Categorized | 2015 June, Digest

Female Pirates – Did they really exist?

Mary Read (1690-1721) Engraving from General History of the Pyrates 1725 Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Melissa A. Joy 

The short answer is yes, and some of them were even fiercer than their male counterparts. Many of them tended to dress as and pass themselves off as men. Two of the most notable female pirates were Anne Bonney (also Bonny, 1698-1782, Irish), and Mary Read (1690-1721). Both were feminists well before the term was even known, and both were originally raised as boys.

These two women were highly successful pirates; they knew how to handle themselves in a fight, they knew how to man a ship, and were more than capable of being just as vulgar as the men with whom they sailed. It has been said their fighting skills were on par with the men, if not better, and that they could be twice as ruthless.

When “Calico” Jack Rackham’s ship was disabled by a man named Barnet off the coast of Jamaica in October 1720, Rackham and his crew hid below decks, except for Anne and Mary, who remained on deck, fighting. They both berated their comrades for their cowardice, and it is said Mary then fired her pistol into the hold, killing one of them. In prison, when Jack Rackham had asked to see Anne (who had been his lover), as his final request, she told him, “I’m sorry to see you here, but had you fought like a man, you need not have hanged like a dog.”

Jack Rackham had known from the beginning that Anne was a woman but had kept it secret from the rest of the crew. Mary had joined the ship dressed as a man and grew close to Anne who was forced to tell Jack for he’d thought she was sleeping with another man. He also kept Mary’s secret.

After their capture, when Rackham and his crew were sentenced to be hanged, Anne and Mary divulged the information that they were both with child, therefore delaying their sentence as English law forbade the killing of an unborn child at the time. Mary died in the prison either as a result of severe illness or childbirth or perhaps a combination of both. No report was made of what happened to Anne, there is no known record of her execution.

Mary Read
Mary Read killing her antagonist cph.3a00980.jpg
Mary Read kills a pirate

TypePirateBornc. 1690Place of birthEnglandDiedApril 1721 (aged 31)Place of deathPort Royal, JamaicaAllegianceEnglish-allied infantry & cavalry in HollandYears activec.1708-1721RankPrivateerBase of operationsCaribbean


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