‘I never knew a woman brought to sea in a ship that some mischief did not befall the vessel’.
Bonny was born near Cork, Ireland probably sometime around 1700, the result of a scandalous affair between William Cormac, a lawyer and his maidservant. He was eventually forced to take Anne and her mother to America to escape the gossip. After moving the family to a plantation in Charleston, South Carolina, William started his career as a merchant and appears to have been very successful. To his dismay, Anne’s violent and defiant nature forced him to disinherit her when she, against his wishes, married a smalltime pirate named James Bonny. Cast out with no money, the newlyweds moved to New Providence Island in the Bahamas.
In this popular pirate hideaway, Anne enjoyed fraternising and carousing with the pirates and felt betrayed when she discovered that her husband had started working as a government informer. She promptly dumped him and became the mistress of John “Calico Jack” Rackham, captain of the sloop “Revenge”.
Her naval career
Along with a small crew, the pair began pirating merchant vessels along the coast of Jamaica. Rackham’s decision to have Anne accompany him was highly unusual, as women were considered bad luck aboard ship. He may have been swayed by her fiery spirit and more likely her fighting qualities. It was widely believed that in her youth she had beaten an attempted rapist so badly that he was hospitalised. Whatever the reasons, she quickly proved that she could guzzle rum, curse and wield a pistol and cutlass with the best of Calico Jack’s crew. She did not conceal her gender from her shipmates, though when fighting and pillaging she disguised herself as a man. Considering her fame, it’s surprising that her pirating career was so short, lasting barely a few months.
Rackham was a B list pirate, mostly taking easy prey like fishing vessels and lightly armed traders. However, Governor Woodes Rogers authorized privateers to hunt down and capture pirates operating in the Caribbean . The good fortunes of Captain Rackham and Anne Bonny came to an abrupt end in the October of 1720, when an English military ship under the command of Jonathan Barnet managed to surprise the pirates, who had been drinking, and after a brief exchange of cannon and small arms fire, surrendered.
The crew of “Revenge” were taken to Port Royal to stand trial. Rackham and the male crew members were immediately found guilty and hanged. Bonny was found guilty and sentenced to death, however her pregnancy won her a stay of execution.
It was during her trial her trial that details of how fearsome she actually was came to light. Based on the testimony of these sailors, Anne and her fellow female cohort were the worst of the bunch. I guess they would say that.
Bonny’s last words to Rackham were:
“Sorry to see you there, but if you’d fought like a man, you would not have been hang’d like a Dog.”
What happened to Anne after this is uncertain. Like her early life, her later life is lost in shadow. Captain Johnson’s book first came out in 1724, so her trial was still fairly recent news while he was writing it, and he only says of her “She was continued in prison, to the time of her lying in, and afterwards reprieved from Time to Time, but what is become of her since, we cannot tell; only this we know, that she was not executed.”
According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004), Anne Bonny’s father managed to pay the ransom for his daughter and bring her back to the Charles Town. Soon after, she gave a birth to Rackham’s child. In 1721 she remarried to Joseph Burleigh. They had eight children. She died in April 25, 1782 in South Carolina.
A romanticised version of her life has inspired countless stories, books, movies and songs.
At a time when women were kept indoors, barred from freedoms that men enjoyed, Anne went out on her own, left her father and husband, and lived as a pirate on the high seas off and on for two years. How many repressed young girls of the Victorian era saw Anne Bonny as a great heroine? thoughtco
The biography of a pirate thoughtco
One of the few female pirates to sail the high seas – Anne Bonnily by Ian Harvey
Famous Pirate: Anne Bonny Way of the pirates