Anne Bonny

Anne Bonny (c. 1698, date of
death unknown) was an Irish
pirate who plied her trade in the

Early Life

Much of what is known about
Anne Bonny is based on Captain
Charles Johnson's A General
History of the Pyrates. Official
records and contemporary letters
dealing with her life are scarce.
Various sources disagree about
her birth year, but it was probably
between 1697 and 1705.

Anne Bonny, born in County
Cork, Ireland, was a daughter of
attorney William Cormac and his
maidservant. Her mother was named either Mary or Peg Brennan. When the affair became public, Cormac, with his new wife and newborn child, left Ireland for Charleston, South Carolina, where he made a fortune and bought a large plantation.

Marriage And Later Affair With A Pirate

The few records of Bonny which exist seem to reflect that she was intelligent, attractive, and quick-tempered. When she was 13, she supposedly stabbed a servant girl in the belly with a table knife, although it is unclear whether this is fact or purely legend. At 16, she married a sailor and small-time pirate named James Bonny. James Bonny hoped to win possession of his wife's family estate, but she was disowned by her father.

According to legend, Anne Bonny started a fire on the plantation in retaliation. James Bonny then took his new bride to New Providence (modern-day Nassau), Bahamas, a pirate hub and base for many pirate operations, where he became an informant for Governor Woodes Rogers.

While in the Bahamas, Anne Bonny began mingling with pirates at the local drinking establishments, and met the pirate John "Calico Jack" Rackham, with whom she shortly thereafter had an affair. Rackham offered to buy her from her father in a divorce-by-purchase, but James Bonny refused. He complained to the governor, who brought her before the court, naked, and sentenced her to be flogged and to return to her legal husband. Anne Bonny and Rackham instead eloped.

Life As A Pirate

She disguised herself as a man in order to join Rackham's crew aboard the Revenge. (Pirate articles often barred women from the ship.) The couple stole a sloop at anchor in the harbor and set off to sea, putting together a crew and taking several prizes. She took part in combat alongside the males, and the accounts describing her exploits present her as competent, effective in combat, and someone who gained the respect of her fellow pirates.

Over the next several years, she and Rackham saw quite a few successes as pirates, capturing many ships, and bringing in an abundance of treasure. According to legend, she stabbed a fellow pirate through the heart when he discovered her sex.

Although Bonny is one of the best-known pirates in history, she never commanded a ship of her own. Her renown derives from the fact that she was a remarkable rarity: a female pirate.

Meeting Mary Read

Bonny was not to be the only female pirate on Rackham's ship. A woman by the name of Mary Read also disguised herself as a man to join the crew, after her ship was taken during a raid. Bonny and Read became close companions to one another, and when Bonny walked in on Read undressing one day, she discovered her secret. The two women agreed to keep this from everyone, and Bonny swore not to reveal that Read was really a woman. It was indicated in the writings of author and Captain Charles Johnson that at least at first their attraction to one another was of a romantic nature.

However, Read's true identity would not remain secret for long. Rackham became suspicious of Bonny's close relationship with the new sailor, and demanded an explanation. When Read confessed that she was actually a woman, Rackham allowed her to stay on as a member of his crew, eventually revealing her secret to the other crew members. However, this had no effect on her service, and she was accepted on board the ship as Bonny had been.

Capture And Imprisonment

In October 1720, Rackham and his crew were attacked by a sloop captained by Jonathan Barnet, who was working for the governor of Jamaica. Most of Rackham's pirates did not put up much resistance as many of them were too drunk to fight. However, Read and Bonny, who were sober, fought fiercely and managed to hold off Barnet's troops for a short time. After their capture, Rackham and his crew were sentenced by the Governor of Jamaica to be hanged. Jack hid while the pregnant (and recently proved) ladies dealt with a great number of captors. Bonny is reported to have chastised the imprisoned Rackham (who wanted to see her one last time) by saying, "I am sorry to see you here Jack, but if you had fought like a man, you need not be hanged like a dog."

After their arrest and trial, Read and Bonny both pleaded their bellies, announcing during the sentencing phase that they were both pregnant. In accordance with English common law, both women received a temporary stay of execution until they gave birth. Mary Read died in prison most likely from a fever; it has been alleged that she died during childbirth.

Mysterious Disappearance

Bonny disappeared from the historic record while in prison. There is no record of her release or of her execution. This is somewhat unusual and has led some to theorise that her father ransomed her and gave her an opportunity to begin a new life.[citation needed] Other sources claim that she returned to her husband, or even that she resumed a life of piracy under a new identity.[citation needed] The most accepted scenario is the first, that her wealthy father paid a ransom for her release.

In Popular Culture

Bonny, Anne, Female Pirate in the Caribbean, 18th century lithography - Click To Enlarge