18Th Century Women Pirates: Anne Bonny And Mary Read,

Biographies of the only women pirates ever recorded: Anne Bonny and Mary Read.

The pirate sloop, Curlew, shuddered convulsively under the tremendous volleys of cannon fire. Smoke billowed from the creaking deck; a twenty-foot section of the main mast cracked under a direct hit and crashed into the sea, sinking the once dreaded skull and crossbones of the black flag. Cannonballs, falling short of the ship, sprayed the already slippery deck with seawater, creating treacherous footing. Small fires flared and crackled everywhere, consuming bits of wooden barrels, ropes, and deck that had so far escaped the drenching sea. The pandemonium was deafening; shrill screams and curses from wounded, frightened men punctuated the air between the shattering thunderclaps of the cannons. Ship timbers snapped explosively. Calico Jack and his drunken crew, unprepared for the ferocious onslaught, scrambled into the lower hold of the ship and hid, cringing, beside the bulwarks.

On the chaotic deck above, two members of the crew did not run. Returning cannon fire was impossible on the canting, shivering ship, so they fired impotently at the attackers with muzzleloaders, frantically reloading the one-shot pistols while cannonballs whistled by their heads. Finally, they too ran toward the open hold and looked down at the men cowering beneath.

"If there's a man among ye, ye'll come out and fight like the men ye are thought to be!", one of them screamed. Streaked with blood and seawater, wounded by splinters and shrapnel from the exploding cannonballs, the two desperate pirates raised their muskets and fired into the hold. Several men below deck were hit, including Calico Jack.

The battle was lost. The Curlew, caught completely unaware by Captain Barnet's furious assault, was boarded and the surviving pirates taken prisoner. Among those arrested were Calico Jack and the two that had so bravely fought alone - Anne Bonny and Mary Read. The year was 1720.

In 1697 Anne Bonny was born Anne Cormac in Ireland, the result of an adulterous affair between her father, William Cormac, and his maid, Mary Brennan. With the liaison discovered, the pair took young Anne and sailed to Charleston South Carolina to escape the scandal. William purchased a plantation that prospered over the years, so that by the time Anne became a teenager, the family had accumulated wealth and a place in society.

Mary Read, considerably older than Anne, was born sometime in the mid 1670s in London, England to a family of means living under the paternal system of primogeniture - only first-born male children may inherit the family name and wealth. After her father and infant brother died, Mary's mother began raising Mary as a boy; a ruse that apparently worked to keep Mary's paternal grandparents supplying the family with income. Her grandmother died when Mary was a teenager and her uncle presumably inherited the family fortune, leaving Mary and her mother destitute.

Mary, now on her own, continued to play a male role and became first a footman and then a soldier in the English army. She fell in love with an infantryman. The two of them left the army and opened a tavern called The Three Horseshoes in 1697, right around the time her future comrade-in-arms, Anne Bonny, was born. They ran the tavern for nearly twenty years until Mary's husband died, leaving her once again alone. Taking up old habits to survive, Mary slipped into her male alter ego and became a shipmate on a sloop bound for the West Indies.

During this same time, Anne was growing up spoiled and plagued by a murderous disposition. On one occasion it's said she stabbed a maid to death in a fit of temper. Growing bored with plantation life in her adolescence, Anne married a scoundrel and sometimes pirate named Jack Bonny whose designs were more on her father's wealth than on Anne. Furious with the marriage, William disinherited her; Anne burned the plantation in retaliation.

Eventually Anne tired of her husband's recreant ways and ran off with Captain Jack Rackham - Calico Jack. Dressed as a man, she immersed herself in the pirate culture, fighting no less savagely than the male crew. She and Calico Jack prowled the shipping lanes around Jamaica, plundering ships and taking as prisoners those they didn't kill, one of whom was Mary Read.

Mary and Anne soon discovered each other's true identity and became fast friends. Anne offered, and Mary accepted, a place on the ship. Any doubts the crew harbored about Mary quickly disappeared when, in a rage over the planned execution of a prisoner with whom she'd fallen in love, Mary challenged one of the pirates to a duel; using pistols and daggers, she promptly dispatched him.

Calico Jack and his odd pirate crew were not a scourge on the high seas for long. The government of Jamaica grew weary of constantly losing valuable cargoes to the marauding pirates and called on England for help. The Curlew was taken not long afterward by Captain Barnet. Calico Jack along with most of his crew and including Anne and Mary were tried, convicted, and sentenced to hang. On his way to the gallows, its been said that Anne snarled to Calico Jack, "Had you fought like a man, you need not have been hanged like a dog!"

Anne Bonny and Mary Read, both pregnant, were given stays of execution. Neither one would ever hang: Mary died in prison of a fever and Anne was eventually ransomed from the British by her father. She then disappeared from history.

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