Anne Bonny (c. 1700 – c. 1782) was an Irish woman who became a famous pirate, operating in the Caribbean. What little is known of her life comes largely from Charles Johnson’s A General History of the Pyrates.
Anne Bonny was born around the year 1700. Her birth name was Anne Cormac, and her birthplace wasKinsale, County Cork, Ireland. She was the daughter of a 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 contemporary collection of pirate biographies, the first edition accurate, the second much 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 at that time as a sanctuary for English pirates called the ‘Pirates’ republic’. 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.
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 Rackham became her lover. 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 ship Revenge, then at anchor in Nassau harbour, and put out to sea. Rackham and the two women recruited a new crew. Rackham’s crew spent a lot of time in Jamaica and the surrounding area. Over the next several months, they enjoyed success, capturing many, albeit smaller, vessels 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. Her name 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 was historically renowned as a female Caribbean pirate, she never commanded a ship of her own.
Capture and imprisonment
In October 1720, Rackham and his crew were attacked by a “King’s 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 and Bonny 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: “sorry to see you there, but if you’d fought like a man, you would 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.
There is no historical record of Bonny’s release or of her execution. This has fed speculation that her father ransomed her; that she might have returned to her husband, or even that she resumed a life of piracy under a new identity.