distinction, but fell in love with another soldier, revealing her gender to him. They left the army, married, and ran a tavern, The Three Horseshoes, from 1697 to 1717. This all ended when peace cleared out their military clientel, and the man died not long after they went bankrupt. Mary once again disguised herself as a man so she could earn a living.