Yarrrrr!!! Ahoy there my fellow crewmates!!!
In my illustration today I am telling the story of two unsung queer women hailing from the Golden Age of Piracy (1700-1725). From this age, we know quite well the names of Blackbeard, Benjamin Hornigold, Calico Jack, and Black Bart to name but a few… but we are not often told the stories of two of the most famous pirates from the age. Anne Bonny and Mary Read did not have important titles, nor were they aboard any of the first-rate pirate ships of the age, but these two bold women more than deserve their place in the hall of pirate fame!
Mary Read’s life started out complicated. Her mother was married to a sailor and they had a son, but the sailor was lost at sea shortly after her mother became pregnant with Mary… by another man! Mary’s half-brother died young, and at the time the sailor’s family did not yet know about Mary. Her mother dressed her as a boy and disguised her as her half-brother so she could get support from the sailor’s family to raise Mary. This scheme apparently worked… at least for a while!
Anne Bonny also had a complicated start. Her father was a lawyer and her mother was his maid, so Anne was very much born out of wedlock in unacceptable circumstances for the age. However, her father was very fond of his daughter and wished to bring her home with him. Unfortunately, everyone in town knew he had an illegitimate daughter, so he dressed her as a boy and disguised her as the son of a distant relation that he was caring for.
Dressing as men from such an early age would surely come in useful later on for these women!
Like most of the pirates of the era, Anne and Mary made the conscious decision to become pirates. Anne Bonny was married, and living in the Caribbean at the start of her pirate career fell for the infamous Calico Jack and run off with him to join his pirate crew. Mary Read was initially captured by pirates and served with them for a time before accepting a pardon. She then joined an anti-pirate expedition, with a crew that consisted of mostly former pirates, with whom she instigated a mutiny that would return them to their old pirate ways!
Their position as pirates was not without its dangers. However, being women did not hold them back. They were just as good at fighting, cursing, drinking, and manning the ships as any of their other crewmates. Before becoming a pirate, Mary had dressed as a man to serve as a soldier, and she did not fear accepting (and most of the time winning!) duels with other pirates. Anne was also not one to hold back, and in one precarious incident nearly beat an attempted rapist to death, as detailed by Captain Charles Johnson, “…once, when a young Fellow would have lain with her, against her Will, she beat him so, that he lay ill of it a considerable Time.”
The two women met while both were serving on Calico Jack’s pirate ship. Both were disguised as men. Anne became attracted to Mary (which created a lot of tension with Calico Jack, who Anne was still with at the time) and revealed that she was really a woman, at which point Mary then also revealed herself to be a woman. At the time, Anne was disappointed by this revelation, but their love affair did not end there.
There is a really good podcast called Hell Cats by Carina Rodney that I would highly recommend you go and check out to learn more about their relationship. It’s a fantastic pirate adventure story. Very very good 10/10
But, all good stories must come to an end, and in October of 1720, Calico Jack and his crew were pursued by pirate hunters and cornered off the coast of Jamaica. The fight was bloody. There are accounts of Anne and Mary remaining on the decks to fight while Calico Jack and the other pirates hid below decks. The pair shouted at the men for their spinelessness, and Mary even fired a shot into the hold, which killed one of the hiding men. Later, in prison, we were blessed with one of the best pirate quotes of all time when Anne said to Calico Jack: “I’m sorry to see you here, but if you had fought like a man, you need not have hanged like a dog.”
Calico Jack and his crew were tried and found guilty. Most of the men were hanged, but Anne and Mary managed to avoid the noose by declaring they were pregnant. Mary Read died shortly after in prison, but Anne Bonny survived. It is unclear what happened to her after that.
I hope you enjoyed this tale of Anne Bonny & Mary Read. I am really proud of the video that I made for this illustration – the best one I’ve made so far if I do say so myself! – and I’d love your feedback on whether you would like to see more videos like this in the future? Did you enjoy the mixture of storytelling and art side by side?
Oh!!! and don’t forget to grab your copy of Hysteria’s Unsung zine where this illustration is featured! You can buy the zine here.
More soon me heartys and yo ho ho ho to you!!
Much love arrr!
Pirate Chloe out!