Anne Bonny, Anne Bonney

Anne Bonny, Famed Female Pirate

March 29, 2011
by Kate Brack
Anne Bonny was an Irish-American female pirate of the 18th century. A crewmember of the ship captained by “Calico Jack” Rackham, Bonny was known as a fierce and relentless fighter.

Brief Biography of Anne Bonny

The illegitimate daughter of Irish lawyer William Cormac and his servant Mary Brennan, Anne Cormac was born sometime near the turn of the 18th century. Soon after her father’s affair became public, he moved Anne and his new wife to Charleston, S.C., where he eventually found wealth as a plantation owner.

Even as a child, Anne was known as a temperamental spitfire. There are stories of her stabbing a servant girl, and attacking a man who attempted to force sexual relations upon her. At 16 years old and against her father’s wishes, Anne married small-time pirate James Bonny (or Bonney). She was disowned by her father and took to the sea with her new husband, landing in New Providence, Bahamas.

James Bonny ultimately became a pirate informant and, as a result, Anne moved further into a life at sea and began to socialize with pirates of New Providence. It was then that she fell in love with pirate captain “Calico Jack” Rackham.

Being that Bonny was married when she met Rackham, the initial romance was threatened with the prospect of flogging and a return to her husband. The then-common exchange known as divorce-by-purchase was also proposed in which James Bonny would receive payment for Anne.

Avoiding both proposals, Bonny boarded Rackham’s ship and left town. It is on this adventure that Anne meets her female-pirate counterpart, Mary Read, a woman who had spent much of her life dressed as a man and fighting like one, too.

Rackham’s ship was captured in 1720 and the pirates were sentenced to death by hanging. However, both Bonny and Read managed to avoid the death penalty by “pleading the belly,” declaring that they were pregnant and delaying their execution until their children are born.

Bonny is said to have visited Rackham in prison before his execution and remarked, “I am sorry to see you here, but if you had fought like a man, you need not have hanged like a dog.”

Accounts vary on the fate of Anne Bonny, but there are no accounts as to her ever being hanged. One theory is that her wealthy father managed to save her daughter from her sentence.

Although it can be difficult to discern the fact from fiction in the life of Anne Bonny, she was undoubtedly a bold and fervid woman of her time. Her story is hard to believe today and was unimaginable in her time.

Resources for Studying Anne Bonny

The main source for Bonny’s life is “A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates,” a 1724 book written by “Captain Charles Johnson,” possibly a pseudonym of “Robinson Crusoe” author Daniel Defoe. A copy of the book is available online from the J.Y. Joyner Library of East Carolina University.

Christopher John Farley, author of the fictionalized novel of Bonny’s life titled “Kingston by Starlight,” gave an interview to NPR about Bonny.

A video clip from the History Channel show “The Caribbean Pirates” recounts the tale of Bonny and Read and their relationship.

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