Anne Bonny from a Dutch version of Charles Johnson's book of pirates.
|Born||8 March 1697|
near Cork, Kingdom of Ireland
|Disappeared||Port Royal, Colony of Jamaica|
|Died||unknown, no sources after 1720 (22 April 1782)|
|Years active||1718–October 1720|
|Base of operations||Caribbean|
Anne Bonny (possibly 1697 – possibly April 1782) was an Irish pirate operating in the Caribbean, and one of the most famous female pirates of all time. The little that is known of her life comes largely from Captain Charles Johnson's A General History of the Pyrates.
Bonny was born in the Kingdom of Ireland around 1700 and moved to London and then to the Province of Carolina when she was about 10 years old. She then married and moved to Nassau in the Bahamas around 1715, a sanctuary for pirates. It was there that she met Calico Jack Rackham and became his pirate partner and lover. She was captured alongside Rackham and Mary Read in October 1720. Bonny and Read were sentenced to death, but their executions were stayed because both of them were pregnant. Read died in jail in early 1721, but Bonny's fate is unknown.
Bonny's birthdate is speculated to be around 1700. She was said to be born in Old Head of Kinsale, in County Cork, Ireland. She was the daughter of servant woman Mary Brennan and Brennan's employer, lawyer William Cormac. Official records and contemporary letters dealing with her life are scarce, and most modern knowledge stems from Charles Johnson's A General History of the Pyrates (a collection of pirate biographies, the first edition partly accurate, the second much embellished).
Bonny's father William Cormac first moved to London to get away from his wife's family, and he began dressing his daughter as a boy and calling her "Andy". When Cormac's wife discovered William had taken in the illegitimate daughter and was bringing the child up to be a lawyer's clerk and dressing her as a boy, she stopped giving him an allowance. Cormac then moved to the Province of Carolina, taking along his former serving girl, the mother of Bonny. Bonny's father abandoned the original "Mc" prefix of their family name to blend more easily into the Charles Town citizenry. At first, the family had a rough start in their new home, but Cormac's knowledge of law and ability to buy and sell goods soon financed a townhouse and eventually a plantation just out of town. Bonny's mother died when she was 12. Her father attempted to establish himself as an attorney but did not do well. Eventually, he joined the more profitable merchant business and accumulated a substantial fortune.
It is recorded that Bonny had red hair and was considered a "good catch" but may have had a fiery temper; at age 13, she supposedly stabbed a servant girl with a knife. She married a poor sailor and small-time pirate named James Bonny. James hoped to win possession of his father-in-law's estate, but Bonny was disowned by her father. Anne's father did not approve of James Bonny as a husband for his daughter, and he kicked Anne out of their house.
There is a story that Bonny set fire to her father's plantation in retaliation, but no evidence exists in support. However, it is known that sometime between 1714 and 1718, she and James Bonny moved to Nassau, on New Providence Island, known as a sanctuary for English pirates called the Republic of Pirates. Many inhabitants received a King's Pardon or otherwise evaded the law. It is also recorded that, after the arrival of Governor Woodes Rogers in the summer of 1718, James Bonny became an informant for the governor. James Bonny would report to Governor Rogers about the pirates in the area, which resulted in a multitude of these pirates being arrested. Anne disliked the work her husband did for Governor Rogers.
While in the Bahamas, Bonny began mingling with pirates in the taverns. She met John "Calico Jack" Rackham, and he became her lover. He offered money to her husband James Bonny if he would divorce her, but her husband refused. She and Rackham escaped the island together, and she became a member of Rackham's crew. She disguised herself as a man on the ship, and only Rackham and Mary Read were aware that she was a woman until it became clear that she was pregnant. Rackham then landed her at Cuba where she gave birth to a son. She then rejoined Rackham and continued the pirate life, having divorced her husband and married Rackham while at sea. Bonny, Rackham, and Read stole the ship William, then at anchor in Nassau harbor, and put out to sea. Rackham and the two women recruited a new crew. Their crew spent years in Jamaica and the surrounding area. Bonny took part in combat alongside the men, and Governor Rogers named her in a "Wanted Pirates" circular published in The Boston News-Letter.
In October 1720, Rackham and his crew were attacked by a sloop captained by Jonathan Barnet under a commission from Nicholas Lawes, Governor of Jamaica. Most of Rackham's pirates put up little resistance, as many of them were too drunk to fight. They were taken to Jamaica where they were convicted and sentenced by Governor Lawes to be hanged. According to Johnson, Bonny's last words to Rackham were: "Had you fought like a man, you need not have been hang'd like a dog."
Read and Bonny both "pleaded their bellies," asking for mercy because they were pregnant, and the court granted them a stay of execution until they gave birth. Read died in prison, most likely from a fever from childbirth. Anne stayed in prison until she gave birth, and nothing else is known about her.
There is no record of Bonny's release, execution, or death, and this has fed speculation as to her fate. Charles Johnson writes in A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the most notorious Pyrates, published in 1724: "She was continued in Prison, to the Time of her lying in, and afterwards reprieved from Time to Time; but what is become of her since, we cannot tell; only this we know, that she was not executed.".
Other women pirates: