Anne Bonny (8 March 1697 – disappeared April 1721),[1][2] sometimes Anne Bonney,[3] was an Irish pirate operating in the Caribbean, and one of the few female pirates in recorded history.[4] What little that is known of her life comes largely from Captain Charles Johnson's 1724 book A General History of the Pyrates.

Anne Bonny
Bonney, Anne (1697-1720).jpg
Bonny from a Dutch version of Charles Johnson's book of pirates
Born8 March 1697[1]
DisappearedApril 1721(1721-04-00) (aged 24)
Port Royal, Colony of Jamaica
James Bonny
(m. 1718; div. 1719)

(m. 1719; died 1720)
Piratical career
AllegianceCalico Jack
Years active1718–October 1720
Base of operationsCaribbean

Bonny was born in Ireland around 1700 and moved to London and then to the Province of Carolina when she was about 10 years old.[5] Around 1718 she married sailor James Bonny, assumed his last name, and moved with him to Nassau in the Bahamas, a sanctuary for pirates.[6] It was there that she met Calico Jack Rackham and became his pirate partner and lover. She was captured alongside Rackham and Mary Read in October 1720. All three were sentenced to death, but Bonny and Read had their executions stayed because both of them were pregnant. Read died of a fever in jail in April 1721 (likely due to complications from the pregnancy), but Bonny's fate is unknown.

Early lifeEdit

Bonny's birthdate is speculated to be around 1700.[7] She was said to be born in Old Head of Kinsale,[8] in County Cork, Ireland.[9] 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).[10][11][12]

Bonny's father William Cormac first moved to London to get away from his wife's family, and he began dressing Anne as a boy and calling her "Andy". When Cormac's wife discovered William had taken in his 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.[13] Cormac then moved to the Province of Carolina, taking along Anne and her mother, his former serving girl. 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 the 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.[14]

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.[11] She married a poor sailor and small-time pirate named James Bonny.[15] 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.[16]

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.[17] 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.[18] 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

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

While in the Bahamas, Bonny began mingling with pirates in the taverns. She met John "Calico Jack" Rackham, and he became her lover. Rackham subsequently offered money to her husband James if he would divorce her, but her husband refused and threatened to beat Rackham. She and Rackham escaped the island together, and she became a member of his crew. She disguised herself as a man on the ship, and only Rackham and Mary Read were aware that she was a woman[16] until it became clear that she was pregnant. Rackham then landed her in Cuba where she gave birth to a son.[13] She then 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 harbor, and put out to sea.[19] Rackham and the two women recruited a new crew. Their crew spent years in Jamaica and the surrounding area.[20] Bonny took part in combat alongside the men, and Governor Rogers named her in a "Wanted Pirates" circular published in The Boston News-Letter.[18]

When Bonny told Read that she was a woman because she was attracted to her, Read revealed that she too was a woman. To abate the jealousy of Rackham, who suspected romantic involvement between the two, Bonny told him that Read was a woman.[21] Speculation over the relationship between Bonny and Read led to images depicting the two in battle together.[22]

A victim of the pirates, Dorothy Thomas, left a description of Read and Bonny: They "wore men's jackets, and long trousers, and handkerchiefs tied about their heads: and ... each of them had a machete and pistol in their hands and they cursed and swore at the men to murder her [Dorothy Thomas]." Thomas also recorded that she knew that they were women, "from the largeness of their breasts."[23]

Capture and imprisonmentEdit

In October 1720, Rackham and his crew were attacked by 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. They were taken to Jamaica where they were convicted and sentenced by Governor Lawes to be hanged.[24] According to Johnson, Bonny's last words to Rackham were: "Had you fought like a man, you need not have been hang'd like a dog".[25][26]

Read and Bonny both "pleaded their bellies", asking for mercy because they were pregnant,[27] and the court granted them a stay of execution until they gave birth. Read died in prison, most likely from a fever from childbirth. A ledger from a church in Jamaica lists her burial on 28 April 1721, "Mary Read, pirate".[28]


There is no record of Bonny's release, and this has fed speculation as to her fate.[29] A ledger lists the burial of an "Ann Bonny" on 29 December 1733, in the same town in Jamaica where she was tried.[28] Charles Johnson writes in A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the most notorious Pyrates, published in 1724: "She was continued in Prison, to the Time of her lying in, and afterward reprieved from Time to Time; but what is become of her since we cannot tell; only this we know, that she was not executed".[30]

Other sources have stated that she may have returned to the United States after her imprisonment, dying in South Carolina in April 1782.[31]

In popular cultureEdit


In 2020, a statue of Bonny and Read was unveiled at Execution Dock in Wapping, London. It is planned to eventually bring the statue to Burgh Island in south Devon.[35]

