Anne Bonney

Anne Bonney, also known as Anne Cormac and Adam Bonney
(March 8, 1700 – c. 1740)

Anne Bonney was the illegitimate child of an affair that her father had with his maid. In the late 17th century, William Cormac was an unhappily married attorney in Kinsale, Cork County, Ireland. He found his happiness is having an affair with his maidservant, Mary Brennan. When his wife discovered the affair she publicly shamed him. He was so embarrassed by the scandal that he took Mary to Charleston, South Carolina to start a new life. Anne was born in Charleston on March 8, 1700. William opened his legal practice again, and met with enough success that he was able to purchase a plantation and to move the family into the higher social circles in the community.

When Anne was a mere thirteen years of age her mother died. This put Anne in charge of running the enormous household, which was a task she took to readily. However, it is said that she had an exceptionally hot temper and is said to have killed a servant with a table knife. A year later she is known to have thrashed a young man who was trying to sexually assault her. She injured him well enough that he was laid up in his bed for weeks.

Charleston was a port city known to be a hub of shipping, but it was also frequented by pirates. When Anne was sixteen, she was already bored of running the plantation and she frequented the dockside taverns looking for adventure. Her father had hoped more of her. He was hoping to have a society daughter who would marry a man of status and provide a comfortable life for her. Instead she fell in with a poor, small-time pirate named James Bonney. The two of them schemed a way to steal her father’s plantation by way of James and Anne marrying. The two had a short-lived romance before marrying one night without her father’s knowledge, hoping that he would have to accept it once it was so. Her father was furious and in his anger he disowned her, costing the young couple her dowry. In retaliation, Anne and James started a fire on the plantation in hopes of burning it to the ground, but the plans failed.

The couple left for New Providence (now called Nassau) in the Bahamas off the south-eastern tip of Florida. New Providence was a community composed mainly of pirates and their wenches, described as “a den of iniquity” and “a pirate’s paradise.” While in New Providence, James took up work as a sailor and a pirate. Anne would stay ashore while James would go to sea. Anne, however, was rambunctious and she took to spending time with the island’s most celebrated homosexual, Pierre. The two of them would compete for the affections of the local men and sailors. She found favor with many of the notable pirates in the area.

She took up an interest in the wealthiest man in the Caribbean, Chidley Bayard. Chidley already had a lover, Maria Vargas, and so Anne had to fight her in a duel to the death to hook the man. Anne won the fight and she also won Chidely. He lavished her with money and took her traveling, but ultimately he kept snobby company. It is said that at a ball they attended Anne encountered the sister-in-law of Governor Lawes of Jamaica. The woman was catty towards Anne and questioned her about her relationship with Bayard. When she received the answers she was looking for, she insulted Anne by saying she wasn’t worth knowing and that Anne should keep her distance. Anne promptly knocked out two of the lady’s teeth. For her act she was nearly thrown in jail, but Bayard interfered and kept her free. However, since he could no longer be seen with her he saw less and less of her until the relationship ended in boredom.

James Bonney gave up sailing to spend more time with his emotionally distant wife. He found employ by feeding information to Governor Woodes Rogers about who was a pirate and what their most recent transgressions were. Even though it earned James some good coin, Anne was loyal to her pirate friends and restless to boot. She continued to hang around all the wrong places and to fraternize with the wrong men.

Towards the end of her relationship with Bayard, Anne spotted a dashing figure in “Calico Jack” Rackham (nicknamed for his gaudy, striped pants), who had just commandeered a ship full of liquor from his former boss Captain Charles Vane. Anne and Jack became something of a love interest. The two were bored on land, and so Jack decided to put to sea with his old friend Captain Vane. When he told Anne of his decision she insisted on going to sea too.

Women are bad luck on board a ship. Captain Calico Jack Rackham knew this to be true, so he refused her wishes to sail with him. Never the timid sort, Anne Bonney dressed as a man, took the name “Adam Bonney” and smuggled herself aboard Rackham’s vessel, Revenge. Anne was considered to be a very able sailor, being a quick expert with both pistol and rapier. She fought with a fierce anger and was along as Revenge took many prizes, as often as possible being part of the boarding party.

Anne Bonney’s secret proved hard to keep. Once safely at sea, she revealed herself to Captain Rackham so the two could continue their romance (for this, he made her a lieutenant). But then another pirate learned her secret. Knowing that dead men tell no tales she stabbed him through the heart. Another time, Anne found another pirate undressing and realized that he was also a woman passing as a man. That pirate was Mary Read. The two women became fast friends and their bond caught the jealousies of Captain Rackham. Calico Jack demanded an explanation and what he got was the confession that "Mark Read" was a woman like “Adam Bonney” was. After about a year of plundering together, Anne’s secret was near an end – she was pregnant with Rackham’s child.

Anne didn’t want to be a mother and she pleased with Rackham to keep her secret. She was allowed to stay on the ship until her pregnancy became obvious, at which point he put in at Cuba. He left her there in the care of some of his friends while he returned to sea. While ashore, Anne fell in love with the idea of settling down and was willing to let this child change her life. Whatever negative emotions she had at the news of her pregnancy were gone a few months into it. She gave birth two months premature. The baby girl was unable to cling to her life and she was dead within an hour of her birth. Anne blamed herself, focusing on the rough life she lived while pregnant. When Rackham returned for her, he was stunned at her condition. Hoping to take advantage of a new amnesty extended to pirates, he returned to New Providence with her to allow her to recover and hopefully to find a more normal life.

