Our monthly blog Old Sea Legends For Crew explores the lore and tales of the sea. This time, it’s all about the most formidable female pirates of the golden age of piracy – Mary Read & Anne Bonny!

Please bear in mind that it is incredibly difficult to know the undisputed truth about their stories so take everything with a pinch of salt. It’s the same with Blackbeard…you never know!

Piratical Beginnings

Anne Bonny

Born in Ireland around 1698, Anne was a lawyer’s illegitimate daughter. To hide her true identity, she was disguised as a distant relative – and a boy.

Later on in life, she married a sailor who she would one day abandon to begin her piratical career.

Mary Reed

Mary’s mother was married to a sailor. Although they shared a son together, when she was away at sea she had Mary with another man.

Allegedly, the mother’s husband and son died. That resulted in Mary being disguised as her half-brother so her mother was able to provide for them – using her dead husband’s pension. Using this disguise, Mary joined the army where she met her husband.

But wasn’t she found out? Loose clothing would have hid her breasts, and as for facial hair, her young male comrades were likely smooth-faced too. Poor diet and stress throughout her time in the army probably interrupted her menstrual cycle, so there was minimal suspicion there.

So how exactly did they become pirates, and how did they meet?

While in the Bahamas, Anne Bonny fell in love with a pirate (John ‘Calico Jack’ Rackham) and left her husband to be with him. After offering her husband money to divorce her (which he declined), Calico Jack gave her a place among his pirate crew. She accepted.

But wasn’t it forbidden for women to be onboard? While it was certainly taboo, in this case it became It is said that Anne stabbed a shipmate in the heart after some disparaging comments.

As for Mary Read, she subsequently joined the navy after the army. While still disguised as a man, she was likely onboard a ship that Calico Jack captured.

It was then that Anne and Mary met.

Were They Lovers?


When they met, Anne Bonny was reportedly no longer hiding her gender, although she wore male attire during raids and battles. After Mary’s ship was captured, Anne, dressed in female attire, allegedly tried to seduce the handsome new recruit. Mary, possibly fearing repercussions from Rackam, revealed that she was actually a woman by showing her breasts. Anne promised to keep Mary’s secret, and the two women became friends, confidantes, and, depending on who you ask, lovers.

It’s The Pirate Life

During battles, Anne and Mary fought side by side, dressed in billowing jackets, long trousers, and handkerchiefs wrapped around their heads. They wielded a machete and a pistol in each hand.

The summer and early fall of 1720 were particularly profitable for Rackam’s crew. In September, they seized seven fishing boats and two sloops near Harbor Island. A few weeks later, Anne and Mary led a raid on a schooner, shooting at the crew as they boarded and cursing as they gathered their plunder: tackle, fifty rolls of tobacco, and nine bags of pimento. They held their captives for two days before releasing them.

Calico Jack

How did their pirate endeavours come to an end?

Near midnight on October 22, Anne and Mary were on deck when they spotted a mysterious sloop approaching. Realizing it was one of the governor’s vessels, they called for their crewmates to join them. A few, including Rackam, responded, but many were incapacitated from the night’s drinking. The sloop’s captain, Jonathan Barnett, ordered the pirates to surrender, but Rackam began firing his swivel gun. Barnett ordered a counterattack, and the resulting barrage disabled Rackam’s ship, forcing the few men on deck to cower in the hold. Outnumbered, Rackam signaled surrender and called for quarter.

However, Anne and Mary refused to give up. They remained on deck, facing the governor’s men alone, firing their pistols and swinging their cutlasses. According to legend, Mary was so disgusted that she paused her fighting to peer over the entrance of the hold and yell:

“If there’s a man among ye, ye’ll come up and fight like the man ye are to be!”

When none of her comrades responded, she fired a shot into the hold, killing one of them. Eventually, Anne, Mary, and the rest of Rackam’s crew were overpowered and captured.

Calico Jack Rackam was set to be executed by hanging on November 18, and his final request was to see Anne. She had only one thing to say to him:

“If you had fought like a man, you need not have been hang’d like a dog.”

Did they survive?

Anne and Mary stood trial at the Admiralty Court in St. Jago de la Vega, Jamaica, both pleading not guilty to all charges. The most convincing witness was Dorothy Thomas, whose canoe had been robbed during one of the pirates’ raids. She testified that Anne and Mary had threatened to kill her for testifying against them and noted that she identified them as women due to “the largeness of their breasts.”

They were guilty and sentenced to be hanged for their piratical crimes. However, they managed to get out of it by claiming they were both pregnant!

Mary died in jail 1721, but it isn’t known what happened to Anne.

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