Have you watched the series ‘The Lost Pirate Kingdom’? If yes, then you would definitely be eager to know more about the famous female pirate, Anne Bonny. While most of the pirates during the 1700s were men, there were a few women too. And among all the female pirates, Anne Bonny is the most famous.
Irish by birth, Anne Bonny was a notorious female pirate who operated actively in the Caribbean between 1719 to 1720. Very little is actually known about her life, however. Most of the surviving facts come from the historical novel “General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates” by Captain Charles Johnson.
While the exact birth date of Anne Bonny is unknown, she is believed to be born in the 1700s. She was born to William Cormac, a married lawyer in Country Cork, Ireland, and Mary Brennan, Cormac’s maidservant. Bonny’s actual name was Anne McCormac. While nothing about her appearance is certain, some records say she had red hair and a fiery temper.
When she was young, William Cormac, her father, made a decision to move to London in order to flee from the family of his wife. He used to dress Anne Bonny as a boy and call her “Andy.” To disguise her. However, his wife soon discovered about the illegitimate daughter of Cormac and how she was being brought up to become a clerk. It led to the stoppage of allowances for Cormac. So, Cormac, Bonny, and her mother moved to the Province of Carolina, in North America.
In Charles Town (modern day Charleston, South Carolina), William decided to give up the “Mc” prefix to more easily blend into the new place and start a new life. At the outset, the whole family had to face many problems. But with the passage of time, things started to become better. Cormac’s knowledge and ability relating to law helped him in trading well. Soon, he could finance a townhouse and later a plantation on the town’s outskirts.
When Anne Bonny was just 12 years old, her mother died. Later, her father became prosperous in merchant business and amassed a large fortune.
Anne Bonny grew up to become an attractive young woman. Anne’s father arranged for her to marry a local man, but she resisted. Later, she married James Bonny, a poor sailor and small-time pirate. James was interested in taking possession of the estate owned by his father-in-law William. However, Cormac could sense this. He could not accept James as his son-in-law and threw out Anne and her new husband from his house.
Life at Nassau
Anne did not leave her husband and was bonded to him by love. In a furious temperament, she even tried setting the plantation of her father on fire. Later, Anne Bonny and her husband quit Charles Town altogether, and lived in Nassau in the Bahamas between the years 1714 to 1718.
Nassau was popular as a sanctuary for English pirates. In the summer of 1718, with Governor Woodes Rogers’ arrival, James Bonny was given the position of governor’s informant. As an informer, James reported about the pirates, and this led to the arrest of many pirates. However, Anne was displeased with his husband’s work.
Partnership with Calico Jack Rackham
The married life of Anne Bonny began to become more stressful and unhappy with the passing days. Bonny started socializing with the different pirates. One afternoon, she got to meet pirate John “Calico Jack” Rackham, the captain of the pirate sloop Revenge. She quickly fell in love with him and decided to leave her husband.
She asked her husband to divorce her, in return for money. However, James Bonny refused to do so. Her husband even threatened that he would have Calico Jack attacked. But Anne Bonny and Rackham managed to escape the island.
Life as a Crewmate on Revenge
Later, Anne Bonny became a crew member on The Revenge under Calico Jack. She used to dress herself up as a man because women were regarded as bad luck on a ship. Apart from another woman, Mary Read, as well as Rackham, no one else was aware of the fact that she was a woman. Mary Read was also brought up disguised as a boy, and had spent a few years of her life as a soldier, before joining a merchant ship after the death of her husband. Read and Bonny developed a strong bond of friendship.
When Anne Bonny became pregnant, the secret that she was not a man was revealed. Rackham had to put into port in Cuba, and Anne delivered their son. Anne Bonny had developed a passion for the pirate life and was finally able to divorce James Bonny. She however left her newborn son with her extended family. She then re-joined Calico Jack and went on leading her pirate life.
