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Anne Bonny (1697-1782) (W14:D3)

In 1724, a book was written about the exploits of two famous women pirates, Mary Read and Anne Bonny. The book was titled, A General history of the Pyrates. It was partially fiction, to make it successful, but most came from true accounts of sailing with actual pirates and seeing their lives, including Anne Bonny’s crew. Though much of it was fiction, historians took parts of it as truth. So, do we really know what happened? Sadly, no. We also only know what the pirates themselves could report, because most of the time, they would not take prisoners, and those who were on the ships were either hanged and/or were illiterate, so no journals were kept. Historians often like to dramatize a lot of information, mixing fiction with fact, to either prove an agenda, or make the story sound better - though most times, the truth is the greater story. So, let us see what we can piece together of fact, not fiction, but see if fact is just as good. In the early 1700s, Charleston was a city booming on the North American frontier. It was a young town, growing quickly, by French Huguenot entrepreneurs, merchants, and farmers. It did have its problems, though: pirates. In this town, they were a welcomed bunch; some enjoyed earning their plunder, while others disdained their presence. At this point in time, piracy was legal under English law, and the men were called privateers. In 1713, when the war with France and Spain ended, a treaty was signed, and in it, was a provision to stop all English privateering of French and Spanish ships. Privateers were out of a job, and forced to quit or become pirates. By 1718, this town went from pirate friendly to outlawing every inhabitant that plundered the sea, especially after Blackbeard’s blockade. The town had found a new crop (rice), and to be able to ship it to market, they needed a safe route to Europe without Pirates. Much like other pirates, Anne Bonny’s early history is scarce. She is reported to have been born as Ann Fulford, in Ireland, to a servant woman to the lawyer, William Cormac. Not wanting his wife to know that Anne was his, he dressed her up as a boy, called her Andy, and began to teach her to be a lawyer’s clerk. When his wife found out that he was raising his illegitimate daughter, she cut his funding. To get away from his wife and her family, he sailed to Charles Town with his servant and her daughter. Cormac was never a successful lawyer (which is why he relied on his wife’s family money), so he abandoned his trade and became a merchant, buying and selling goods. Ann was a beautiful young redhead, with a fiery temper and was known for outbursts of anger. At age 12, her mother died. Just a few years later, she fell in love with James Bonny, a poor sailor and occasional pirate, and married him, only to be disowned by her father and kicked out of the house. In retaliation, it is said that she set fire to her father’s plantation, but there is no supporting evidence in Charles Town history. Her husband, seeking a more lucrative pirate career, moved to the Republic of Pirates, New Providence. By that time, many who lived there were former pirates, pardoned by the King, or those trying to hide from the law. The town was not like it used to be, since the treaty was signed between England and Spain. The British had just set up a new government and assigned Woodes Rogers as Governor. James became an informant to the new Governor on pirate activity and gossip. His actions sent many pirates to the hangman’s noose. Anne, on the other hand, despised what her husband was doing. She and her husband spent much of their days in taverns, listening to rumors, while she flirted with other pirates to gain their trust. This is where she met John Rackham, also known as “Calico Jack,” and fell in love with him. Rackham offered her husband money to divorce her, but he refused and threatened Jack; so, Anne and Rackham ran away, and she became part of Rackham’s pirate crew, dressed as a man, again. Only Rackham and another female crew member knew who she really was. That is, until she became pregnant. Rackham then landed her in Cuba, where she divorced her husband and gave birth to a son. A few months later, she rejoined the crew and she and Rackham were married at sea. A few months after that, Rackham and his two female mates sailed into New Providence (now called Nassau), and stole a ship, releasing their former crewmates to take the other ship. They, in turn, hired a new crew, and spent the next few years in Jamaica and surrounding waters. In the summer of 1720, their ship was attacked and captured. The Governor of Jamaica had commissioned pirate hunters to clean up waters around the island. Due to most of their crew being drunk, they gave little resistance, and many were hung while still intoxicated. The rest were taken to Port Royal, Jamaica, and stool trial. Both Read and Bonny were held in prison for a time, claiming they were both pregnant. Read was pregnant, but died in prison from fever. As for Anne Bonny, no one knows. There is no record of her release and no record of her hanging. Rackham, on the other hand, was hanged for piracy, along with his crew. Activity: Alone as Women Pirates - Imagine being only one of two women, in a male dominated world. That is probably how it felt for Anne Bonny in the world of piracy. The pressure on her to perform, and to be as ruthless - if not more - than every other male pirate, must have weighed on her. How do you think this would have felt? If you are male, how would you respond to finding a woman disguised as a man on your ship? If you are female, how would you feel if you were disguised as a man, alone, with an all-male crew? Would it be worth it to sail? _____________________________________________ _____________________________________________ _____________________________________________ _____________________________________________ _____________________________________________ _____________________________________________ _____________________________________________



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