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Mary Read kills a pirate
|Place of birth||England|
|Place of death||Jamaican prison|
|Allegiance||English-allied infantry & cavalry in Holland|
|Base of operations||Caribbean|
Mary Read (died 1721) was an English pirate. She and Anne Bonny are two of the most famed female pirates of all time. She is chiefly remembered as one of only two women (along with her comrade, Anne Bonny) known to have been convicted of piracy during the early 18th century, at the height of the Golden Age of Piracy.
Early life 
Mary Read was illegitimately born in England, in the late 17th century, to the widow of a sea captain.
Her date of birth is disputed among historians because of a reference to the "Peace of Ryswick" by her contemporary biographer Captain Charles Johnson in A General History of the Pyrates. He very well may have made an error, intending to refer to the "Treaty of Utrecht". Whichever it is, her birth was anywhere from 1670-1698.
Read's mother began to disguise illegitimately-born Mary as a boy after the death of Mary's older, legitimate brother Mark. This was done in order to continue to receive financial support from his paternal grandmother. The grandmother was apparently fooled, and Read and her mother lived on the inheritance into her teenage years. Still dressed as a boy, Read then found work as a footboy, and later found employment on a ship.
She later joined the British military, allied with Dutch forces against the French (this could have been during the Nine Years War or during the War of the Spanish Succession). Read, in male disguise, proved herself through battle, but she fell in love with a Flemish soldier. When they married, she used their military commission and gifts from intrigued brethren in arms as a funding source to acquire an inn named "De drie hoefijzers" (The Three Horseshoes") near Breda Castle in The Netherlands.
Upon her husband's early death, Read resumed male dress and military service in Holland. With peace, there was no room for advancement, so she quit and boarded a ship bound for the West Indies.
Becoming a pirate 
Read's ship was taken by pirates, who forced her to join them. She took the King's pardon c.1718-1719, and took a commission to privateer, until that ended with her joining the crew in mutiny. In 1720 she joined pirate John "Calico Jack" Rackham and his companion, the female pirate Anne Bonny.
Read remained dressed as a man at first. Nobody knew that Read was female until Bonny began to take a liking to Read thinking she was a handsome young fellow. That forced Read to reveal to Bonny that she was a woman. Rackham, who was Bonny's lover, became jealous of the intimacy between them and threatened to cut the throat of Bonny's new paramour. To prevent Read's death, Rackham was also let in on the secret; following, Rackham decided to break male seafaring tradition by allowing both women to remain on the crew.
During their brief cruise in late 1720, they took several prisoners and forced them into useful service. Read fell in love with one such victim who was surprised to learn that she was a woman and eventually returned the affection. When one of the pirates challenged her lover to a duel, Read contrived a secret duel to occur a couple hours earlier. She killed the pirate before he could bring any harm to her lover, whom she called "husband" as they made vows to each other in absence of a minister.
Capture and imprisonment 
In October 1720, pirate hunter Captain Jonathan Barnet took Rackham's crew by surprise while they were hosting a rum party with another crew of Englishmen off the west coast of Jamaica. After a volley of fire left the pirate vessel disabled, Rackham's crew and their "guests" fled to the hold, leaving only the women and one other to fight Barnet's boarding party. Allegedly, Read angrily shot into the hold, killing one, wounding others when the men would not come up and fight with them. Barnet's crew eventually overcame the women. Rackham surrendered, requesting "quarter."
Rackham and his crew were arrested and brought to trial in what is now known as Spanish Town, Jamaica, where they were sentenced to hang for acts of piracy, as were Read and Bonny. However, the women escaped the noose when they revealed they were both "quick with child" (known as "Pleading the belly"), so they received a temporary stay of execution.
Read died in prison in April 1721, but there is no record of burial of her baby. Official documents state that Read died of fever associated with childbirth.
Bonny disappeared from the historical record, presumed to have lived a long life in Colonial America.
References in popular culture 
- Italian novel "Mary Read di guerra e mare" by Michela Piazza, Correggio, Butterfly 2012, ISBN 978-88-97810-06-3
- The novel "The Only Life That Mattered: The Short and Merry Lives of Anne Bonny, Mary Read and Calico Jack Rackam" by James L. Nelson is a fictionalized account of the lives of the three famous pirates. Mary is characterized as tough and honorable, and forced to live most of her life disguised as a man. The author based his novel on historical documents, especially the transcript of the three pirates' trial.
- Mary Read's life is briefly outlined in a short story about another female pirate, The Widow Ching by the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges.
- Mary Read is mentioned in Adam and the Ants' song "Five Guns West", from their hit 1981 album Prince Charming.
- Bonny and Read are featured in Disneyland's Pirates of the Caribbean ride.
- The 2002 board game Pirate's Cove, published by Days of Wonder, contains the six legendary pirate cards one of which is Anne Bonny and Mary Read.
- "The Strength Of Mary Read" as recorded by The Good Wives off the A Response To Piracy EP, which references the heyday and eventual destruction of Port Royal.
- Mary Read and Anne Bonny both have their lives retold in vivid detail (presumably with the gaps filled in - such as Mary's brother's name is Billy Carlton) in the 2003 book Lobas de Mar (She-Wolves of the Sea) by Zoé Valdés.
- Misspelled, maybe intentionally, as Mery Red, the beautiful female pirate, is briefly portrayed by a naked dancer in the 2003 movie Cantando dietro i paraventi by Ermanno Olmi, based on the Widow Ching story.
- Mary Read, Anne Bonny and Calico Jack can be recruited as Pirate Captains in the computer game Tropico 2
- In the popular Zynga game Vampire Wars, there is an ability named "Mary Read's Deception" that can be won. It depicts a digital drawing of Read holding a sword to another pirate.
- The female pirate Anamaria in the movie Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl was probably named after Mary Read and Anne Bonny.
- Bonny and Read are both mentioned in the 2011 novel Steel, by Carrie Vaughn.
- In "Detective Conan: Jolly Roger of the Deep Azure", the story revolves around the legend of Mary Read and Anne Bonney and a treasure that they buried on the island that the movie takes place on.
See also 
- 1721, The Trials of Captain John Rackam and other Pirates
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Mary Read|
- General History of the Pyrates
- Mary Read article at woa.tv
- Mary Read at Find a Grave