Anne Bonny

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Anne Bonny
Bonny from the 1725 Dutch translation of Charles Johnson's book of pirates
Bornca. 1670–1700
Piratical career
AllegianceCalico Jack
Years activeAugust 1720 – October 1720
Base of operationsCaribbean

Anne Bonny (c. 1670–1700 – disappeared after 28 November 1720),[1][2] sometimes Ann Fulford,[3] was an Irish pirate operating in the Caribbean, and one of the few female pirates in recorded history.[4] What little that is known of her life comes largely from Captain Charles Johnson's 1724 book A General History of the Pyrates.

Bonny was born in Ireland between 1670 and 1700, and later moved to London and then to the Province of Carolina. Around 1718 she married sailor James Bonny, assumed his last name, and moved with him to Nassau in the Bahamas, a sanctuary for pirates.[5] It was there that she met Calico Jack Rackham and became his pirate partner and lover. She was captured alongside Rackham and Mary Read in October 1720. All three were sentenced to death, but Bonny and Read had their executions stayed because both of them were pregnant. Read died of a fever in jail in April 1721 (likely due to complications from the pregnancy), but Bonny's fate is unknown.

Early life[edit]

Bonny's birthdate is unknown, likely between the years 1670 and 1700.[6] She was said to be born in Old Head of Kinsale,[7] in County Cork, Ireland.[8] She was the daughter of a servant woman, Mary Brennan, and Brennan's employer, the lawyer William Cormac. Cormac's wife had become ill and was moved to her mother-in-law's home a few miles away to be cared for. Whilst Cormac's wife was away, he began an affair with Mary Brennan, who as a consequence gave birth to a daughter, Anne. Although Anne was therefore illegitimate, Cormac presented her as his legitimate daughter.[9] Official records and contemporary letters dealing with her life are scarce, and most modern knowledge stems from Charles Johnson's A General History of the Pyrates (a collection of pirate biographies, the first edition partly accurate, the second much embellished).[10][11][12]

William Cormac first moved to London to get away from his wife's family, and he began dressing Anne as a boy and calling her "Andy". When Cormac's wife discovered William had taken in his illegitimate daughter and was bringing the child up to be a lawyer's clerk and dressing her as a boy, she stopped giving him an allowance.[13] Cormac then moved to the Province of Carolina, taking along Anne and her mother Mary Brennan. At first, the family had a rough start in their new home; Cormac attempted to establish himself as a lawyer in Charles Town but did not do well. However, his knowledge of the law and ability to buy and sell goods soon financed a townhouse and eventually a plantation just outside the town. Bonny's mother died when Anne was young.[14]

It is recorded that Bonny was considered a "good catch" but may have had a fiery temper; she supposedly stabbed a servant girl with a knife.[11] She married a poor sailor and small-time pirate named James Bonny.[15] James hoped to win possession of his father-in-law's estate, but Bonny was disowned by her father. Anne's father did not approve of James Bonny as a husband for his daughter, and he threw Anne out of his house.[16]

There is a story that Bonny set fire to her father's plantation in retaliation, but no evidence exists in support. However, it is known that sometime between 1714 and 1718, she and James Bonny moved to Nassau, on New Providence Island, known as a sanctuary for English pirates called the Republic of Pirates.[17] Many inhabitants received a King's Pardon or otherwise evaded the law. It is also recorded that, after the arrival of Governor Woodes Rogers in the summer of 1718, James Bonny became an informant for the governor.[18] James Bonny would report to Governor Rogers about the pirates in the area, which resulted in a multitude of these pirates being arrested. Anne disliked the work her husband did for Governor Rogers.

Rackham's partner[edit]

Anne Bonny, Firing Upon the Crew, from the Pirates of the Spanish Main series (N19) for Allen & Ginter Cigarettes MET DP835030

While in the Bahamas, Bonny began mingling with pirates in the taverns. She met John "Calico Jack" Rackham, and he became her lover. Rackham subsequently offered money to her husband James if he would divorce her, but her husband refused and threatened to beat Rackham. She and Rackham escaped the island together, and she became a member of his crew. She disguised herself as a man on the ship, and only Rackham and Mary Read were aware that she was a woman[16] until it became clear that she was pregnant. Rackham then landed her in Cuba where she gave birth to a son.[13] She then rejoined Rackham and continued the pirate life, having divorced her husband and married Rackham while at sea.[citation needed] Bonny, Rackham, and Read stole the ship William, then at anchor in Nassau harbor, and put out to sea.[19] Rackham and the two women recruited a new crew. Their crew spent years in Jamaica and the surrounding area.[20] Bonny took part in combat alongside the men, and Governor Rogers named her in a "Wanted Pirates" circular published in The Boston News-Letter.[18]

