On this day (we think) in 1690, or 1697, or 1698, or 1702, or maybe 1705—a “fierce hell cat” was born in County Cork, Ireland. Or possibly in Charleston, South Carolina. Okay, the recordkeeping of the goings-on among the “common class” in the 17th and 18th centuries leaves a bit to be desired when you’re trying to pin down a date.
Basically, some time, a little over three-hundred years ago, Anne McCormac—the redheaded, hot-tempered product of an extramarital affair—was born to a family that started out in Ireland and ended up in South Carolina just before or sometime after her birth. Good enough.
When she was twelve (or thirteen), Anne lost her mother, who died of typhoid fever. That loss and the new responsibility of managing her father’s household probably served only to exacerbate Anne’s rather rebellious teen years—it’s reported that she stabbed a servant with a serving knife (unsubstantiated); that she got friendly with pirates—eventually marrying James Bonny (substantiated), who was eyeballing her father’s money (unsubstantiated, but considered highly likely), there’s even a story about her burning down her father’s plantation (unsubstantiated) in retribution for being disowned (substantiated).
Anne and James made their way to the pirate haven that was Nassau at the time. James, after accepting the pardon offered to pirates by Governor Woodes Rogers, turned informant and began ratting men that he didn’t like out as pirates. In the meantime, having never gotten past the rebelliousness of her teens (because she was very likely still a teenager) Anne Bonny continued to live how she wanted, which allegedly included a whole lot of sex and companionship that was not with her husband. She crossed paths with Captain “Calico” Jack Rackham, who was in Nassau to accept the Kings Pardon, and the two began an affair.
*Fun Fact: Calico Jack flew the iconic jolly roger where crossed swords replaced the crossbones.
Calico Jack, taking advantage of a rather archaic law, tried to *shudder* buy Anne from James, basically paying James to divorce her. Though accounts vary, some insisting that Anne refused this deal and others insisting that James deliberately entered the arrangement in bad faith, they generally end the same: James, rather than divorce Anne, accused her of adultery and, thanks to his relationship with Governor Rogers, had her ordered to be flogged. By Jack. Anne and Jack escaped in the night, stealing a sloop and sailing off into pirate-y adventures—adventures in which Anne would prove a particularly dangerous pirate.
While generally wreaking havoc around Jamaica, Anne Bonny happened across another female pirate, Mary Read, who was disguised as a man when she joined Rackham’s crew. Whether or not they became lovers or nearly became lovers, as legend suggests, Anne and Mary were a force to be reckoned with; Captain Thomas Dillon described them as “profligate, cursing and swearing much, and very ready and willing to do anything on board.”
After, roughly, two years of pillaging the Jamaican and Bahaman coasts, the Crown finally caught up with Rackham, Bonny, Read, and the rest of the crew aboard the Revenge (or the William). Under commission from the Governor of Jamaica, a pirate hunter, Jonathan Barnet, closed in on Rackham’s crew on the western end of Jamaica when, as legend has it, the vast majority of the crew was drunk. Whether the bulk of the crew was drunk or simply hiding below decks (or both), all accounts suggest that Anne Bonny and Mary Read were the only (or among the very few) crewmembers who forcefully resisted. The two did actually manage to stave off Barnet’s men for quite a while, but eventually they and the rest of the crew were arrested.
The men were tried first—all of them convicted of piracy and sentenced to hang. According to The General History of Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates (1724), Jack Rackham requested to see Anne before his execution. Reportedly, her last words to him were, “Sorry to see you here, but if you’d fought like a man, you would not have been hang’d like a dog.” Daaaaamn! She and Mary Read were tried some days later and were also convicted and sentenced to hang. They were both given a stay of execution when they pleaded their “bellies.”
Mary Read died, in custody, on April 1721 of a fever before giving birth. Anne Bonny, though… she kind of disappeared without a trace. There is no record of her execution. There is no record of her release. As far as the historical record is concerned, she just vanished.
Rumors persist that she escaped and returned to piracy under an assumed name. Others say that she returned to her husband. Some insist that Mary’s death records were faked and the two ended up relocating to New Orleans and raising their children together. And a lot of folks stick with the story—and, apparently, there is some evidence to support the claim—that her father, who had connections in the Caribbean, bought her freedom and she lived out her life taking another name, getting married, having lots of babies, and dying as an octogenarian. I just want to say that I would love to see a movie about an elderly Anne Bonny. I can only imagine that character as being an 18th century version of Victoria from RED.
However uncertain the specific details of her life are, the fact remains that she was a badass. She held her own in a world that was not meant for her. Whichever way we may feel about piracy and its attendant violence, it cannot go unnoticed that it was absolutely a man’s world but Anne Bonny broke into the ranks, commanded the respect of her fellow crewmembers, and was so fierce that her two years as a pirate are still talked about nearly three-hundred years later.
So, Anne Bonny: happy three-hundred and somethingth birthday to a total BAMF.