While the swashbuckling bravado that the word pirate brings to mind in contemporary usage rarely applies easily to women, there were several very influential female pirates during the golden age of sail. The 1702 Irish-born Anne Bonny was one of them. Many of the details of her life are lost to time, but she is mentioned frequently in Charles Johnson’s A General History Of The Pyrates, a more contemporary book from which the great majority of the information about her life comes.
Born Anne Cormac to a lawyer in Ireland, Anne and her family moved to North America when she was very young. It is reported that her family had a hard time staying financially secure during this period, and that the young Anne had a quite fiery temper. Allegedly, at the age of 13 she used a table knife to stab a servant girl. As she matured, her father entered the merchant trade and gained a considerable estate. She married a poor sailor named James Bonny who had hoped to win her father’s estate from the marriage, but they were instead disowned and cast out of the family.
Having been introduced to piracy by James Bonny, Anne began frequenting pirate’s taverns in the area and eventually fled to sea with “Calico Jack” Rackham, who made her his mistress (and later wife), and took her with him on their adventures of piracy. During this time she earned her merits as a full-fledged pirate. Contrary to popular belief, she did not dress as a man or otherwise disguise her gender- accounts of the time point to the knowledge by all that she was a woman and that she served on the frontlines of sea combat anyways.
After years of piracy and raiding the Caribbean coast, a ship commissioned by the governor of Jamaica intercepted Rackham’s ship and ambushed the pirates while they were either mostly asleep or drunk. Only Anne Bonny and one other crewman were in fighting shape, and held off the attack for a short time before eventually succumbing. The ship was captured and pirates sentenced to hang for their crimes. Anne, being pregnant at the time, escaped execution but may have died during childbirth while in prison- a parallel account states that she may have had her freedom purchased by her alienated father and managed to live out the rest of her days quietly in South Carolina.