When Bonny told Read that she was a woman because she was attracted to her, Read revealed that she too was a woman. To abate the jealousy of Rackham, who suspected romantic involvement between the two, Bonny told him that Read was a woman.[21] Speculation over the relationship between Bonny and Read led to images depicting the two in battle together.[22]

A victim of the pirates, Dorothy Thomas, left a description of Read and Bonny: They "wore men's jackets, and long trousers, and handkerchiefs tied about their heads: and ... each of them had a machete and pistol in their hands and they cursed and swore at the men to murder her [Dorothy Thomas]." Thomas also recorded that she knew that they were women, "from the largeness of their breasts."[23]

Capture and imprisonment[edit]

In October 1720, Rackham and his crew were attacked by a sloop captained by Jonathan Barnet under a commission from Nicholas Lawes, Governor of Jamaica. Most of Rackham's pirates put up little resistance, as many of them were too drunk to fight. They were taken to Jamaica where they were convicted and sentenced by Governor Lawes to be hanged.[24] When Anne Bonny was being tried in Jamaica, many of the gentlemen planters of Jamaica knew Anne Bonny’s father and had dealt with him before. Therefore, it was assumed that Bonny might receive favour in her trial. However, her action of leaving was a harrowing circumstance against her that was one of the reasons that ultimately led to her imprisonment.[9]

Read and Bonny both "pleaded their bellies", asking for mercy because they were pregnant,[25] and the court granted them a stay of execution until they gave birth. Read died in prison, most likely from a fever from childbirth. A ledger from a church in Jamaica lists her burial on 28 April 1721, "Mary Read, pirate".[26]


There is no record of Bonny's release, and this has fed speculation as to her fate.[27] Claims of Bonny being freed by family intervention and moving to the American colonies, dying around the 1780s, are unlikely and appear to originate from the 1964 romance novel Mistress of the Seas.[28] A Spanish Town burial register lists the burial of an "Ann Bonny" on 29 December 1733. Spanish Town is the same town in Jamaica where Bonny was tried in 1720.[26] Captain Charles Johnson writes in A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the most notorious Pyrates, published in 1724: "She was continued in Prison, to the Time of her lying in, and afterward reprieved from Time to Time; but what is become of her since we cannot tell; only this we know, that she was not executed".[29]

In popular culture[edit]


