Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Pirate Wednesday - Female Pirates

Lately I've been reading the Feministing blog. Great writing about womens' issues, rights, equality, etc. Important stuff. In the spirit of feminism, today's Pirate Wednesday takes a look at the two well known female pirates, Anne Bonny and Mary Read. Enjoy.

BONNY, ANNE. Female pirate.

Anne was born in County Cork, and her father was an Attorney-at-Law, who practised his profession in that city, her mother being lady's maid to the attorney's lawful wife.

The story of the events which led to the existence of Anne may be read in Johnson's "History of the Pyrates," where it is recounted in a style quite suggestive of Fielding. In spite of its sad deficiency in moral tone, the narrative is highly diverting. But as this work is strictly confined to the history of the pirates and not to the amorous intrigues of their forbears, we will skip these pre-natal episodes and come to the time when the attorney, having lost a once flourishing legal practice, sailed from Ireland to Carolina to seek a fortune there, taking his little daughter Anne with him. In new surroundings fortune favoured the attorney, and he soon owned a rich plantation, and his daughter kept house for him.

Anne was now grown up and a fine young woman, but had a "fierce and courageous temper," which more than once led her into scrapes, as, on one occasion, when in a sad fit of temper, she slew her English servant-maid with a case-knife. But except for these occasional outbursts of passion she was a good and dutiful girl. Her father now began to think of finding a suitable young man to be a husband for Anne, which would not be hard to do, since Anne, besides her good looks, was his heir and would be well provided for by him. But Anne fell in love with a good-looking young sailor who arrived one day at Charleston, and, knowing her father would never consent to such a match, the lovers were secretly married, in the expectation that, the deed being done, the father would soon become reconciled to it. But on the contrary, the attorney, on being told the news, turned his daughter out of doors and would have nothing more to do with either of them. The bridegroom, finding his heiress worth not a groat, did what other sailors have done before and since, and slipped away to sea without so much as saying good-bye to his bride. But a more gallant lover soon hove in sight, the handsome, rich, dare-devil pirate, Captain John Rackam, known up and down the coast as "Calico Jack." Jack's methods of courting and taking a ship were similar--no time wasted, straight up alongside, every gun brought to play, and the prize seized. Anne was soon swept off her feet by her picturesque and impetuous lover, and consented to go to sea with him in his ship, but disguised herself in sailor's clothes before going on board. The lovers sailed together on a piratical honeymoon until certain news being conveyed to Captain Rackam by his bride, he sailed to Cuba and put Anne ashore at a small cove, where he had a house and also friends, who he knew would take good care of her. But before long Anne was back in the pirate ship, as active as any of her male shipmates with cutlass and marlinspike, always one of the leaders in boarding a prize.

However, the day of retribution was at hand. While cruising near Jamaica in October, 1720, the pirates were surprised by the sudden arrival of an armed sloop, which had been sent out by the Governor of that island for the express purpose of capturing Rackam and his crew. A fight followed, in which the pirates behaved in a most cowardly way, and were soon driven below decks, all but Anne Bonny and another woman pirate, Mary Read, who fought gallantly till taken prisoners, all the while flaunting their male companions on their cowardly conduct. The prisoners were carried to Jamaica and tried for piracy at St. Jago de la Vega, and convicted on November 28th, 1720. Anne pleaded to have her execution postponed for reasons of her condition of health, and this was allowed, and she never appears to have been hanged, though what her ultimate fate was is unknown. On the day that her lover Rackam was hanged he obtained, by special favour, permission to see Anne, but must have derived little comfort from the farewell interview, for all he got in the way of sympathy from his lady love were these words--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."

READ, MARY. Woman pirate.

Born in London of obscure parentage; all that is known for certain is that her mother was a "young and airy widow." Mary was brought up as a boy, and at the age of 13 was engaged as a footboy to wait on a French lady. Having a roving spirit, Mary ran away and entered herself on board a man-of-war. Deserting a few years later, she enlisted in a regiment of foot and fought in Flanders, showing on all occasions great bravery, but quitted the service to enlist in a regiment of horse. Her particular comrade in this regiment was a Fleming, with whom she fell in love and disclosed to him the secret of her sex. She now dressed as a woman, and the two troopers were married, "which made a great noise," and several of her officers attended the nuptials. She and her husband got their discharge and kept an eating house or ordinary, the Three Horseshoes, near the Castle of Breda. The husband died, and Mary once again donned male attire and enlisted in a regiment in Holland. Soon tiring of this, she deserted, and shipped herself aboard a vessel bound for the West Indies. This ship was taken by an English pirate, Captain Rackam, and Mary joined his crew as a seaman.

She was at New Providence Island, Bahama, when Woodes Rogers came there with the royal pardon to all pirates, and she shipped herself aboard a privateer sent out by Rogers to cruise against the Spaniards. The crew mutinied and again became pirates. She now sailed under Captain Rackam, who had with him another woman pirate, Anne Bonny. They took a large number of ships belonging to Jamaica, and out of one of these took prisoner "a young fellow of engaging behaviour" with whom Mary fell deeply in love. This young fellow had a quarrel with one of the pirates, and as the ship lay at anchor they were to go to fight it out on shore according to pirate law. Mary, to save her lover, picked a quarrel with the same pirate, and managed to have her duel at once, and fighting with sword and pistol killed him on the spot.

She now married the young man "of engaging behaviour," and not long after was taken prisoner with Captain Rackam and the rest of the crew to Jamaica. She was tried at St. Jago de la Vega in Jamaica, and on November 28th, 1720, was convicted, but died in prison soon after of a violent fever.

That Mary Read was a woman of great spirit is shown by her reply to Captain Rackam, who had asked her (thinking she was a young man) what pleasure she could find in a life continually in danger of death by fire, sword, or else by hanging; to which Mary replied "that as to hanging, she thought it no great Hardship, for were it not for that, every cowardly Fellow would turn Pirate and so unfit the Seas, that Men of Courage must starve."

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