Forgotten Women: Anne Bonny


(Image via Pirate Show Cancun)

Micaela Gaither, Series Editor

Pirates, the swashbuckling sailors, responsible for the theft of Aztec gold and the pillaging of villages.  They are usually associated with males, too, not often do you hear the mention of a female pirate. That’s because for a while it was considered bad luck to have a female on board, but there is one female pirate that found a way around this: Anne Bonny. 

Anne Bonny was born in Ireland, and soon moved to North Carolina when her father’s wife realized he had had an affair with a maid, Anne’s mother. They moved to Charleston, where Bonny grew up on a plantation causing havoc before even becoming a member of the pirate community. In her defense, she only stabbed a servant while having an argument, and the man she had beaten had tried to force himself upon her, so she was solely establishing she was not going to stand for being mistreated. That is where her reputation begins. 

Against her father’s wishes, Anne eloped with poor sailor John Bonny, after which she was disowned and sailed the Bahamas with John. They eventually settled in the pirate haven of New Providence, now known as Nassau. 

Unfortunately for John, Anne Bonny became “infatuated” with Jack “Calico Jack” Rackham. Rackham shared interest in Bonny and offered to pay John to divorce Bonny, to which he declined and instead decided to beat Anne. Soon enough though, Calico Jack and Bonny made their escape to the Caribbean seas aboard the sloop, which is a type of ship commonly used by pirates, William. Prior to sailing the Caribbean Seas, Bonny became pregnant with Rackham’s child, and gave birth in Cuba, before setting sail to their adventures.

Bonny was only an active pirate from around 1717 or 1718 to 1720. Unlike the movies, pirate careers are normally “fast, furious, and short” (Jones). However, during her career, Anne made quite the impression, becoming known as the most fierce female pirate and being one of the few pirates to sail under the Jolly Roger flag. 

While onboard ship, Bonny didn’t hide her gender despite common superstition, but during pilages it is assumed she dressed as a male. She soon became one of two female pirates on Rackham’s ship, when she found that “Mark” Read was truly, Mary Read. The two became friends instantly, fighting side by side during a time when their crews pillaging was full of success and riches. However, all good things come to an end. 

After a successful capture of a galleon full of Spanish gold and treasure, the Rackham’s crew took to celebrating. Bonny and Read though noticed a fast approaching sloop, which could only mean one thing‒they were about to be boarded. Unfortunately for the two women, there wasn’t a sober man left, and despite their best efforts they were defeated and taken in by the British Royal Navy. Prior to their defeat, Bonny reportedly called out, “Dogs! If instead of these weaklings I only had some women with me,” which could have saved the crew that day. 

The whole crew was sentenced to the gallows, as was common for most pirates, but Anne Bonny and Mary Read quickly gained more time with the revealing of their pregnancies. History fails to give us a clear telling of what occurred to the female pirates, but it is most commonly said that Read died not long after in her cell. However, Bonny’s story is more jumbled. Most say that her fate was unknown, thus giving more power to the name Anne Bonny and her reputation. There are other accounts that say that her father’s name and money spared her from the noose, allowing her to settle down in Charlestown, remarry and have kids. Either version, Anne Bonny seems to have escaped the noose. 

Pirating is comprised of unsavory actions, but that’s not the takeaway here. Anne Bonny was a fierce, independent, and forceful woman. She paid no mind to the social standards of ships, and even at the end of her career, she stood her ground. She changed the mindsets of men who came encountered her, by showing she wasn’t a force to be taken lightly. Never let anyone walk all over you was what Bonny appeared to live by.