Known for her role as a pirate in the crew of “Calico Jack” Rackham from 1718 to 1720, Anne Bonny’s name has gone down in the history books. She didn’t allow her gender to hinder her–she was as intimidating as any pirate that sailed the high seas.
She is known for her career along with fellow female pirate Mary Read as the two drank, swore, and dressed as men. In 1720 she was captured along with the rest of Rackham’s crew. Piracy demanded a direct death sentence, but Bonny escaped the gallows when her sentence was commuted due to her pregnancy. This didn’t stop her from being forever remembered in song, stories, books, and films.
Early life of Anne Bonny:
Information about Anne Bonny is mostly unverified, and all the information about her comes from Captain Johnson. He wrote the famous account of pirates called A General History of The Pyrates. In his book, he states that Bonny was born in Ireland, most likely near Cork, around 1700. Although it was unverified, Johnson stated that her father was a lawyer and her mother was his maid. The affair was sensational and, to escape the gossip, her father was forced to relocate with them to America.
Life in America:
Her father chose Charleston as the place to begin their new life. There he initially set up as an attorney, later becoming a successful merchant. Anne was just as good at getting into trouble as her father was good at being a merchant. One incident that she was involved in is when she protected herself from a sexual assault and beat up her attacker. Although her father did well in his business, Anne was turning out to be a disappointment.
Instead of attracting a rich suitor she settled for a poor sailor named James Bonny, much to her father’s disapproval. He disowned her when she married Bonny. She may have only been sixteen at the time.
Life as a sailor’s wife:
Not discouraged by her father’s rejection, Anne and James set out for New Providence. There they set up in Nassau, but living was difficult. Anne’s husband found work as a sell-out, turning over pirates for small amounts of money. This made Anne resent her husband and led to the dissolution of their marriage. It’s suggested around 1718 or 1719 she met Edward England, better known as “Calico Jack” Rackham.
He was a previous crew member of notorious pirate Charles Vane, who he deposed of his captaincy. Anne then went to Cuba to give birth to a child, only to return and be the world’s most fearsome pirate.
It’s a pirate’s life for Anne:
The life of a pirate suited Anne Bonny just fine; so much so that she drank, swore, and fought like one too. It is at her trial that details of how fearsome she actually was came to light. Based on the testimony of these sailors, Anne and her fellow female cohort were the worst of the bunch.
Once vessels were captured the captives told how the two females would suggest to other pirates to commit acts of brutality on the captives. Anne and Mary were notorious for dressing up as men, but there seemed to be two differing accounts of the underlying story of the two ladies. The first is that Anne tried to seduce Mary one day aboard the ship – she revealed to Mary that she was not a man and was, in fact, a lady. This lead Mary to also reveal to her that she was also a lady. Another account is that the two were lovers who had already made their acquaintance while still in Nassau.
The end of the line as the crew is captured:
Anne Bonny is remembered as a fierce and brutal pirate in history, but actually, her career as a pirate was short. She and the entire crew had a bounty placed on their heads, and in the late 1720s Captain Jonathan Barnet, under the authority of then-governor Woodes Rogers, caught up to the pirates. He received information about their location and cornered them.
The reports of the fight state that the male pirates hid away under the deck while the ladies put up the last stand. Anne and Mary lived up to their names as they fought to the end, cursing their male counterparts. In part due to the men having drunk the entire night long, they didn’t put up too much resistance, and they were all soon captured.
The trial didn’t last long but was a sensation:
During the golden age of piracy, there was a lot of trading and a lot of money to be made as a pirate. This meant that merchants had also lost a lot due to theft by pirates. The situation drew out the wrath of the governments, which did not hesitate to demand the death penalty as punishment to deter would-be pirates. This was the fate of Rackham’s crew – their trials were swift and so too were their executions. According to reports, the trial of the men was rapid, and they were found guilty. Their executions were set for November 18 at Gallows Point at Port Royal. Before Rackham met his death, Anne went to see him.
She told him that had he fought, he would not have needed to hang. But he was soon executed alongside four of his men. As for Anne and Mary Read, both their deaths were postponed due to both of them claiming that they were pregnant. This news was declared on November 28 towards the end of their trials and both women were spared the gallows. But Mary would not live very long thereafter, as she died in prison after a few months.
Life after the trial:
Anne Bonny was a sensation, and one would expect much detail to come to light after her trial. But this is not the case, as she faded into obscurity. Most of what is known about her, and in fact about most pirates of this era, comes from Captain Charles Johnson’s book. Many historians have problems verifying his sources. But what he did reveal in his 1724 book is that she did not die in prison and she was not executed. After giving birth, her sentence was changed repeatedly.
After that, it’s anybody’s guess what became of Anne Bonny, and there are many different versions. Some reports state that she may have returned to her father in Charleston, where she reconciled with him and turned to a life of nobility. She was supposed to have married someone respectable and lived out her years peacefully until her death.
She may have had several children and never returned to the sea. Others reported that she married in Port Royal or Nassau. All these reports are unverifiable, but her impact on folklore and culture is still notable, About Education reported.
What can be known about Anne is that she had a spirited character, and refused to accept the repression of other women of her time, who were kept mostly indoors. Thus she was seen as an inspiration and role model for many women who came after her. She went against the grain of what women of that time were supposed to be. She disobeyed her father and ran away from her husband.
She had led a new way of thinking, and not just because of her life as a pirate. Jack Rackham himself was a small-time pirate who preyed on the weak merchant boats.
Bonny’s fame came about because she led a life which was out of the ordinary, and she seized an opportunity that many wouldn’t dream of taking. She rewrote the role played by women and is one of the most notable female pirates in history.