March 5, 2016–Anne Bonney and Mary Read: PIRATES! (Part I)
Long before Butch and Sundance robbed their first bank, Anne Bonney and Mary Read had already starred in the first “outlaw buddy” movie ever made–only it wasn’t a movie, it was them in their real lives sailing the high seas. Where Wild Bunch members Butch and Sundance faced great dangers to their well-being represented by the Pinkertons and the Federalis of Bolivia, dread pirates Bonney and Read faced the greater dangers of pursuit from the British Royal Navy, scurvy and childbirth.
They did not start out their lives together. In fact Bonney and Read did not meet until adulthood when both had her reputation as a badass firmly in place. It’s a good thing they decided to be friends. Had they decided to be enemies, the oceans might still be red with the blood of battle.
Anne Bonney was born in Cork County, Ireland in the late 1600s. Her family soon immigrated to America. From the start it seems Anne was known for her “fierce and courageous temper.” She eloped with bad-guy James Bonney who took her to a pirates’ lair in New Providence in the Bahamas. In 1718 the Bahamian Gov. offered pardons to pirates, in exchange for help in bringing down the worst of these high sea criminals. James Bonney turned canary, and Anne, disgusted with his betrayal, fell in love and took off with another man–Capt. Jack Rackham. Bonney disguised herself as a man and sailed off with Rackham aboard his sloop Vanity, under the skull and daggers.
Bonney and Rackham were a successful endeavor, taking down Spanish treasure ships off Cuba and Hispainola. Biology interfered, eventually. Anne became pregnant, and it’s believed she took some family leave time briefly in Cuba, only long enough to have the baby and leave it with friends. Then she returned to Vanity and again took up the sword of her pirate calling.
Mary Read was born in Plymouth, England around 1690. She was an illegitimate daughter to–in all probability– a seafaring man, only her mother knows, maybe. Read’s mother had another baby, a son, Read’s half-brother, by another sea-faring legitimate lawful husband this time who had sailed over the horizon never to be heard from again. When the boy-child perished, Read’s mother dressed Mary as a son and brought her London to present her to her mother-in-law in hopes of fooling the woman into thinking Mary was really her grandson so she would grant an income from her husband’s inheritance.
The ruse worked. Read and her mother garnered a crown a week for their support. Read spent many years disguised as a male, even after the old woman died and the crown ran out. “Bold and strong, with a roving mind,” Read continued to live as a man, entering naval service on a Man of War and later as a foot-soldier and a cavalry man in a Flanders regiment. She served with distinction until she fell in love with a fellow soldier.
So began Read’s brief experimentation with domesticity. She started wearing dresses. She married her soldier and they settled down, bought an inn called the Three Horseshoes in Holland. Alas, domestic bliss was not her destiny. Her husband died and the money ran out.
Read, took off the dress, put her pants back on, once again disguised herself as a man and went to sea on a Dutch merchant ship heading to the Caribbean. Read’s merchant ship was soon overtaken by pirates, and Read, recognizing the path of least resistance, also known as what side her bread was buttered on, took up with the pirates.
In 1718, Read’s pirate crew had accepted the King’s Pardon and were operating as privateers (government pirates) when their ship was overtaken by another pirate ship–Vanity, led by Capt. Jack Rackham and Anne Bonney.
That’s how the fateful meeting happened. Imagine it: Anne Bonney and Mary Read, both dressed as sailing men, standing on the deck of a rolling pirate ship, surrounded by skulls and daggers and gold doubloons–two outlaw souls discovering in that moment the common secret they both shared.
To be continued… (Look for Part II tomorrow) …