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Anne Bonny (possibly 1697 – possibly April 1782)[1][2] was an Irish pirate operating in the Caribbean, and one of the most famous female pirates of all time.[3] The little that is known of her life comes largely from Captain Charles Johnson's A General History of the Pyrates.

Anne Bonny
Bonney, Anne (1697-1720).jpg
Anne Bonny from a Dutch version of Charles Johnson's book of pirates.
Bornunknown, possibly 1697[1]
DisappearedPort Royal, Colony of Jamaica
Diedunknown, no sources after 1720
Piratical career
AllegianceCalico Jack
Years active1718–October 1720
Base of operationsCaribbean

Born in the Kingdom of Ireland around 1700, Bonny moved to London and then to the Province of Carolina when she was about 10 years old. She then married and moved to Nassau in the Bahamas, a known sanctuary for pirates, around 1715. It was there she met Jack Rackham, and became his pirate partner and lover. Along with Mary Read, she often disguised herself as a man and became one of the most recognizable and wanted faces of the "Golden Age of Piracy". Captured alongside Rackham and Read in October 1720, Bonny and Read were soon sentenced to death but their executions were stayed due to both of them being pregnant. Read died in jail in early 1721, but what happened to Bonny next is unknown. Some claim that she, too, died in prison, while others have guessed she escaped or was released. Her time and place of death thus remain unknown.


Early lifeEdit

Bonny's birthdate is speculated to be around 1700.[4] She was said to be born in Old Head of Kinsale,[5] in County Cork, Ireland.[6] She was the daughter of 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 collection of pirate biographies, the first edition partly accurate, the second much embellished).[7][8]

Bonny's father William Cormac first moved to London to get away from his wife's family, and he began dressing his daughter as a boy and calling her "Andy". When Cormac's wife discovered William had taken in the illegitimate daughter and was bringing the child up to be a lawyer's clerk and dressing her as a boy, she stopped giving him an allowance.[9] Cormac then moved to the Province of Carolina, taking along his former serving girl, the mother of Bonny. Bonny's father abandoned the original "Mc" prefix of their family name to blend more easily into the Charles Town citizenry. At first, the family had a rough start in their new home, but Cormac's knowledge of law and ability to buy and sell goods soon financed a townhouse and eventually a plantation just out of town. Bonny's mother died when she was 12. Her father attempted to establish himself as an attorney but did not do well. Eventually, he joined the more profitable merchant business and accumulated a substantial fortune.[10]

It is recorded that Bonny had red hair and was considered a "good catch" but may have had a fiery temper; at age 13, she supposedly stabbed a servant girl with a knife.[8] She married a poor sailor and small-time pirate named James Bonny.[11] James hoped to win possession of his father-in-law's estate, but Bonny was disowned by her father. Anne's father did not approve of James Bonny as a husband for his daughter, and he kicked Anne out of their house.[12]

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 called the Republic of Pirates.[13] 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.[14] James Bonny would report to Governor Rogers about the pirates in the area, which resulted in a multitude of these pirates being arrested. Anne disliked the work her husband did for Governor Rogers.

Rackham's partnerEdit

While in the Bahamas, Bonny began mingling with pirates in the local taverns. She met John "Calico Jack" Rackham, and Rackham became her lover. Rackham offered Bonny's husband, James Bonny, money in exchange for her with the purpose of divorce, but her husband refused. Anne and Rackham escaped the island together, and Bonny became a member of Rackham's crew. She disguised herself as a man on the ship, and only Rackham and eventually Mary Read were privy to her true sex.[12] When it became clear that Anne was with child, Rackham landed her on the island of Cuba, and there she had a son.[9] 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 married Rackham while at sea. Bonny, Rackham, and Read stole the ship William, then at anchor in Nassau harbour, and put out to sea.[15] Rackham and the two women recruited a new crew. Their crew spent years in Jamaica and the surrounding area.[16] Over the next several months, they enjoyed success, capturing many, albeit smaller, vessels and bringing in abundant treasure.[citation needed]

Bonny 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. Governor Rogers had named her in a "Wanted Pirates" circular published in the continent's only newspaper, The Boston News-Letter.[14] Although Bonny was historically renowned as a Caribbean pirate, she never commanded a ship of her own.

Anne Bonny, Firing Upon the Crew, from the Pirates of the Spanish Main series (N19) for Allen & Ginter Cigarettes MET DP835030

Capture and imprisonmentEdit

In October 1720, Rackham and his crew were attacked by a "King's ship", a sloop captained by Jonathan Barnet under a commission from Nicholas Lawes, Governor of Jamaica. Most of Rackham's pirates put up little resistance as many of them were too drunk to fight. 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 Governor Lawes to be hanged.[17] According to Johnson, Bonny's last words to the imprisoned Rackham were: "Had you fought like a man, you need not have been hang'd like a dog."[18][19]

After being sentenced, Read and Bonny both "pleaded their bellies," asking for mercy because they were pregnant.[20] 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 from childbirth.[14] Anne stayed in prison until she gave birth.[9] What happened to her afterwards is disputed.


