Anne Bonny is one of the most famous and yet mysterious pirates of the Caribbean. Her fiery Irish roots often lead to tales of her temper, violence and wild behavior. Very little is historically known about this great figure of the Golden Age of Sail, and the mystery of her fate continues to puzzle historians and fans throughout the world.
Anne’s exact birthday is unknown, though she is believed to have been born at the end of the 17th century. Her father, William Cormac, was a well-respected solicitor residing in County Cork, Ireland. Anne’s mother, however, was not the solicitor’s wife, but rather a chambermaid in his home. Rather than abandon his newborn daughter and the mother of his child, Cormac fled with them to the fields of South Carolina, where he purchased a large plantation and became quite wealthy.
Legends of Anne Bonny as a child are speculative. One famous tale says that she stabbed a family maid to death in a temper, but this is purely conjecture. Anne did show some impetuousness, however, by marrying James Bonny, a poor and somewhat scruffy sailor. Accounts suggest that Cormac was against the marriage and disowned his daughter for marrying against his will. A second unconfirmed legend suggests that Anne burned down the plantation as revenge before eloping to the Caribbean with James.
For uncertain reasons, the marriage between Anne and James soon soured, shortly after their move to New Providence in the Bahamas. Anne Bonny formed a close friendship with a man named Pierre, a well-placed societal leader who provided Anne with information and introduced her to local men. When the English government of New Providence announced a pirate amnesty that allowed former pirates to work as privateers, Anne Bonny met Calico Jack Rackham, a colorful and moderately successful pirate.
Anne and Jack began an indiscreet affair, which was discovered by James Bonny. When sentenced to flogging for adultery, Anne Bonny skipped town instead, taking passage on Calico Jack’s ship and beginning her life as a pirate. Accounts vary on whether Anne disguised herself as a man for their initial journey, but most experts believe that as Jack’s lover she did not need to, and under his protection worked as a female pirate freely.
Many of the legends surrounding Anne Bonny relate to her friendship with Mary Read, another female pirate. Mary had passed as a male soldier for most of her difficult life, and was disguised as a male pirate on Calico Jack’s ship when Anne came aboard. Some stories suggest that Anne was attracted to the handsome “male” pirate, while others believe she immediately recognized Mary as a woman and befriended her. After Mary’s gender was discovered, she and Anne formed a close friendship, and ruled Calico’s ship in concert with him.
With the help of the two women, Calico Jack managed considerable success in piracy, unfortunately attracting the attention of Jonathan Barnet, a well-known pirate hunter. In 1720, Barnet attacked the ship while Calico and most of the crew lay unconscious and drunk in the hold. Mary and Anne were the only two awake, and fought bravely and nearly successfully against the invading ship. Unable to rouse any of the men, however, the women were taken, along with the rest of the crew.
At their trial in Jamaica, both Anne Bonny and Mary Read plead to be spared from hanging because they were pregnant. Their executions were stayed, but Mary succumbed to a fever in prison and died a few months later. Anne’s end is far more mysterious. While records exist of the hanging of Calico Jack and his crew, Anne’s name is not mentioned. Experts believe she was ransomed, either by her husband or her estranged father. To where exactly Anne Bonny vanished, no scholar is certain, but her fierce and adventurous youth and shadow future life has made her a fascinating legendary pirate.