Log in Subscribe

Sunday Favorites: The Lady Pirate

This drawing of Anne Bonny comes from Charles Johnson's Book of Pirates.

To say the pirate Anne Bonny was pitiless would be an understatement.

The Irish woman had “a sad fit of temper,” as author Jack Beater, describes it in his book Pirates and Buried Treasure.

At age 13, Bonny stabbed her serving maid with a table knife when the woman didn’t comply with her demands.

But her greatest act of ruthlessness might have come on her lover’s deathbed. At his last request, the pirate Captain John Rackham (1682-1720), Bonney’s partner in crime and father of her two children, requested to see her one last time before he was hanged.

When she visited him in his Jamaican jail cell, she told him she was sorry to see him about to be hanged, but “if he had fought like man, he need not go on to be hanged like a dog.”

What was it that caused the Irish seductress to turn to a life of crime? When one analyzes Bonny’s existence they will find a life filled with betrayal, deceit and revenge.

Bonny, fomerly Anne Cormac, was born in Kisdale County Cork Ireland on March 8, 1698. Her existence was highly controversial, as she was the daughter of a house servant, Mary Brennan and her employer, a lawyer named William Cormac.

The birth of an illegitimate child did not sit well with Cormac’s wife, especially when he welcomed Bonny in his household.

The scandal resulted in the loss of Cormac’s legal practice, so he packed up Brennan and Bonny and traveled to the U.S., in hope of a new start in the new world.

The journey was plagued with misfortune from the get go. Brennan fell ill almost immediately after her arrival, dying when Bonny was a very small child.

Cormac tried to establish a legal practice, but it failed miserably. It wasn’t until he entered the merchant trade that his finances finally turned around.

Bonny grew into a beautiful young woman with fiery red hair and a buxom body. Cormac had high-hopes for his stunning daughter, but the suitors he suggested never measured up to Bonny’s expectations. Instead of ending up with a well-to-do business man, like her father had envisioned, she ran off and married a poor sailor named James Bonny.

James had hoped marrying Anne would guarantee good fortune in the form of a comfortable inheritance. However, after learning of Anne’s discrepancy, her father disowned her.

Legend has it that an infuriated Anne burned her father’s estate to the ground after learning of his rejection; however, there is little to no evidence to support the claim.

Sometime between 1714-18, Anne and James moved to Nassau on New Providence Island, which was known as the Pirates Republic at the time.

Some accounts of the story say that James abandoned Anne, sailing away and never coming back, other records indicate that James became an informant for an English sea Captain, alerting him of wanted men on the island.

Whatever the case, James and Anne split up and Anne began mingling with local pirates. She began a relationship with Reckham, better known as the pirate “Calico Jack” and soon the couple were sailing the Caribbean aboard Reckham’s ship, Revenge.

Disguised in sailor’s attire, Anne cut off her red tresses to disguise her identity while pillaging merchant ships alongside Reckham.

During the maiden voyage, Revenge was attacked, then ravaged in a storm. Anne and Reckham found sanctuary between two islands at the mouth of the Estero River. It wasn’t the ideal harbor, but the new lovers made due. Some say they were the first caucasian couple to honey moon on Fort Myers Beach.

Before too long Anne became pregnant. When she was too far along to participate in pirate activities, Reckham dropped her off in Cuba, where she stayed with a family, supposedly under obligation to Reckham, until the baby was born.

It is unknown whether the baby was left with the family, or simply abandoned.

Anne reconnected with Reckham and they continued into a life of piracy aboard Revenge, hiring another famous female pirate, Mary Read, as crew. The pirates enjoyed an overwhelming amount of success, capturing many merchant ships and confiscating an extensive amount of treasure. During that time, Anne was "as active as any of her male shipmates with a cutlass and marlin spike, and always one of the leaders in boarding a prize."

Anne’s divorce from James finally became official and she and Reckham were married at sea.

The successful streak for the crew of Revenge came to an abrupt halt when the pirates were surprise attacked by an armed vessel chartered by the Governor of Jamaica. It was a bloody battle in which most of the crew were driven below deck save Anne and Read, who fought valiantly until being captured by their attackers.

All the pirates were taken prisoner and tried for piracy in Jamaica. On Sept. 28, 1720, they were found guilty and sentenced to be hanged.

Anne and Read’s life sentences were postponed, as they were both pregnant. Both women received a temporary stay of execution until they gave birth. Read died in prison; it is speculated she died during childbirth.

Anne’s destiny remains unknown; there is no record of her execution or death. Some say she was ransomed by her father. Others speculate she returned to her former husband, but the most likely story, in my opinion, is that her pirate peers broke her out of prison, or she escaped only to resume a life of piracy under a new identity.

Of course, before she fled Jamaica she visited her pirate husband just before he was hanged. What he had hoped would be a heartfelt farewell was instead a low-level insult.

It was the only way someone with a ruthless heart, like Anne, could bear to say goodbye. 


No comments on this item

Only paid subscribers can comment
Please log in to comment by clicking here.