See alsoEdit


  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. ^ Simon, Ed, Return to Pirate Island, JSTOR Daily, August 4, 2021 with several references
  4. ^ "Anne Bonny and Famous Female Pirates". Retrieved 3 March 2018.
  5. ^ The Legend Of Anne Bonny, retrieved 14 August 2021
  6. ^ "Anne Bonny | Biography & Facts | Britannica". Retrieved 17 February 2022.
  7. ^ "The Story of Female Pirate Anne Bonny". ThoughtCo. Retrieved 3 March 2018.
  8. ^ Rediker, Marcus (1993). "When Women Pirates Sailed the Seas". The Wilson Quarterly. 17 (4): 102–110. JSTOR 40258786.
  9. ^ "Anne Bonny – Famous Female Pirate". Retrieved 29 December 2017.
  10. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica Online
  11. ^ a b Meltzer (2001)
  12. ^ Bartelme, Tony (21 November 2018). "The true and false stories of Anne Bonny, pirate woman of the Caribbean". The Post and Courier.
  13. ^ a b Joan., Druett (2005) [2000]. She captains : heroines and hellions of the sea. New York: Barnes & Noble Books. ISBN 0760766916. OCLC 70236194.
  14. ^ Johnson (1725)
  15. ^ Lorimer (2002), p. 47
  16. ^ a b Johnson, Charles (14 May 1724). The General History of Pyrates. Ch. Rivington, J. Lacy, and J. Stone.
  17. ^ Sharp (2002)
  18. ^ a b c Woodard, Colin (2007). The Republic of Pirates. Harcourt, Inc. pp. 139, 316–318. ISBN 978-0-15-603462-3. Archived from the original on 4 January 2020. Retrieved 18 June 2020.
  19. ^ Druett, Joan (2000). She Captains: Heroines and Hellions of the Sea. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0684856905.
  20. ^ Canfield, Rob (2001). "Something's Mizzen: Anne Bonny, Mary Read, "Polly", and Female Counter-Roles on the Imperialist Stage". South Atlantic Review: 50.
  21. ^ Johnson, Charles (1724). A General History of the Pyrates. London: T. Warner. p. 162. […] this Intimacy so disturb’d Captain Rackam, who was the Lover and Gallant of Anne Bonny, that he grew furiously jealous, so that he told Anne Bonny, he would cut her new Lover’s Throat, therefore, to quiet him, she let him into the Secret also.
  22. ^ O'Driscoll, Sally (2012). "The Pirate's Breasts: Criminal Women and the Meanings of the Body". The Eighteenth Century. 53 (3): 357–379. doi:10.1353/ecy.2012.0024. JSTOR 23365017. S2CID 163111552 – via JSTOR.
  23. ^ Burl, Aubrey (2006). Black Barty: Bartholomew Roberts and his Pirate Crew 1718–1723. Stroud: Sutton Publishing. pp. 147–148. ISBN 978-1846324338. OCLC 852757012.
  24. ^ Zettle, LuAnn. "Anne Bonny The Last Pirate". Archived from the original on 22 May 2019.
  25. ^ "Ann Bonny and Mary Read's Trial". Pirate Documents. Archived from the original on 24 April 2014. Retrieved 14 March 2014.
  26. ^ "When women pirates sailed the seas". Retrieved 18 March 2018.
  27. ^ Yolen, Jane; Shannon, David (1995). The Ballad of the Pirate Queens. San Diego: Harcourt Brace. pp. 23–24.
  28. ^ a b Bartleme, Tony (28 November 2020). "A 22-year-old YouTuber may have solved Anne Bonny pirate mystery 300 years after trial". The Post and Courier.
  29. ^ Carmichael, Sherman (2011). Forgotten Tales of South Carolina. The History Press. p. 72. ISBN 9781609492328.
  30. ^ Captain Charles Johnson, A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the most notorious Pyrates, Chapter 8, Archived 18 September 2015 at the Wayback Machine, retrieved 21 September 2017 ISBN 978-1-60949-232-8
  31. ^ Carmichael, Sherman (3 November 2011). Forgotten Tales of South Carolina. Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 978-1-62584-147-6.
  32. ^ Rogozinski, Jan (1999). Dictionary of Pirates. Ware, Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions Ltd. p. 33. ISBN 1-85326-384-2.
  33. ^ Patten, Dominic (2 April 2017). Fleming, Mike (ed.). "'Black Sails' Creators On Tonight's Series Finale & More Possible Pirate Adventures". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media, LLC. Retrieved 26 March 2018.
  34. ^ "The Ballad of Mary Read and Anne Bonny, by The Baja Brigade". The Baja Brigade. Retrieved 6 June 2018.
  35. ^ "Female pirate lovers whose story was ignored by male historians immortalised with statue". The Independent. 18 November 2020. Archived from the original on 7 May 2022.