Life in Jamaica
After divorcing James Bonny, Anne married Rackham at sea. The married couple kept enjoying their exciting pirate life. The trio of Rackham, Bonny, and Read then went on to steal a ship named William and set out to sea onboard it. Later, the two women, along with Rackham, hired a new crew and brought them onboard. The crew spent their time in Jamaica and the neighboring areas for several years. They were involved in capturing a number of small vessels as well as massive treasures. Pirate Bonny even participated in combat along with the men of the ship.
Anne Bonny was found to be effective and competent in the battles. She was given the title of “Wanted Pirate” by Governor Rogers of Nassau, in a circular that was published in The Boston News-Letter, the only newspaper during that time. She was even popular among the Caribbean pirates. However, in reality, Anne Bonny did not command a ship all by herself. Instead, she always preferred working in partnership with her husband.
In October 1720, the “King’s Ship” under the Governor of Jamaica’s commission and captained by Jonathan Barnet fought and captured the pirate Calico Jack Rackham along with his entire crew. Many of the pirates of Rackham were so drunk that they were unable to fight and showed little resistance.
However, the two women on the ship, Anne Bonny and Mary Read, tried their best and gave the boarders a tough fight. Nevertheless, they were only able to keep off the troops of Barnet for a short duration of time, and were captured and taken as prisoners to Jamaica.
Life in Prison
In Jamaica, the pirates of Rackham were convicted, and the Governor gave the order to hang them. According to Johnson’s History, the final words that Anne Bonny said to Calico Jack were, “Had you fought like a man; you need not have been hanged like a dog.”
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However, the two women Bonny and Read, “pleaded their bellies” and asked the court for mercy as the they were both pregnant at that time. The court showed mercy and granted the two women a temporary stay order of their execution. Once they gave birth, they were to be executed.
According to records, Mary Read did not live that long, dying in prison itself due to a fever that accompanied childbirth. A Jamaica church’s ledger provides evidence of her burial, stating that she was buried on the 28th of April 1721. The burial list simply reads “Mary Read, pirate.”
The Final Days of Anne Bonny
Anne Bonny was believed to have stayed in the Jamaica prison until she delivered her baby. At that point it appears she was released. However, this is unclear. No evidence is found in Johnson’s History relating to the release or potential execution of Anne Bonny. So, the last days of Bonny are still a mystery for all.
Some people believe that she must have reconciled and returned back to her father William Cormac, and others say she would have returned to James Bonny, her first husband. On the other hand, there are yet some others who suspect that she might have used a new identity and again started her pirate life on the sea.
Some other records even state that the influential power of William Cormac helped Anne Bonny get a rapid release. After her release from the prison, she is believed to have returned to where they lived, Charles Town. In South Carolina, she may even have had a second child with Rackham. Alternatively, it is also said that she married again to Joseph Burleigh, a local man, and they had eight children. In this story, she lived as a respectable woman and died when she was 84 years old.
However, the real ending of Anne Bonny is still unclear. These are just assumptions made by different people. In his History, Charles Johnson clearly writes, “She was continued in Prison, to the Time of her lying in, and afterward reprieved from Time to Time; but what is become of her since we cannot tell; only this we know, that she was not executed.” Her actual fate may be more mundane: the burial list on a Jamaica ledger also reveals that one “Anne Bonny” was buried there on the 29th of December 1733. She would have only lived into her 30s.
The Story Still Continues
While the real-life Anne Bonny has been dead for centuries, the Irish pirate’s character is kept alive in a number of ways. Mary Read and Anne Bonny have made a strong impression in the minds of people. Read, and Bonny have been portrayed in an animated film, video games and a live action television series, and are becoming familiar folklore characters to modern audiences.
More permanent memorials exist as well. A statue of Mary Read and Anne Bonny was unveiled in 2020 at Execution Dock in London.
Top Image: Much of Anne Bonny’s life is a mystery. Source: Dmitriy / Adobe Stock
By Bipin Dimri