In 2020, a statue of Bonny and Read was unveiled at Execution Dock in Wapping, London. It was originally planned for the statues to be permanently placed on Burgh Island in south Devon,[36] but these plans were withdrawn after complaints of glamorizing piracy, and because Bonny and Read have no association with the island.[37] The statues were eventually accepted by Lewes F.C.[38]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Anne Bonny – Famous Pirate – The Way of the Pirates". Archived from the original on 14 November 2020. Retrieved 29 December 2017.
  2. ^ "Anne Bonny – Irish American pirate". Archived from the original on 4 December 2020. Retrieved 29 December 2017.
  3. ^ The Boston Gazette 1720 October 17 The Documentary Record Archived 25 September 2023 at the Wayback Machine,
  4. ^ "Anne Bonny and Famous Female Pirates". Archived from the original on 4 March 2018. Retrieved 3 March 2018.
  5. ^ "Anne Bonny | Biography & Facts | Britannica". Archived from the original on 4 December 2020. Retrieved 17 February 2022.
  6. ^ Baldwin, Robert. "The Tryals Of Captain John Rackham and Other Pirates". Internet Archives. 1721, The trial does not give an age, young enough to be pregnant, old enough to be called a spinster. Retrieved 22 October 2023.
  7. ^ Rediker, Marcus (1993). "When Women Pirates Sailed the Seas". The Wilson Quarterly. 17 (4): 102–110. JSTOR 40258786.
  8. ^ "Anne Bonny – Famous Female Pirate". Archived from the original on 12 November 2017. Retrieved 29 December 2017.
  9. ^ a b Legendary Pirates The Life and Legacy of Anne Bonny . Charles River Editors , 2018.
  10. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica Online
  11. ^ a b Meltzer (2001)
  12. ^ Bartelme, Tony (21 November 2018). "The true and false stories of Anne Bonny, pirate woman of the Caribbean". The Post and Courier. Archived from the original on 11 November 2020. Retrieved 10 November 2020.
  13. ^ a b Joan., Druett (2005) [2000]. She captains : heroines and hellions of the sea. New York: Barnes & Noble Books. ISBN 0760766916. OCLC 70236194.
  14. ^ Johnson (1725)
  15. ^ Lorimer (2002), p. 47
  16. ^ a b Johnson, Charles (14 May 1724). The General History of Pyrates. Ch. Rivington, J. Lacy, and J. Stone.
  17. ^ Sharp (2002)
  18. ^ a b c Woodard, Colin (2007). The Republic of Pirates. Harcourt, Inc. pp. 139, 316–318. ISBN 978-0-15-603462-3. Archived from the original on 4 January 2020. Retrieved 18 June 2020.
  19. ^ Druett, Joan (2000). She Captains: Heroines and Hellions of the Sea. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0684856905.
  20. ^ Canfield, Rob (2001). "Something's Mizzen: Anne Bonny, Mary Read, "Polly", and Female Counter-Roles on the Imperialist Stage". South Atlantic Review: 50.
  21. ^ Johnson, Charles (1724). A General History of the Pyrates. London: T. Warner. p. 162. […] this Intimacy so disturb'd Captain Rackam, who was the Lover and Gallant of Anne Bonny, that he grew furiously jealous, so that he told Anne Bonny, he would cut her new Lover's Throat, therefore, to quiet him, she let him into the Secret also.
  22. ^ O'Driscoll, Sally (2012). "The Pirate's Breasts: Criminal Women and the Meanings of the Body". The Eighteenth Century. 53 (3): 357–379. doi:10.1353/ecy.2012.0024. JSTOR 23365017. S2CID 163111552. Archived from the original on 4 January 2022. Retrieved 1 July 2022 – via JSTOR.
  23. ^ Burl, Aubrey (2006). Black Barty: Bartholomew Roberts and his Pirate Crew 1718–1723. Stroud: Sutton Publishing. pp. 147–148. ISBN 978-1846324338. OCLC 852757012. Archived from the original on 29 October 2023. Retrieved 1 July 2022.
  24. ^ Zettle, LuAnn. "Anne Bonny The Last Pirate". Archived from the original on 22 May 2019.
  25. ^ Yolen, Jane; Shannon, David (1995). The Ballad of the Pirate Queens. San Diego: Harcourt Brace. pp. 23–24.
  26. ^ a b Bartleme, Tony (28 November 2020). "A 22-year-old YouTuber may have solved Anne Bonny pirate mystery 300 years after trial". The Post and Courier. Archived from the original on 28 November 2020. Retrieved 28 November 2020.
  27. ^ Carmichael, Sherman (2011). Forgotten Tales of South Carolina. The History Press. p. 72. ISBN 9781609492328.[permanent dead link]
  28. ^ Fictum, David (8 May 2016). "Anne Bonny and Mary Read: Female Pirates and Maritime Women". Colonies, Ships, and Pirates. 8 May 2016. Archived from the original on 14 October 2023. Retrieved 6 October 2023.
  29. ^ Captain Charles Johnson, A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the most notorious Pyrates, Chapter 8, Archived 18 September 2015 at the Wayback Machine, retrieved 21 September 2017 ISBN 978-1-60949-232-8
  30. ^ Rogozinski, Jan (1999). Dictionary of Pirates. Ware, Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions Ltd. p. 33. ISBN 1-85326-384-2.
  31. ^ Molenaar, Jillian (7 July 2019). "Anne of the Indies by Herbert Ravenel Sass". Depictions of John Rackam, Anne Bonny, and Mary Read. 6 July 2019. Archived from the original on 3 March 2021. Retrieved 22 October 2023.
  32. ^ "The Ballad of Mary Read and Anne Bonny, by The Baja Brigade". The Baja Brigade. Archived from the original on 3 November 2020. Retrieved 6 June 2018.
  33. ^ "Production of The Women-Pirates Anne Bonney and Mary Read". Theatricalia. Archived from the original on 6 October 2023. Retrieved 12 September 2023.
  34. ^ "The Legend of Anne Bonny". 5 December 2022. Archived from the original on 5 December 2022. Retrieved 16 June 2023.
  35. ^ Theatre, Everyman. "A Boy Called Anne". Everyman Theatre. Archived from the original on 26 August 2023. Retrieved 26 August 2023.
  36. ^ "Female pirate lovers whose story was ignored by male historians immortalised with statue". The Independent. 18 November 2020. Archived from the original on 7 May 2022.
  37. ^ "Burgh Island female pirates statue plans withdrawn". BBC News. 30 March 2021. 30 March 2021. Archived from the original on 14 October 2023. Retrieved 6 October 2023.
  38. ^ Lewis, Samantha (18 March 2023). "Introducing Lewes FC, the world's only gender-equal football club, and the Australians who play there". ABC News. 18 March 2023. Archived from the original on 14 October 2023. Retrieved 6 October 2023.





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