The Female Pirates (From an Old Print) [Anne Bonny, 1698-1782, and Mary Read, c. 1695-1721]

Print of female pirates. Anne Bonny (with gun) and Mary Read (with sword).

Anne Bonny was born near Cork in Ireland in 1698, probably the illegitimate daughter of William Cormac, lawyer, and his maidservant. Cormac, who raised Anne as a boy, subsequently moved to South Carolina with her and her mother, and became a successful merchant and plantation owner. Anne, fierce-tempered and headstrong, married a penniless sailor called James Bonny in 1718, was as a result turned out by her father and went with Bonny to the Bahamas to find work. There she took up with the pardoned buccaneer 'Calico Jack' Rackham, deserted her husband and went to sea with him instead. Soon pregnant, she gave birth to his child in Cuba but subsequently rejoined his crew - now again Caribbean pirates - dressed as usual in men's clothing.

Mary Read also joined Rackam's crew about this time. She too had been brought up as a boy, spent some years as a soldier in Flanders, and after her husband's death joined a merchant ship bound for the West Indies. Bonny and Read became close friends and, according to witnesses at their subsequent trial, were the fiercest members of the crew: ‘they were both very profligate, cursing and swearing much and ready and willing to do any thing on board’ (TNA: PRO, CO 137/14). In autumn 1720 Rackam's ship was captured off Jamaica by a heavily armed privateer and on 16 November 1720 he and ten of his crew were sentenced to death in the local Admiralty court and hanged a few days later. Bonny and Read were tried by the same court on 28 November and were also condemned to death, but reprieved on the grounds that both were by then pregnant.

Mary Read died in gaol and was buried on 28 April 1721. Anne's father appears to have had sufficient influence to obtain her rapid release and return to Charles Town, South Carolina, where she gave birth to Rackam's second child. On 21 December 1721 she married a local man, Joseph Burleigh, had eight more children and became a respectable woman. She lived on in South Carolina to the age of 84 and was buried there on 25 April 1782. [condensed from David Cordingly's entry on Anne Bonny in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004]

Object Details

ID: PAI9316
Type: Print
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Wentworth, F
People: Bonny, Anne; Read, Mary
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Measurements: Sheet: 100 mm x 164 mm

Your Request

If an item is shown as “offsite”, please allow eight days for your order to be processed. For further information, please contact Archive staff:

Tel: (during Library opening hours)

Click “Continue” below to continue processing your order with the Library team.