Some call her a feminist who chose piracy as way of rebelling against a male-dominated world; others portray her as a tomboy who never grew up. Whatever her motives, in deed and daring Anne Bonny, history's most infamous woman pirate, was a plunderer, cutthroat, sailor, ransomer, raider, and general menace to maritime commerce in the Caribbean. In short, most pirates probably would have considered her an asset to their trade.
Anne Bonny was born in Kinsale, Ireland in the late 1690's. She was the daughter of a penniless maid and her employer, a well-to-do lawyer who was then married. After their tryst was discovered, the two ran off to America and established themselves as respected plantation owners in South Carolina. For young Anne, however, the rural comforts of plantation life were far less alluring than the stories floating around the nearby port of Charleston, a well-known pirate haunt. There, she met and married a small-time pirate named James Bonny, and the two moved to New Providence (now Nassau).
If Charleston had been a pirate's den, then New Providence was an outright capital of calamity. Pirates virtually ruled the city at that time. Surrounded by legendary figures like Charles Vane and Calico Jack Rackham (the man who allegedly invented the skull and crossbones symbol), James Bonny had a difficult time commanding his wife's attention. Anne soon left James for Rackham, joining the latter on his ship. Because the pirate code explicitly forbade female crew members, 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. She stabbed him through the heart.
However incredible a woman's presence on board may have seemed to Rackham's crew, amazingly, Bonny was not the only female on board. 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 Bonny became pregnant. She gave birth in Cuba then returned the ship, apparently abandoning the child. Ironically, it would be another unwanted pregnancy that would later save her life.
In 1720, Rackham's ship was captured by one of Bahamian 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. After their capture, Rackham and the other men were hanged. Bonny and Read were both pregnant, and they escaped execution by "pleading their bellies." Read was sentenced to hang after giving birth, but before she could do so she died of a fever in jail. Somehow, Bonny was granted a reprieve, and what happened to her afterwards is entirely unknown. Some say she went back to her father or her husband, some say she resumed the pirate's life. Whatever she did, her most memorable words are those she said to Calico Jack on the eve of his execution: "I'm sorry to see you here, Jack, but if you'd have fought like a man you needn't hang like a dog."
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