There is no official historical record of Bonny's release, execution, or death. This has fed speculation as to her fate. Some rumours say that Bonny died in prison, while others say that she escaped and reverted to her life as a pirate.[21]

In his A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the most notorious Pyrates, published in 1724, Captain Charles Johnson (often thought to be a pseudonym for Daniel Defoe) states: "She was continued in Prison, to the Time of her lying in, and afterwards reprieved from Time to Time; but what is become of her since, we cannot tell; only this we know, that she was not executed."[22]. The accuracy and sources of the book, though, are veiled in darkness,

There are no known surviving records of Bonny after the 1720 trial.

In popular cultureEdit

In the Starz television series Black Sails, Bonny is portrayed by Clara Paget.

Portrayed by Bonnie Barnes in “The Spanish Main” (1945).

See alsoEdit

Other women active in piracy's Golden Age:


  1. ^ a b "Anne Bonny - Famous Pirate - The Way of the Pirates". Retrieved 29 December 2017.
  2. ^ "Anne Bonny - Irish American pirate". Retrieved 29 December 2017.
  3. ^ "Anne Bonny and Famous Female Pirates". Retrieved 3 March 2018.
  4. ^ "The Story of Female Pirate Anne Bonny". ThoughtCo. Retrieved 3 March 2018.
  5. ^ Rediker, Marcus (1993). "When Women Pirates Sailed the Seas". The Wilson Quarterly (1976-). 17 (4): 102–110. JSTOR 40258786.
  6. ^ "Anne Bonny - Famous Female Pirate". Retrieved 29 December 2017.
  7. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica Online
  8. ^ a b Meltzer (2001)
  9. ^ a b c Joan., Druett, (2005) [2000]. She captains : heroines and hellions of the sea. New York: Barnes & Noble Books. ISBN 0760766916. OCLC 70236194.
  10. ^ Johnson (1725)
  11. ^ Lorimer (2002), pg. 47
  12. ^ a b Johnson, Charles (14 May 1724). The General History of Pyrates. Ch. Rivington, J. Lacy, and J. Stone.
  13. ^ Sharp (2002)
  14. ^ a b c Woodard, Colin (2007). The Republic of Pirates. Harcourt, Inc. pp. 139, 316–318. ISBN 978-0-15-603462-3.
  15. ^ Druett, Joan (2000). She Captains : Heroines and Hellions of the Sea. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0684856905.
  16. ^ Canfield, Rob (2001). "Something's Mizzen: Anne Bonny, Mary Read, "Polly", and Female Counter-Roles on the Imperialist Stage". South Atlantic Review: 50.
  17. ^ Zettle, LuAnn. "Anne Bonny The Last Pirate".
  18. ^ "Ann Bonny and Mary Read's Trial". Pirate Documents. Archived from the original on 24 April 2014. Retrieved 14 March 2014.
  19. ^ "When women pirates sailed the seas". Retrieved 18 March 2018.
  20. ^ Yolen, Jane; Shannon, David (1995). The Ballad of the Pirate Queens. San Diego: Harcourt Brace. pp. 23–24.
  21. ^ Carmichael, Sherman (2011). Forgotten Tales of South Carolina. The History Press. p. 72.
  22. ^ Captain Charles Johnson, A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the most notorious Pyrates, Chapter 8,, retrieved Sept. 21 2017 ISBN 978-1-60949-232-8




  • Baldwin, Robert (1721). The Tryals of Captain John Rackam and Other Pirates. in The Colonial Office Records in The Public Records Office at Kew, (ref: CO 137/14f.9).
    Details the trials of Jack Rackam, Mary Read, Anne Bonny, and Charles Vane.
  • Carlova, John (1964). Mistress of the Seas. Citadel Press.
  • Cordingly, David. "Bonny, Anne (1698–1782)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. Accessed 18 Nov 2006.
  • Druett, Joan (2000). She Captains: Heroines and Hellions of the Sea. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0684856905.
  • Gosse, Philip; De Marco, Guy Anthony (2015). The Pirate Who's Who (Extended Edition). Amazon: Villainous Press. pp. 52, 53, 54. ISBN 978-1-62225-650-1.
  • Johnson, Captain Charles (1724). Hayward, Arthur L. (ed.). A history of the robberies and murders of the most notorious pirates from their first rise and settlement in the island of Providence to the present year. London: George Routledge & Sons, Ltd.
    First published in 1724, with the second edition published 1728, both versions attributed to Daniel Defoe. The two editions are very different, with the second edition much less accurate than the first when compared to court records. In the second edition however, no such accuracy is even attempted. In particular, the lurid details of the capture of the merchant ship the Neptune by Charles Vane in September 1718, conflicts entirely with the court records of both Charles Vane and Robert Deal, his quartermaster.
  • Lorimer, Sara; Synarski, Susan (2002). Booty: Girl Pirates on the High Seas. San Francisco: Chronicle Books.
  • Meltzer, Milton; Waldman, Bruce (2001). Piracy & Plunder: A Murderous Business. New York: Dutton Children's Books. ISBN 0-525-45857-3.
  • Sharp, Anne Wallace (2002). Daring Pirate Women. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications.
  • Zettle, LuAnn (2015). Anne Bonny The Last Pirate. Amazon: Arrowhead Book Co. pp. 8, 9, 11. ISBN 978-0-9826048-6-1.
  • Brown, Douglas (1962). Anne Bonny, Pirate Queen. Monarch #MA320.