|Anne Bonny and Mary Read from an illustration by Benjamin Cole|
for Defoe's A General History of the Pyrates
|Calico Jack Rackham, woodcut illustration |
from Defoe's A General History of the Pyrates
|Anne Bonny from Defoe's A General History of the Pyrates|
One of Anne Bonny's Nassau buddies was a woman by the name of Mary Read who, had for years, dressed like a man and sailed the seas with impunity. The two ladies were well known by Nassau inhabitants to curse with all the raw vehemence of any of their male counterparts. For several months, Rackham and his crew, along with his two lady pirates, plundered ships and laid waste those who would get in their way. One of their captives later testified at trial, the women would wear the usual female finery aboard ship until a potential victim was spied, then they would dress like men and fight along side the pirates. Another former captive, fisherwoman Dorothy Thomas, later told the courts she was terrorized by the women who cursed and swore they would kill her if she testified against them. Thomas said she could only tell them from the other crewmen by the manner in which they filled out their shirts!
|Mary Read from Defoe's A General History of the Pyrates|
In October, 1720, Captain Jonathan Barnet (a privateer given orders to bring Rackham and his crew down) fired upon the pirate ship. Most of the crew was too drunk to fight back and fled down into the hold leaving the two women to fend for themselves. According to Defoe's A General History of the Pyrates, Anne Bonny yelled down to the cowering pirates to come back up and fight like men. When no one met her challenge, she fired into the hold, killing one man and wounding several others. The ship and its crew were taken and sent to Spanish Town jail in the Virgin Islands. On November 18, 1720, the day Calico Jack was to be hanged from the gallows, it is reported Anne Bonny was allowed to see him one last time. Her words? "I'm sorry to see you here, but if you had fought like a man you need not have hanged like a dog."
As far as the trial of the two women pirates went, on November 28, 1720, they were both found guilty and sentenced to death but both "plead their bellies" (meaning they were both pregnant at the time and by British law could not be hanged until their innocent babies delivered.) After medical examination they were, indeed, proclaimed pregnant and their sentences set aside. Neither woman was ever hanged by the neck until death, however. Mary Read and her unborn child died in prison in April, 1721 when she became ill and died amidst a violent fever. Her grave is at St Catherine's Church in Jamaica. There is no record of Anne Bonny's execution or death by other means nor of what happened to her and her child. Colin Woodard speculates her wealthy South Carolina plantation owning father may have come to her aid and bought her freedom. Who knows? There may, to this day, be little Calico Jacks and Pirate Queen Annes running around the streets of Charleston causing all manner of mischief!
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