I wrote about a Chinese pirate queen called Ching Shi the other day and found it all rather interesting so I thought I’d learn about another femme fatale of the blustery high seas. This time our main protagonist was born a little closer to home.
The Early Years
Ann Bonny was born an illegitimate child of her father and his maid in around 1702 in Kinsale, Ireland. The shame of the unwanted pregnancy and birth was such that they decided to emigrate (or so goes the story). So a very young Ann found herself in North America before the age of five. Her mother died soon after arriving and after a failed attempt at being an attorney, her father decided to go into merchant business and did very well for himself, making quite a store of cash and a large international network of partners.
Ann was already building up a bit of a reputation for being fiery of hair and in temper, a force to be reckoned with. She allegedly stabbed a servant girl at the age of 13 and beat up a boy who made unwanted advances. Much to the chagrin of her now wealthy father she married a down on his luck pirate chap called James Bonny. Many theorize that he was just after her dad’s cash, but that was never going to happen as he had pretty much disowned her for marrying a low life, drop out loser.
After the promise of a royal pardon, James decided to turn into an informant which disgusted Ann to the core and so she left him and went out on her own to Nissau on New Providence Island in the Bahamas in the 1710’s. New Providence at that time was a bit of a haven for pirates and she would frequent many a pirate bar where she was known to drink and swear like a pirate and did more than her fair share of sleeping around.
In the Bahamas she met a more successful and renowned pirate by the name of Jack “Calico Jack” Rackham (so named because of his love for colourful outfits). They went off pirating together on the high seas, with a brief stop off in Cuba where their first-born was produced. They married on the high seas as you would hope from a pirating couple and stole the Revenge from Nissau harbour. They used the Revenge to plunder many other ships and crews and amassed a fearsome amount of booty.
Capture & Death
In October 1720 a sloop commissioned by the Governor of Jamaica attacked their vessel in harbour and were successful in defeating the occupants. Legend has it that the crew were all either too drunk or asleep to put up much of a battle. Ann Bonny, true to her character put up a good fight and held the enemy off for a short while alongside another lady of the high seas with a short fuse – Mary Read – before being captured.
The men were all hanged and Ann’s last words to her husband are supposed to have been that she was “sorry to see him there, but if he had fought like a Man, he need not have been hang’d like a Dog.” Ann and Mary Read both “pleaded their bellies” i.e. said they were pregnant so that it was illegal under British law to kill them.
Read died of a fever or during child birth, but Ann Bonny’s demise is a little more mysterious. There are no records of her death, execution, escape or pardon. The most likely of the theories is that her powerful and rich father with his strong mercantile connections managed to secure a release for his daughter. She had been captured in the past and never received any punishment so it’s quite possible that he afforded her some protection.
The Oxford Dictionary of National Biographies states that she was whisked back to South Carolina where she had Rackham’s second child and remarried to a local fella and died in her 80’s as a respectable and respected old lady.
I do like a nice mysterious ending don’t you? And although I can’t congratulate her for her general behaviour, I bet she had a ruddy complexion and some good tales to tell.
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