Prevented from marrying or keeping company together on land, Calico Jack Rackham and Anne Bonny rounded up some ex-pirate friends, stole a ship and headed out for a life of freedom at sea.
The most famous member of the crew, beside Anne and Jack, was a woman who had been a soldier, a tavern keeper, a sailor in the Royal Navy, and a pirate. She was Anne’s particular friend, and her name was Mary Read.
Many stories tell that the two met when Anne’s pirate ship attacked a merchant vessel and Anne took a liking to a young sailor, luring him back to her cabin with the offer to “show him something he would like.” When the two of them settled down in privacy, Anne was surprised to learn that the handsome sailor had a secret of his own. “He” was a “she,” a cross-dressing sailor named Mary. When Jack found the two of them together he was jealous until he discovered Mary’s secret, and then the three became a happy and long-lasting ménage-a-trois.
In fact, records state that Anne and Mary had become friendly in New Providence, and were know associates there. And although Mary had spent much of her life disguised as a man, there is no indication that she was a lesbian, or that she was disguised when she kept company with Anne. Given Anne’s emotional relationship with Jack, it’s unlikely that she would be inclined to share him. The story is false.
Women were supposed to be bad luck at sea, and while many women undoubtedly disguised themselves as men and served as sailors (Mary Read was an example) Anne and Mary alone, of all the women in the Golden Age of Piracy, lived openly as women, wearing skirts and dresses, and changing into men’s clothes only when they attacked or plundred a ship.
They also attacked people on shore. One of their first missions was finding Richard Turnby, the man who had prevented their lawful marriage. He was hunting turtles with a crew on one of the smaller islands. Jack and Anne swooped down, chased him and his young son into the jungle, forced his crew to join them, and burned his ship.
They left one sailor with a message. If they ever caught him again, they would whip him to death.
Then they went on a rampage, hunting and capturing ships and amassing treasure. Survivors of their attacks assured the authorities that Anne was in fine form, waving a cutlass, firing pistols, cursing and urging the men to violence and murder. Their victims were terrified by the women, and more terrified by what these amazons implied… that the order of law, both civil and criminal, was at an end.
It’s not known how Anne and Jack wanted their story to end, but success was their defeat. With the fall of New Providence, the authorities had come back to the region, and many of the pardoned pirates had become pirate hunters themselves. Partying after a victorious attack, the entire crew, including Jack, became so drunk that they failed to keep a lookout.
They were found and attacked by pirate hunters. Of the entire crew, only Anne Bonny, Mary Read, and one unknown sailor were sober enough to fight back. The two women were especially fierce, and nearly drove off their attackers, but when the rest of the pirate crew failed to rally and attempted to hide below decks, they were overwhelmed. Anne’s last action was to fire a pistol into the mob of her cowering shipmates, calling them cowards.
The pirates were arrested and hauled off to Port Royal for trial and execution. Calico Jack Rackham and both women were found guilty and sentenced to death, but the women had one last card to play. Both “pleaded their bellies,” meaning that they were pregnant and could not be executed until their innocent children had been delivered.
Jack’s love for Anne lasted until the end. Just before he was hanged, he persuaded his jailors to take him past her cell, so that he could see her one last time. Remembering his cowardly behavior in their last battle, Anne gave him little comfort. Her final words to him were, “I am sorry to see you here, but if you had fought like a man, you would not be hanged like a dog.”
Calico Jack Rackham was hanged on November 18th, 1720. Mary Read died in prison of a fever.
And Anne Bonny? No one knows what happened to her. It’s possible that, like Mary, she died in the filthy, disease-ridden prison, or else failed to survive delivery of her child. But no record of this has ever been found, and her notorious reputation would make her death an important event. It’s possible that she escaped in some daring way, and whoever was in charge of guarding her chose to not to alert the authorities. I like the idea of Anne winning her freedom with some combination of sex and violence. It would be in keeping with her character.
But one other possibility remains. Anne still had a rich, influential father, and some sources believe that he bribed the magistrate or the jailors to free his wayward daughter. This story goes on to say that Anne reformed sufficiently to marry and have 17 children, dying peacefully in bed at age eighty.
Anne's story lived for years courtesy of the original pirate storybook, A General History of Pyrates. It is notable that, when sales of the book fell off, a Dutch printing company revived it with one notable change... A "tarted up' picture of Anne Bonny and Mary Read. The book immediatly regained best-seller status, and is still available in print today.
Sex, and pirates, sell.