The amnesty to pirates had put James Bonney out of work. Shiftless and dejected, as soon as he saw his wife back in New Providence he began wanting her again. However, Anne was very much Rackham’s woman now.

Through her old friend Pierre, Anne had learned of a plot to kill Governor Rogers. She had met the Governor previously, while marrying James. Finding him likable enough, she informed the Governor of the matter and the plot was foiled. It was agreed that Anne had saved his life. This fact would soon come to her benefit.

James sought revenge for his wife’s behavior, so he had Anne and Jack arrested in the middle of the night. The soldiers dragged the two lovers before the Governor, Anne still disrobed. Anne was charged with the felony of desertion and James was asking for her death as the punishment knowing that she’d kill him if she lived. Governor Rogers was indebted to Anne though. He suggested a divorce-by-sale, which is an archaic practice whereby a wife is sold to the highest bidder. James refused it and Anne was livid at the thought of being sold like an animal. Therefore her punishment was to be flogged by Jack’s hand and then returned to her husband. Before the sentence could be executed, Jack and Anne fled the next night. James would soon take up turtling as an occupation and die in a hurricane.

Once at sea, the pirates continued with their ways aboard a newly-stolen sloop, Providence. However, times were a lot more challenging for pirates and when word of their voyage made way to Governor Lawes he sent Governor Rogers’ pirate-hunter, Captain Jonathan Barnet, after them. In October of 1720, Barnet had found his quarry. The pirates were all drunk off of rum they stole from a fishing vessel the previous night. Captain Barnet laid down a furious cannon fire before moving in to board. As the pirate-hunter neared the Providence the only resistance he met was the fury of Anne Bonney and Mary Read who fought with the courage and wickedness of the most hardened seadogs. The men, including the captain, were all hiding below decks, like frightened children. The women were only able to hold off the assault for a short while before their ship was overrun with pirate-hunters. Before the fight was over though, Anne shouted at her own crew, “If there’s a man among ye, ye’ll come out and fight like the men ye are to be!” This receiving no response, the women periodically turned their guns on their own crew – killing one and wounding several, including Rackham.

Before the trial at St. Jago De La Vega, Jamaica, Anne and Mary had confessed their gender and therefore received a separate trial from the men. In the court, when asked for their defense, Anne replied to the judge, “We plead our bellies, sir.” She was pregnant yet again. The judge sentenced them to be hanged after giving birth. The men were all to be hung immediately. Calico Jack was given one last visit with Anne before his death. Her famous last words to him were, “I’m sorry to see you here Jack, but if you’d have fought like a man you needn’t hang like a dog. Do straighten yourself up.”

Anne received a special attention in jail. Her father was working from Charleston for her release and managed a series of stays of execution. In addition, there was a man named Dr. Michael Radcliffe who was also working for her freedom. Dr. Radcliffe had his life previously saved by Anne, and was also the father of her new child. He succeeded in negotiating a deal allowing Anne to go free on the condition that she leave the West Indies and never return. Governor Lawes pardoned Anne. She and Michael married and two days later they boarded a sloop bound for Norfolk, Virginia. They eventually joined a party of pioneers heading west and that is where Anne leaves the pages of history.

A timeline of Anne Bonney’s life

March 8, 1700: Anne Bonney is born in Charleston, South Carolina as Anne Cormac.

1713: Anne’s mother dies, leaving her to run the family plantation.

Late 1716: Anne marries James Bonney and moves to New Providence.

February 1716: Anne begins her affair with Chidley Bayard.

May 1717: Anne attends the ball where she knocks the teeth out of the Governor’s sister-in-law.

August 1717: Quartermaster Jack Rackham deposes Captain Charles Vane for cowardice and becomes captain in his stead.

October 1717: Anne goes to sea with Captain Rackham.

July 1718: Anne arrives in Cuba, gives birth two months premature and watches the child die. Governor Woodes Rogers extends an amnesty to the estimated 1000 pirates living in the Bahamas.

August 1718: Anne arrives in New Providence to convalesce after child birthing.

October 1720: Anne is captured at sea aboard Providence.

November 28, 1720: Anne is tried for piracy, found guilty, and sentenced to hang after she gives birth.

1722: Anne is released from prison.

The Ballad of Anne Bonney
by Janie Meneely

We think she stole Black Caesar’s rig
He kept it in the Keys
She cut away the anchor rode
And flew off in the breeze
With a hundred hearty cutthroats
I know it sounds absurd
She ran the brig to Martinique
Past that we haven't heard

She’ll steal the pennies off your eyes before your corpse is cold
And wear your guts as garters before your shirt’s been sold
But generous to a fault, they say she’d give away her coat
And if you’re caught asleep on watch, she’ll slit your bloody throat

The Spanish were full terrified
She’d cleaned off all their decks
And carried off the gold and plate
And left them nervous wrecks
The Brits were apprehensive
For fear she’d come in view
The pirate queen would pick them clean
Before they’d quite hove to

Anne Bonney is a terror
She’ll swing you from the yards
Or troll you aft as shark bait
Or slice you into shards
For all that, she’s a beauty
And generous with her charms
Vanquished men have ‘riz’ again
But one night in her arms

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