Anne Bonny

‘I never knew a woman brought to sea in a ship that some mischief did not befall the vessel’.

Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood
It was widely held by sailors that women on board ship brought ill fortune. However, that did not stop a few swashbuckling ladies from joining and even leading bands of buccaneers in the 18th century. In fact women had been smuggled on board ships for centuries and even fought alongside crews in such epic battles as Trafalgar.
 Hanna Snell, the daughter of a dyer from Worcester, enlisted in the marines who were shipboard soldiers who helped keep discipline onboard ship. Hanna saw action in this capacity, and was eventually badly wounded in both thighs. Despite this, her true sex was never identified, and she recovered from her wounds. In 1750 she revealed her true identity, became a celebrity and starred on the stage.    Nick Slope
‘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.’      Owen James Burke

Anne Bonny

There are very few verifiable historical facts about her, and much of her earlier life is still shrouded in mystery.  Most of what is known about Anne Bonny’s early life comes from Captain Charles Johnson’s ‘A General History of the Pyrates’, published in 1724. Johnson provides some details of Bonny’s early life but did not list his sources and his information has proven impossible to verify.
If you believe the hype, Anne Bonny was a dazzling pirate who out fought, out thought, out drank and out cursed the entire ship’s company. Glamorised and romanticised, she is the true stuff of history.
  ‘Anne has gained great historical stature in spite of her lack of distinction as a pirate. Her character has much to do with it: not only was she one of only a handful of female pirates in history, but she was one of the die-hards, who fought and cursed harder than most of her male colleagues.’   thoughtco

Early life

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


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