See What Happened Was...
fun stories from history
Everyone knows that pirates are super cool. Though if you think about it, they're kind of the worst--what with all the killing and stealing and never showering--but we all love them anyways. What do you picture when you think of pirate? Probably a guy with greasy long black hair and beard, nice floppy hat, clothing an eclectic mixture of grotty pirate sackcloth and classy British tailcoats with some minimalist accessories--single hoop earring, maybe a hook, but only if it's practical. And while this image is not entirely inaccurate and some pirates did look like that, it is not true of all of them. Not all of them had hooks, not all of them wore classy British tailcoats, not all of them had beards--heck, not all of them were even men! But you probably saw that coming given the title of this post.
Let's learn about the baddest of bad lady pirates! Spoiler alert: Elizabeth Swan ain't got nuttin.
Mary Read was born in London. While her mother’s husband was off at sea she became pregnant by another man and Mary was born. The husband died while at sea and Mary’s half brother also died during this time. In order to continue to receive support from the husband’s side of the family, Mary was disguised her brother, so as to prevent them from ever finding out she existed. Mary embraced this charade and the freedom that came along with it. At the age of 15 or 16 she volunteered to become a sailor and later also soldier.
Sailing home at the end of a campaign in the Netherlands her ship was captured by pirates. Offered the chance to join them (her true identity still unknown), she became a pirate. And boy was the pirate life for her! She flourished, fighting bravely, winning booty and duels—once on behalf of a lover. She continued to keep her identity a secret (except to her lover of course) and was well respected by her crew-mates.
Anne Bonny, born in Ireland, was also an illegitimate child. She was raised by her father in relative wealth however and did need to pretend to be a boy growing up. This didn’t stop her from being just as much a rebel as Mary though. She ran away from home, married a rough sailor, and moved to the Caribbean (prime pirate country). But the marriage did not last long. Soon she met, fell in love, and eloped with pirate Captain Calico Jack, joining his pirate crew. She never really hid her identity as a woman, though she did at times wear men’s clothing. Probably cause it’s way more practical for the whole pirate thing.
All was going well, until Calico Jack noticed Anne getting very close with a young member of his crew. He was outraged and threatened to bring the pain to this young upstart. It was then that Mary Read revealed her true identity. WHAT?? MARY READ WAS THE YOUNG SAILOR THAT ANNE SEEMED TO BE FALLING FOR BUT REALLY THEY WERE JUST BONDING (cause, you know the only chicks on the high seas)??
Coincidences man, they make the world go round.
Contrary to what we might expect to happen, Mary was not ostracized at all. Rather she continued to be embraced as a valuable member of the crew. She and Anne were well respected, an integral and equal part of the crew. From then on neither woman had to hid their identity—cursing like any pirate, handling pistols and machetes with skill, at times wearing women’s clothing, at times men’s (again…practicality).
They continued to own it until Calico’s ship was captured. By now theirs had become a notorious band and the British government had been determined to bring an end to their reign of terror. All of the pirates were tried, convicted, and hanged. Except Anne and Mary. Because they were both pregnant. The court decided to imprison them until their children were born, and then they’d probably hang them.
Mary tragically died in prison before giving birth.
And Anne…well we don’t really know. There is no record of her execution or death in prison. It is possible that her father had the resources to bail her out, but again there is no record. Perhaps she escaped to pirate another day. We will likely never know.