The life at sea is no place for a lady. However this was hardly the way to describe Anne Bonny and Mary Read, two fearless female pirates that lived during the height of the Golden Era of Caribbean piracy during the 1700’s. What brief record exists of the lives of Anne Bonny and Mary Read were filled with enough notorious deeds to qualify the women for a place of honor beside Blackbeard and other well-known male pirates….

Armed with the confidence of her machete and her trusted pistol, loaded as always, Bonny took the first swing at the invading pirate hunters, gritting her teeth and daring them to come closer as she spat in the slew of ruddy faces charging forth across the deck, swarming the ship whose belly was filled with the twelve cowardly souls of her former crew mates. The Revenge had been followed through the Caribbean waters for weeks by British hired mercenaries, and it was all finally coming to a head that fateful day in 1720.

Alongside Bonny, Mary Read brandished her deadly cutlass and charged across the deck into the steady stream of soldiers sent to capture Calico's motley band of pirates. Though the two women alone put up a vicious fight, using everything at their disposal to evade capture while the rest of their shipmates hid below decks, in the end Bonny and Read were greatly outnumbered and arrested to be put on trial along with the rest of Rackham’s crew. But how did these two women wind up where they did that fateful afternoon of 1720?

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Mary Read was born in England, allegedly the illegitimate daughter of a Captain’s widow, who also had born a legitimate son from her previous marriage who later died as a youth. In desperate straits, her mother dressed Mary as a boy in order to secure financial support from her dead husband's mother through trickery, and so Mary adopted an alterative identity, ‘Mark’.

Even after the death of her Grannie, Mary decided to retain her identity as a boy, citing the plentiful opportunities afforded to men that women did not enjoy, and so Mary entered into adulthood as 'Mark', much to her mother’s dismay. 'Mark' went to work aboard a ship and soon enlisted as a soldier in the British navy where she met her first and only husband. After a short lived marriage running an inn as a woman and wife, Mary’s husband died prematurely, leaving Mary to pursue a life as 'Mark' once again, and so she re-enlisted in the war.

After the war was over Mary stowed away on a ship heading for the West Indies. Legend tells that soon after this journey the ship 'Mark' was on was taken by pirates which she joined under the leadership of John “Calico Jack” Rackham and his ‘companion’ Anne Bonny. Allegedly Bonny developed a crush on ‘Mark’/Mary, and so she was forced to reveal her true identity to both Bonny and Rackham in order to evade Rackham's jealous cutlass. 

Eventually after many pirate adventures Pirate Hunter Jonathan Barnet captured the crew in late in 1720. It is said that only Anne and Mary stood on deck ready for a fight while the rest of the crew hid below decks. Both women pleaded for their lives saying they were with child. Mary died in a Jamaican prison of fever. She was 29.

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Less is known about Anne Bonny, and much of it is derived from Captain Charles Johnson’s book “A General History of Pyrates.” According to Johnson, Anne Bonny was borne around 1700 in Cork, Ireland. Like Read, Anne was the product of an illegitimate coupling between her father and the maid; her father grew fond of Anne and in an effort to keep her in his household without his wife's knowledge he dressed her in boy's clothes and tried to pass her off for a studying intern. When the scheme was found out, the family picked up and moved to America where her father eventually became a profitable businessman. 

 Anne was characterized as a rebellious youth that despised her upbringing, often getting in trouble and in fights and once even stabbing a maid at the age of 13. Anne's family abandoned her after she married a small-time pirate by the name of James Bonny. After her and Bonny left her hometown of Charlestown they went to the pirate hotspot on Nassau Island in the Bahamas and quickly found themselves at odds with one another – James became an informant for Governor Woods Rogers while Anne grew thick as thieves with other pirates frequenting the taverns she loved so much. 

At this time Anne picked up a relationship with the infamous pirate Captain Calico Jack Rackham, and rumour had it that her infidelity had her on the list for a lashing from the local Governor so the two ran away to sea. In some accounts, Anne disguised herself as a man and worked as a crew member, but in most she is portrayed as a fearsome woman pirate not hesitant to use violence as her favourite means to an end. Not long after Mary, or 'Mark', Reed joined the crew, and the Revenge enjoyed numerous exploits under the rule of Rackham until the English crown took too much notice and sent their best pirate hunter, Jonathan Barnet, to capture the crew. At Rackham’s trial, Anne is reported to have famously said: "If he had fought like a man, he need not have been hanged like a dog"

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Anne Bonny disappears soon after in the history records. Some say she was reunited with her child by Rackham and lived her days out in Charlestown after her father intervened in the court proceedings. Some accounts claim that Anne lived to the ripe age of 80, living with a new husband Joseph Burleigh and several children for the rest of her remaining years. 

Written by Amber Rae Bouchard