Pirate Women

piratewomen1280With the success of Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow and the Pirates of the Caribbean, a new generation of swashbuckling kids are wielding plastic swords and repeating the line “yo ho ho and a bottle of rum”, because they don’t know the rest of the song. For my generation it was the old black and white movies like Mutiny on the Bounty, Captain Blood, Blackbeard the Pirate and The Buccaneer. All of which would be good imagination fodder for the current crop of budding pirates. They all glorify a lifestyle that most think only existed in the past.

Currently in the Gulf of Thailand, The Malacca Straits, Malaysia, Indonesia and especially off the coast of Somalia. In fact from 1993 to 2005 there has been over 3,583 verified acts of piracy on the seas worldwide, which indicates an increase of 168%. In those attacks 340 crew members died and 464 received injuries. In 2006 alone, 188 people were taken hostage and 15 killed. Most experts think that only 40% to 60% of the acts of piracy are reported. Much of modern piracy is carried out by people from third world countries with economic problems. There is still some activity in Caribbean piracy, which is primarily targeting yachts rather than cargo vessels.

Mostly it is boys who are playing at being the pirates and rescuing what neighborhood girl they can get to play along with them. But the women’s liberation movement, which would allow the young girls to take their turn at the swashbuckling, isn’t limited to modern times. The golden age of Piracy is generally considered to be between the years of 1690 and 1730. Toward the end of that period a buccaneer of some repute was Calico Jack. His ship was known as the “Terror of the Caribbean.” He garnered the nickname Calico Jack from his habit of wearing calico pants. The year 1720 found him sailing off the coast of Ocho Rios.

The governor of Ocho Rios sent out Captain Barnet to pursue and capture the notorious pirate. Calico Jack and his crew were celebrating the recent capture of a commercial vessel while anchored off the coast of Jamaica. They had imbibed so much rum, that Captain Barnet and his crew were able to sneak up on the Terror of the Caribbean. The pirate crew was caught by surprise, drunk on rum, and fled below deck. Only two of the crew stayed to fight Captain Barnet and his men. They put up such a magnificent last stand, that the fighting went on for over an hour. From time to time, the two fighting crew fired shots at their fellow pirates for being cowards.

When finally subdued, to the surprise of Barnet and his men, the two courageous pirates turned out to be women. They were Mary Read and Anne Bonny. Now the most famous of women pirates. Anne Bonny was born the illegitimate child of a maid in County Cork, Ireland. She fell in love at the age of 16 with a sea captain named James Bonny, but she had a wild side to her, and soon grew tired of him. She met Calico Jack and convinced him to pay James some money in exchange for a formal separation. She dressed as a man and snuck aboard the Terror of the Caribbean to become Captain Jack’s mistress. The reason she had to dress as a man, is because it was considered bad luck to have a woman on board a ship.

Mary Read’s background started in London as the daughter of a sea captain and his wife. Upon her father’s death, she had to disguise herself as a boy so that her father’s company and holdings could become an inheritance for his ‘son’. It could not be legally transferred to her mother or any other woman. The inheritance lasted until Mary became a teenager. Since she had been pretending to be a boy most of her life, and forced with having to make her own way in the world, she joined the British Army as a foot soldier. She eventually fell in love with a member of the Horse Regiment and confessed her true gender to him. She gave up the military, donned dresses, and married the soldier. For the first time she was living as a woman and enjoying it. She and her husband bought out their commission in the military and opened and English Inn called The Three Horseshoes.

Shortly after that her husband died. Forced back into making her own way in the world, she reverted to what she knew best, which was the military and pretending to be a man. This time around she was unhappy as a soldier and when the ship she was on was attacked by Captain Calico Jack, she took the opportunity to join his crew. She was a fierce fighter, and first to volunteer to join any boarding parties, so none of the pirate crew figured out that she was a woman. Anne Bonny however did figure it out. They became friends and started spending lots of time together. So much so, that Calico Jack became jealous until he too found out she was a woman. He agreed to keep her secret.

Captain Calico Jack Rackham and his crew were brought to trial, and found guilty of piracy. They were sentenced to be hanged. In deference to their gender, Mary and Anne were given a separate trial. At this trial they were also found guilty and sentenced to be hanged. Both of the woman claimed to be pregnant and were given stays of execution until after the birth of their children. Mary Read died in prison along with her unborn child, but Anne Bonny managed to cheat the gallows and escape, supposedly with a new lover.

At the hanging of Calico Jack, Anne Bonny is credited with saying “if you had fought like a man, you would not now be hanged like a dog.”