Anne Bonny : biography
Anne Bonny (8 March 1702 – 22 April 1782) was an Irish woman who became a famous pirate, operating in the Caribbean. What little is known of her life comes largely from A General History of the Pyrates.
Little is known of Bonny’s life, particularly prior to her arrival in the Bahamas, although it is estimated that she was born in Ireland on March 8, somewhere between 1697-1700. 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 contemporary collection of pirate biographies, thought to be well embellished).
Bonny’s family travelled to the new world very early on in her life; at first the family had a rough start in their new home. Her mother died shortly after they arrived in North America. Her father attempted to establish himself as an attorney, but did not do well. Eventually, Bonny’s father joined the more profitable merchant business and accumulated a substantial fortune. It is recorded she had red hair and was considered a "good catch", but may have had a fiery temper; at aged 13 she supposedly stabbed a servant girl with a table knife. She married a poor sailor and small-time pirate named James Bonny. James Bonny hoped to win possession of his father-in-law’s estate, but Anne was disowned by her father.
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. 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.
Capture and imprisonment
In October 1720, Rackham and his crew were attacked by a "Kings` ship", a sloop captained by Jonathan Barnet under a commission from the Governor of Jamaica. Most of Rackham’s pirates did not put up much resistance as many of them were too drunk to fight; other sources indicate it was at night and most of them were asleep. However, Read, Bonny, and an unknown man fought fiercely and managed to hold off Barnet’s troops for a short time. Rackham and his crew were taken to Jamaica, where they were convicted and sentenced by the Governor of Jamaica to be hanged. According to Johnson, Bonny’s last words to the imprisoned Rackham were that she was "sorry to see him there, but if he had fought like a Man, he need not have been hang’d like a Dog."
After being sentenced, Read and Bonny both "pleaded their bellies": asking for mercy because they were pregnant.
In accordance with English common law, both women received a temporary stay of execution until they gave birth. Read died in prison, most likely from a fever, though it has been alleged that she died during childbirth.
While in the Bahamas, Bonny began mingling with pirates in the local taverns. She met Jack "Calico Jack" Rackham, captain of the pirate sloop Revenge, and became his mistress. They had a child in Cuba, who eventually took the name of Cunningham. Many different theories state that he was left with his family or simply abandoned. Bonny rejoined Rackham and continued the pirate life, having divorced her husband and marrying Rackham while at sea. Bonny and Rackham escaped to live together as pirates. Bonny, Rackham, and Mary Read stole the Revenge, then at anchor in Nassau harbour, and put out to sea.
Rackham and the two women recruited a new crew. Over the next several months, they were successful as pirates, capturing many ships and bringing in an abundance of treasure. Bonny did not disguise herself as a man aboard the Revenge as is often claimed. She took part in combat alongside the men, and the accounts of her exploits present her as competent, effective in combat, and respected by her shipmates. Mary Read’s and her names and gender were known to all from the start. Governor Rogers had named them in a "Wanted Pirates" circular published in the continent’s only newspaper, The Boston News-Letter. Although Bonny has historical renown as a female Caribbean pirate, she never commanded a ship of her own.