A famous female pirate, Anne Bonny was born in Kinsale, Ireland in 1697. She was the illegitimate child of a prominent married lawyer, William Cormac, and his family maid, Peg Brennan. Her father fled the scandal surrounding the birth and took Anne and her mother to Charleston, South Carolina. There they bought a plantation and her father became a wealthy merchant. Anne hated living on the plantation and was described as being troublesome, headstrong and ill tempered. There are many stories about young Anne growing up in the pubs of Charleston; most sources agree that she stabbed a young servant girl and that she once beat a would-be rapist with a chair.

In Charleston, Anne met and married a small-time pirate named James Bonny. James married Anne in an attempt to steal the plantation, but Anne's father disowned her instead and left them with nothing. In revenge, Anne burnt down the plantation and fled with her husband to New Providence (now Nassau) in the Bahamas. Upon her arrival, she quickly established herself by shooting off the ear of a drunken sailor who blocked her way when she disembarked.

Pirates virtually ruled the city of New Providence at that time, and Anne quickly gained the respect of many of the men on the island with her tough ways. Her husband James, on the other hand, turned out not to be the pirate he claimed to be and wasn’t able to support Anne. He eventually turned into a stool pigeon for the new governor, turning in any sailor he didn't like as a pirate for a handsome reward and further alienating his headstrong wife. In a short while Anne discarded her husband and went to live with the pirate Captain Jennings and his mistress Meg. Advised to get some male protection, she soon became the mistress of Chidley Bayard, the wealthiest man on the island.

Anne deserted Bayard for the pirate John "Calico Jack" Rackham. Upon hearing that a French merchantman richly laden with costly materials would be sailing by, Anne and Calico Jack snuck aboard an abandoned merchant sloop with a handful of Rackam's old pirate buddies and organized their first "privateering" raid. They liberally covered the topsail, deck and themselves with turtle blood. In the bow they placed a mannequin, dressed in women's clothing and similarly splashed with blood. Anne stood over this nightmare figure with a blood-soaked axe, and they sailed out to the merchantman. When its crew caught sight of this demonic ship by the light of the full moon, they were so horrified by the impending mayhem that they turned over the cargo of their vessel without a fight.

Anne and Jack soon began a reign of terror throughout the Caribbean. Because the pirate code explicitly forbade female crewmembers, she disguised herself as a man and fought adeptly alongside the rest of the crew. It was only a matter of time before she was discovered, however, and according to one legend, the first fellow shipmate to express anger at having a woman aboard paid for his opinion with his life. Anne stabbed him through the heart.

Soon the new governor of the Bahamas, Woodes Rogers, attempted to secure the power and jurisdiction of the British government by offering the King's Pardon to all pirates who would turn themselves in and offer to reform. But Anne refused, knowing that she could not be pardoned for the attempted murder of her father. She and Jack broke through a blockade that Rogers had positioned in the harbor: for this incident, Anne was stripped to the waist like an Amazon, and dressed in black velvet; with one hand resting on the hilt of her sword, and the other waving a long silk scarf at the astonished governor, she sailed past "as daintily as any fine lady being seen off on a long ocean voyage.”

It turned out that Anne was not the only female aboard the ship. Also disguised as a man was a woman named Mary Read, and the two became fast friends. They shared the secret with Rackham, and the trio happily wreaked havoc throughout the Caribbean for nearly a year until Anne became pregnant. She gave birth in Cuba then returned the ship, apparently abandoning the child.

At about this time Anne's husband James Bonny reappeared to reclaim his wife, i.e. his property. He kidnapped her and brought her bound and naked before the governor, charged with the felony of deserting her husband. He suggested "divorce by sale," a more "lenient" punishment, hoping to profit by the proceeds of such an auction. But Anne refused to be, as she said, "bought and sold like a hog or cattle"; in fact she expressed herself so vehemently that no buyers dared step forward to claim her. The governor was forced to release her on condition that she return to her rightful master, but James, who only wanted the money, fled in terror from the storm he had raised. Mary had to persuade Anne not to shoot the governor.

There are still many questions about whether Anne and Mary engaged in a sexual relationship while they were at sea together. They were constantly together while aboard the ship, and there was supposedly an incident where Rackham burst in on them and found a naked Mary stretched out on the bed before Anne. Most male historians try to write this off as having never happened, or as Anne confronting Mary and finally "discovering" that she was a woman. Many feminists argue that Anne and Mary had an exclusive lesbian relationship. I would be tempted to state the middle path that they were both bisexual.

In 1720, Rackham's ship was captured by one of Governor Woodes Rogers' pirate-hunters. During the fight, Rackham apparently cowered in the hold along with most of the crew, while the two women stayed on deck and attempted to fight off the attackers all by themselves. Realizing that the fight was lost, the women turned on their less than courageous crewmates, killing one and wounding others and screaming at them to “fight like men.” All members of the crew were sentenced to death, but Anne and Mary’s sentences were delayed because they "pleaded their bellies" and claimed that they were both pregnant.

While awaiting the hangman’s noose, Mary died of a fever in prison before she could give birth (if she was even pregnant in the first place). Anne somehow managed to disappear off the face of the Earth, there are no records of her giving birth or being executed. There is some conjecture that her wealthy father bought her release and she gave birth back home in South Carolina. There are also some records that in 1721 a woman named Anne Bonny married a man named Joseph Burleigh also in South Carolina. This woman gave birth to eight more children with her husband, three of whom died young. Anne Bonny died on April 25, 1782, which would have made her 85 years old if this Anne was also the famous pirate.


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