The Real Story of Anne Bonny & Mary Read
Numerous versions of the story of Anne Bonny and Mary Read have been told over the past three centuries, but few have considered them from an actual historical perspective. Most of them simply play up to the sensational and titillating aspects of women serving aboard an eighteenth century pirate ship, and take what is generally accepted about the women at face value. By digging deeper one soon discovers that what is generally accepted could not have been what actually happened. Many of the events could not have occurred in the generally accepted chronology, and is likely that these stories even mixed up the respective roles of the two women pirates.
The Generally Accepted Story about Anne Bonny
Defying her father in Carolina Colony, Anne Cormac elopes with James Bonny and the two of them run away to Nassau, New Providence Island, The Bahamas. then, while in Nassau, Anne meets Calico Jack Rackham, captain of the pirate ship Ranger.
James Bonny becomes a pirate informer for Governor Woods Rogers which infuriates Anne and their marriage begins to fall apart. Anne begins an affair with Calico Jack. (in some versions Jack offers to buy Anne from her husband, but James refuses to sell her)
Anne runs away with Jack Rackham when he and his crew steal a sloop, the William, from Nassau harbor. (in many popular versions they leave on Rackham’s own ship, the Ranger) (in some versions her escape is facilitated by the help of her friend (Pierre), a homosexual who ran a tavern in Nassau)
Anne disguises herself in men’s clothing and serves on board ship as a pirate, as well as being the captain’s woman. Anne becomes pregnant, and when it is close to time for delivery Jack leaves her with friends in Cuba. He returns once she is “up and well again” and she resumes piracy with him again on the Ranger. One of the ships they plunder is a Dutch (or Portuguese) vessel bound for the West Indies and Jack recruits an English soldier by the name of Mark Read, who put up a good fight, into the Ranger’s crew. (in some versions this happened while Anne was giving birth in Cuba, and Mary was already on board when Anne re-joined the crew. In other versions, Anne and Mary had previously met in Nassau and were friends, and Mary was part of the crew when they first left).
Anne is attracted to Mark/Mary, and even after discovering that ‘he’ is really a woman she still begins a relationship with her. Jack discovers Anne together with Mary, but still thinking that Mary was Mark, a man, Jack prepares to kill him. However, Mary bares her breasts to show that she was not a man, and Anne invites Jack to join them. The three of them then share a bed for the rest of the time they are together.
A prosperous, and infamous, pirate career finally comes to a close when they are captured by the English navy off the coast of Jamaica and convicted of piracy. Jack is hanged, but Anne and Mary are given reprieves because they are both pregnant. Anne is released to her father who came from Carolina for her, and Mary dies in childbirth in prison (in other versions, Mary and her baby are taken to Cuba by friends who paid off the authorities to officially report that she died)
Source of the Accepted Stories
The origin of these stories comes from the source document, A General History of the Pyrates by Captain Charles Johnson, 1724. When reading this document, one immediately notices that the parts about Anne Bonny and Mary Read seem to have been just stuck in at the end of the chapter about Jack Rackham. The only portion of the tale of Anne Bonny and Mary Read that Johnson did apply a chronology to was the time that they were with Captain Calico Jack Rackham aboard his pirate ship. This only lasted for a period of two months, however; from August 22nd, 1720, when they commandeered a ship in New Providence, to October 23rd, 1720, when they were captured. The dates and activities during these two months are well documented in Johnson’s chapter 7, about Captain Rackham and his crew, but the remaining parts about the women don’t seem to follow any chronology and are really just a series of anecdotal tales that the author admits that he picked up from the witnesses at their trial. These reports were, essentially, nothing more than gossip which had most likely been heavily embellished as they were passed around before Johnson even heard the versions of them that he penned.
Accepted Story Makes No Sense Chronologically
When one researches and cross references other source material about each of these women it becomes clear that what has been generally accepted as fact about Anne Bonny and Mary Read makes no sense chronologically. And much of what has been told about Anne Bonny, for instance, is more likely to have been about Mary Read.
By examining the above ‘generally accepted’ stories against what is actually known about these women, one discovers a much more likely version of what occurred. Putting the proper perspective to the details which make up the substance of the stories, a logical chronology emerges that meshes nicely with the known facts.
So while the various version of the story of Anne Bonny and Mary Read is a wonderful tale, it doesn’t make any sense. It is impossible for all of the above to have happened in the time span of only two months, from August to October, 1720. Plus, the most glaring fact is that Anne Bonny could not have been the fierce swashbuckler that she has been portrayed as. She arrived in Nassau as a girl of 17 whose life until she eloped and ran away had been one of privilege on a plantation in the American Colonies. When Anne met Calico Jack he had given up piracy, having accepted amnesty, and was living in Nassau. It is highly unlikely, in the short time that they were together, that Anne could have learned fighting skills, let alone become pregnant, have a child, and then resume a full pirate career. Rather, she was an eighteen year old who was initially caught up in the adventure and romance of a pirate life until she experienced the horrors of battle, then being captured and thrown in jail.
After learning that Jack Rackham and the rest of the crew had been hanged, she would probably have been glad to return with her father to plantation life in Carolina Colony.