About Ann Bonny and Mary Read 1721
Ann Bonny was the bastard daughter William Cormac, a prominent Cork attorney, and a housemaid. They moved to Charleston, South Carolina, where her father prospered as a businessman and planter. Ann had a wild temper. When she was thirteen she stabbed a servant girl in the belly with a table knife. When her mother died she took over the duties of housekeeper for her father, whose wealth made her an attractive catch despite her temper.
She eloped with a feckless sailor named James Bonny and Cormac disinherited her. The couple found their way to New Providence, Bahamas, where Ann, tired of her husband, who had turned spy for Captain Woods Rogers the privateer (Rogers latter became Governor of Nassau). She fell for dashing “Calico Jack.” She and Jack stole a sloop at anchor in the harbor and set off as pirates, putting a crew together and taking several prizes.
They captured a Dutch ship and pressed several of its crew into signing Articles with them. One of the new pirates was a delicate young boy whom Anne took a fancy. The “boy” was a young Englishwoman named Mary Read. Unlike Anne, Mary had spent most of her life in men’s clothing. She was the illegitimate child of a London woman whose husband had been at sea more than a year when she delivered. Mary was apprenticed as a footboy to a French lady, but her nature demanded more excitement and she ran away to sea, signing on as a cabin boy on a warship.
Later she served as an infantryman and then in the mounted cavalry in Flanders, where the English and French were fighting the War of the Spanish Succession. Mary married but was soon widowed and returned to the life she preferred, signing on a Dutch merchantmen bound for the West Indies, which was the same ship that Rackman and Bonny took. Mary shared her secret with Anne, who told Jack. As an equal opportunity employer, he invited her to join the crew as a full-fledged member.
The two women were first rate pirates, never shirking battle. None among the crew were more resolute, or ready to board or undertake anything that was hazardous. Their ship was anchored off Jamaica’s north coast when they were challenged by a privateer sloop, whose captain had a Letter of Marque from the governor of Jamaica to take pirates. There was a short, sharp action that ended with the pirates’ surrender. Captain Jonathan Barnett, the sloop’s commander, testified in court at Spanishtown, Jamaica, that only two of the pirates had put up any fight and they had fought like wildcats, using pistols, cutlasses, and boarding axes before being overpowered. One of the men had fired into the hold where the men were hiding, screaming like a banshee that they should come up and fight like men. When it was discovered that these two pirates were women, it was arranged that they be tried separately from the men.
Ann and Mary were sentenced to hang along with Rackman and the rest of those who had been convicted. The courtroom was astounded at the women’s answer to the judge’s routine inquiry as to any of the condemned had anything further to say. “Milord, ” came the reply, “we plead our bellies.” By law the court could not take the life of an unborn child by executing the mother. As Jack Rackman was going to be hanged at a place near Port Royal still known as Rackman’s Cay, he asked to see her. She gave him a scornful look and spat out that, “Had you fought like a man, you need not have been hang’d like a dog.” Mary died in prison before the baby was born. Ann disappeared, perhaps paroled through her father’s influence.
Below is the text of Ann Bonny and Mary Read 1721. The names available to be personalized are in red.
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Mary Read’s Trial
… the two women, prisoners at the bar, were then on board the said sloop, and wore men’s jackets, and long trousers, and handkerchiefs tied about their heads; and that each of them had a machete and pistol in their hands, and cursed and swore at the men, to murder the deponent; and that they should kill her, to prevent her coming against them; and the deponent further said, that the reason of her knowing and believing them to be women then was by the largeness of their breasts. An other witness stated the women were very active on board, and that (1. First Woman Pirate)Ann Bonny handed gunpowder to the men; also, “that when they saw any vessel, gave chase, or attacked, they wore men’s clothes; and at other times, they wore woman’s clothes.”
“You, Mary Read, and Ann Bonny, alias Bonn, are to go from hence to the place from whence you came, and from thence to the place of execution; where you shall be severally hanged by the neck till you are severally dead. And god of his infinite mercy be merciful to both your souls.”
The Last Word
Ann Bonny spoke to John Rackman who was being hanged, “Had you fought like a man, you need not have been hang’d like a dog.”
November 17, 1721