Strong Women Of The Past: Anne Bonny

In Book Six of The Jacobite Chronicles, Tides of Fortune, Anne Bonny is mentioned briefly, so I thought some of my readers might be interested to know a little more about this woman who was one of two famous female pirates in the eighteenth century.

The only source of information we have about Anne’s early years come from Charles Johnson’s A General History of the Pyrates, and as he gives no sources for his information, it’s impossible to know whether he invented it or not. He tells us that she was born around 1700 in Cork, Ireland, and was the illegitimate daughter of an English lawyer William Cormac and his maid Mary Brennan.

To escape the gossip, William and his new family emigrated to America, and he set up in Charleston, first as a lawyer and later a merchant. Anne was a very headstrong child, and was said to have beaten up a man who tried to rape her. Her father was successful in his business, and wanted his daughter to marry well, but when she was 16 she married a poor sailor called James Bonny. Her father was so disgusted that he threw her out.

Illustration of Anne Bonny from Charles Johnson’s A General History of the Pyrates (1725 Edition)

After this, the young couple moved to the Bahamas, but Anne soon became upset when she discovered that her husband was acting as an informant to the governor, and was turning in pirates for a reward. 

She soon became friendly with some of the pirates she met, and it seems she became extremely friendly with one, Calico Jack Rackham, because she became pregnant by him. She went to Cuba to have the child, and then took up a life of piracy with her lover. No one knows what happened to the child, but it may have died.

Illustration of Calico Jack Rackham, with whom Anne shared a child.

By now there was another female pirate on board, Mary Read (who is the subject of next month’s blog) and the two women became good friends, and possibly lovers. They wore women’s clothes most of the time, but changed into male attire when a fight was likely. Anne was known for her bloodthirstiness, and in time the group became renowned in the Caribbean, to such an extent that Governor Woodes Rogers authorised privateers to hunt for them.

In 1720 their ship Revenge was attacked by Captain Jonathan Barnet while it was lying at anchor. As most of the pirates on board were dead drunk, only Anne and Mary are said to have put up a fight, and they were quickly overpowered. The crew was taken in to Port Royal to stand trial.

Illustration of Anne Bonny and Mary Read firing upon the crew of Captain Jonathan Barnet

The trial was a sensation, due to the gender of two of the pirates, and all of them were found guilty and sentenced to death. Rackham was hanged on November 18th 1720. It’s said that he was allowed to see Anne before he was hung, and that she said to him: “I’m sorry to see you here, but if you had fought like a man, you would not have had to hang like a dog.”

Anne was found guilty on 28th November, but stated that she was pregnant, which turned out to be true (pregnant women were not hung). She was kept in prison until she gave birth, but after that, her life becomes as mysterious as her early days were.

Some feel she may have died in prison, but there is also a story that she became reconciled with her father, who was now wealthy, went back to Charleston and married, living respectably until her death when in her 80s. Another story says she married in Nassau or Port Royal and went on to have a large family.

What is certain is that although her career as a pirate only lasted a few months, and she was not a pirate of great note, she has become a cultural hero, due to the fact that she was an independent, free-thinking woman who rebelled violently against the restraints imposed on her gender by society at that time, seizing her freedom whole-heartedly, in spite of the risks.

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One comment

  1. Fascinating.
    I hugely enjoyed this narrative and look forward to the next.
    In these uncertain times keep safe.



    Sorry, did not mean the caps to appear.

    We don’t know who will be taken by Civid-19, but we have technology at least to make predictions and stay informed.

    They had none of that.

    What incredibly brave people!!!!!!