November 10, 2010

Metal History: Bastard Pirate Girls

Metal History

My piratical guest-poster Felicity continues with some most excellent tales of real pirate wenches.


circa 1720, by Chris Collingwood

These stories are true. Certain parts are in the public record. The rest is from “A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates”, released in 1724.

Anne Bonny was a bastard, the daughter of her dad’s maid. He tried to hide her existence by pretending she was a boy. It didn’t work, but it set the scene for her future.

Anne was Irish, and pretty, and it was generally assumed that she’d marry well and help her dad, who was fairly poor. She didn’t – she married a seafaring man who “wasn’t worth a groat”. Her dad was so angry that he cut her and her husband off, and they had to move away to try and make a living.

On the island of Providence, she met the pirate Captain Rackham, with whom she had an affair. She got back into male clothes and eloped with him (pretending to be an ordinary crewman). When she became pregnant, Rackham left her on Cuba with friends of his, and then when she’d had the baby he asked her to rejoin him – which she did (again in men’s clothing, and sans child). I gather she wasn’t the maternal type.

Like many pirates, Rackham’s crew took the King’s pardon and went straight for a while, then returned to the far more lucrative piracy. Anne was “of a fierce and courageous temper” and on one occasion, when someone attempted to rape her, she “beat him so, that he lay ill of it a considerable time.”

The moral here is: Don’t mess with pirate chicks. Or pirate bastard chicks, for that matter.

Anne became pregnant a second time. . . but we’ll come to that.

Captain Charles Johnson (author of “A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates”) writes about another female pirate’s mother: “Nevertheless, the mother, who was young and airy, met with an accident, which has often happened to women who are young and do not take a great deal of care; which was, she soon proved to be with child again. . .”

Mary Read was that child – like Anne, she was a bastard. Her mother already had a legitimate son who then died (as the father already had), so she raised Mary as a boy, pretending Mary was the legitimate son so her mother-in-law would support them.

When Mary was 13 and still disguised, she became a foot-boy for a French lady. Not long after that, and “being of a roving mind” she signed up on a man-of-war. She bounced here and there within the military, and ended up with a tentmate who was “a handsome young fellow”. She fell in love, and her generally high standards of readiness and cleanliness fell very much by the wayside (when she fell in love, she fell hard). Other soldiers thought she was mad, because whenever her tentmate went into danger, she volunteered to go too.

Moral # 2: Falling in love is hazardous to your health.

Eventually she accidentally-on-purpose let him find out she was a woman. The man was delighted, figuring he’d finally got a woman he didn’t have to share with everyone else. But Mary Read refused to shag him outside of marriage. Eventually, as all men must, he came around to her point of view and decided that marriage was what he’d wanted all along.

Their romance made such a big stir that they were well supported at first, and left the military to run an inn. For a little while, Mary actually dressed and behaved as a woman. But when her husband died she turned to the military, then the sea, and finally piracy. She always intended to make her fortune and retire, but bad luck followed her. It was certain that “she did not want bravery, nor indeed was she the less remarkable for her modesty.”

She continued to pass for a man until she ended up on board the ship captained by Captain Rackham. Anne Bonny took a liking to the effeminately handsome Mary Read, and attempted to seduce her (while still shagging Rackham). Mary Read “being very sensible for her own incapacity that way, was forced to come to a right understanding with her, and so to the great disappointment of Anne Bonny, she let her know she was a woman also.”

Within a very short time Anne Bonny’s crush on Mary Read turned to girlish shrieks of “let’s be BFFs forever!” So much so that Rackham became insanely jealous of the “handsome” Mary Read, and the two girls had to tell him that they were, in fact, two girls. He was sworn to secrecy, and no-one else on board knew the truth until it came out in their trials.

And off they went a-killing and a-pillaging, as only the happiest (and fiercest) pirates do.

Along the way they took various captives, and generally forced them to join in the piracy on pain of death. One such victim was “a fellow of most engaging behaviour, or, at least, he was so in the eyes of Mary Read, who became so smitten with his person and address, that she could neither rest, neither night or day.” She made friends with him by saying that she totally hated pirates, too. Once the friendship was solid, she let him into her big secret by “carelessly showing her breasts, which were very white. The young fellow, who was made of flesh and blood, had his curiosity and desire raised by this sight. . .”

The two were deadly serious about one another, and considered themselves married. They planned to live on land as soon as they could.

On one occasion, her man quarreled with another pirate and committed himself to a duel (duels were fought on land, probably so that the useless pistols of the day didn’t kill and/or maim everyone nearby). Mary had a huge dilemma: she didn’t want him to back out of the duel and be branded a coward – but she didn’t want him killed. So she arranged a duel with the same opponent two hours earlier – and killed him. It’s possible that she saved her man’s life. She “stood as it were between him and death, as if she could not live without him.”

But their pirating days ended like so many others – Captain Rackham’s ship was caught and overcome. It was so badly outnumbered that only three of the pirates dared to remain on deck to fight for all their lives. Two of the three were Anne Bonny and Mary Read. Yep, the girls.

Mary “called to those under deck to come up and fight like men, and finding that they did not stir, fired her arms down the hold amongst them, killing one and wounding others.”

Rackham was not on deck. On the day of his execution, Anne Bonny visited him in his cell “but all the comfort she gave him, was, that she was sorry to see him there, but if he had fought like a man, he need not have died like a dog.”

Many of the crew were pardoned, being able to prove they’d been forced to become pirates. Mary Read commended the court for releasing the man she loved – but refused to say which of the released men he was.

Anne and Mary were both convicted, and sentenced to death. That was the point at which – to considerable surprise from all the spectators – they both revealed that they were women. What was more, they were both pregnant.

So of the three men who fought against impossible odds, two were women. Pregnant women.

Another moral: Never, ever cross a pregnant woman.

Mary Read would have been released, except that it was well known that she believed hanging pirates was the only moral action. She was imprisoned for the length of her pregnancy, but died before the child was born.

Anne Bonny gave birth, and her death sentence was reprieved along the way. She returned to the high seas as a pirate, and was never executed.

This article is written by Louise Curtis, who writes a blog of Daily Awesomeness at and is currently sharing a piratical tale in real time through twitter at

Some days, I really wish I were a pirate … \m/

2 Comments on “Metal History: Bastard Pirate Girls

elizabeth perez
November 17, 2010 at 6:53 am


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