“Anne Bonny: The Infamous Female Pirate”

Anne Bonny is perhaps the most famous woman who disguised herself as a man and became an actual Pirate of The Caribbean. Thanks to a sensationalist version of her life story written by one Captain Charles Johnson in 1724, she has gone down in history as a bloodthirsty, vicious character, who most likely met a violent end along with many other pirates. The true story of her life is in fact much more interesting, and Phillip Thomas Tucker presents a detailed new version in his book, “Anne Bonny, The Infamous Female Pirate.” Drawing on historical sources and making educated guesses based on time period and location, Tucker portrays Anne instead as an independent young woman who saw the opportunities inherent in the life of a pirate and chose that over the heavily restricted life of a woman in the 18th century. In addition, he gives wonderful insight into the culture and philosophy of pirates at the time. For example, he explains that pirates were a rare group of people who believed in equality among men. Among a pirate’s crew, not only did class and status become null, but also ethnicity. I was delighted to discover that it was a common practice for pirates to free slaves when they captured slave ships. In many cases, some of the freed slaves joined the pirates afterwards and lived the rest of their lives robbing from the very merchants who had enslaved them. If someone hasn’t already made a film about that, please do!

This practice of pirates was one of their main offenses against the government and merchants at the time, as it cut into the massive profits from the institution of slavery. Tucker makes a point of explaining that piracy was something that threatened the powers-that-be, who were, of course, legally and constantly plundering from their own people. Apparently, most pirates did not even fight the crew members on the ships that they captured, because combat was risky and could shrink the pirates’ already few numbers. They relied instead on fierce appearances, wild behavior and frightening reputations to convince their victims to quickly surrender. It was a very successful bluff.

The kind of people who became pirates, therefore, were often those who detested the unjust and corrupt society of the times and refused to follow its rules. It was certainly an escape and a rush of freedom for women, as long as they dressed as men. Anne Bonny was the illegitimate daughter of a wealthy Irishman and she spent some time dressed as a boy child to avoid the scandal, before she was relocated by her father to South Carolina. There Anne met and married a supposed sailor who was actually a pirate, and readily left society behind to sail with him to the Bahamas. The couple didn’t last long however, and she soon became the lover of the charismatic Captain John “Calico Jack” Rackham, who surprisingly didn’t mind her joining his pirate crew disguised as a man. I suppose there was a whole lot of sneaking into the captain’s quarters at night.

Anne then spent three apparently glorious years as a pirate on the high seas, alongside her lover. She proved herself an extremely capable member of the crew, eventually giving up the disguise and being accepted by the other men. And when Rackham’s luck as a successful pirate finally ran out and the Royal Navy captured them, it was she and another woman, Mary Read, who stood alone and fiercely defended their ship, while the rest of the crew gave it up for lost and hid below deck.

The most interesting part of her story though, is the clever way in which she narrowly avoided the gallows afterwards and managed to rejoin respectable society in secret. With significant help from her father, she returned to the U.S., changed her name and remarried, keeping her pirate career a secret for the rest of her surprisingly long life. In fact, she was long settled and raising a big family by the time Captain Johnson’s book was published.

“Anne Bonny, The Infamous Female Pirate” is out now through Feral House, and I recommend it for history buffs, pirate fans and anyone interested in the stories of women who fought against the limited roles that society assigned them.

Simone Snaith

About Simone Snaith

Simone Snaith writes young adult and fantasy novels, and sings in the band Turning Violet. A fan of scifi, fantasy, the supernatural and most things from the '80s, she enjoys reviewing music, books and movies. You can read about her own books at simonesnaith.com.
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