Rest in Peace Anne Bonny: A Tribute to the Pirate Queen of the Caribbean on This Day of Her (Supposed) Death

by Owen James Burke

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Anne Bonny dressed in men’s garb for battle, but was known for considerately slipping her enemies a glance at her breast before finishing them off, just to reveal that they were being done in by a woman. Image: Public domain.

While yes, it may be Earth Day, April 22nd could also be remembered with intrigue in nautical history as the day that, by some accounts at least, the infamous, scandalous pirate queen of the Caribbean Anne Bonny made the grave.

Anne Bonny was brazen, ruthless, seductive, self-empowered, and a woman way, way ahead of her time. She was also said to be something of a catch, with her blazing red mane. Still, she was no daisy. Bonny took to buccaneer’s duty in men’s attire and was just as much of a brute, if not more so than her male counterparts.

Bonny was born Anna Cormac in County Cork, Ireland sometime between 1697 and 1700 to Marry Brennan, a servant woman and her employer, lawyer William Cormac. Cormac’s wife made the affair and illegitimate birth public, tarnishing Cormac and his career, so he and his newly forged family left Ireland for the New World sometime shortly after Anne’s birth, settling in Charleston, South Carolina.

Brennan died when Anne was 12, and while Cormac did not manage to get on track as an attorney in Charleston, did amass some considerable wealth in the merchant business. Still, young Anne grew troubled and many accounts say she bore a vicious temper. Story has it that at 13 years old, she stabbed a servant girl with a table knife (it’s unclear whether or not the servant survived), and around the same time mutilated a man who was then hospitalized for weeks, apparently in reaction to his attempted (and presumably failed) sexual assault on her.

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A Dutch portrayal of Anne Bonny. Image: Public domain.

At 16, Anne married a lowly sailor and small-time pirate by the name of James Bonny, a charlatan whose interest was said to lay mostly in his father-in-law’s wealth, an inheritance which Anne lost when she was disowned, possibly as a result of her engagement to Bonny. Further rumor has it that sometime between 1714 and 1718, Anne set fire to her father’s plantation before running off with her new groom to Nassau, on what was then called New Providence Island, a haven for British pirates in the Bahamas.

Failing to make himself into the pirate his wife had hoped he’d become, Bonny is believed to have become a pirate informant to the governor, a sore disappointment to Anne, who’d fallen in with the local pirates, and eventually took a shining to another petty pirate called Jack “Calico Jack” Rackham. Unlike her husband, Rackham had starry eyes and knew how to spend his money lavishly, despite the little he had.

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Captain Jack “Calico Jack” Rackham. Image: Public domain.

Rackham was a dreamer, a romantic, and for these reasons earned Anne Bonny’s adoration. Still, Jack was no thief, and in gentlemanly fashion offered to purchase Bonny from her husband (who declined).

Jack and Anne ran off together with, remarkably, another spunky young woman named Mary Read, also with a rugged past and boyish habits (there’s speculation, mostly by gutter-minded historians and pirate fetishists, that Read and Bonny were also romantically involved). It’s believed that Read was working as a mercenary disguised as a man aboard a Dutch ship that was captured by Rackham and forcibly taken as crew, while some records have it that she joined Rackham and Bonny on her own free will.

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Anne Bonny and Mary Read. Image: Public domain.

Sometime around 1720, Rackham, Bonny and Read commandeered the British sloop William, renaming it Revenge. Bonny divorced James Bonny and married Rackham while at sea, keeping her former spouse’s name for reasons unknown. The trio then recruited new crew and in the ensuing months began somewhat successful exploits in looting treasures and capturing smaller vessels around Jamaica.

Bonny soon became pregnant, and did her best to hide her protrusion from Rackham, fearing he’d abandon her. The inevitable discovery took place somewhere near Cuba, where Bonny was left to give birth. Accounts are blurred on what happened to the child, ranging from speculations that it died at birth to reports that it was left to be raised by friends of Rackham’s in Cuba.

Anne Bonny soon found her way back onto Rackham’s ship, but it wasn’t long before the vessel was attacked by a “King’s Ship,” commissioned by the governor of Jamaica. The raid came in the night, while most of the crew were drunk and or asleep. Bonny and Read, however, fought fiercely, and kept the troops at bay for some time, but ultimately, alone, they stood no chance and the entire crew of the Revenge were captured.

Found guilty of piracy, everyone was sentenced to hang, while Bonny and Read “pleaded their bellies”–they were both pregnant. Read died in prison, possibly due to complications during childbirth, while, once again, there was no historical record of Bonny’s childbirth, neither her release from prison, nor her execution. Some say Bonny’s father ransomed her, other’s say it was her first husband. There are also stories that she continued on in her buccaneering ways after assuming an alias, and later returned to Charleston, where many records have it that she expired on this very spring day, 233 years ago.

Just before Rackham’s execution, Bonny turned to her husband and delivered her famous last words to him: “Had you fought like a man, you need not have been hang’d like a dog.”

Cold, cruel and merciless was Anne Bonny. Now that’s the kind of woman any dignified man should want to die by.


Required Reading:

wickedctown

Wicked Charleston: The Dark Side of the Holy City, by Mark R. Jones


genhistpyrates

A General History of the Pyrates, by Daniel Defoe

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