The Legend of Pirate Anne Bonny

One of the few women pirates, Anne Bonny was an Irish pirate that operated in the Caribbean during the Golden Age of Piracy. She is considered by many to be one of the most famous female pirates of all time.  Much of her life is known about based on records from Captain Charles Johnson’s who penned the historical novel, “A General History of the Pyrates”. Read below to learn more about pirate Anne Bonny and her incredible and unusual life.


Pirate Anne Bonny’s Origins

While Pirate Anne Bonny’s exact birthdate is unknown, she is believed to have been born somewhere around the year 1700 in County Cork, Ireland. Her mother was a servant named Mary Brennan who became pregnant by her employer, lawyer William Cormac. While official records about her life are scarce, the majority of information about her came from Charles Johnson’s A General History of the Pyrates which is a collection of pirate biographies. Two editions of this novel were issued and while the first edition was considered historically accurate, the second edition included additional embellishments for added drama for avid pirate readers.


Family Life for Young Anne

At a young age, Bonny’s father William Cormac decided to leave Ireland for London as he wanted to get away from his wife’s family. He brought along his illegitimate daughter Anne and began dressing her as a boy and calling her “Andy”. However, Cormac’s wife shortly discovered that he had taken in his illegitimate daughter and planned to bring her up to be a lawyer’s clerk. As a result, Cormac’s wife stopped giving him an allowance which prompted Cormac to move to the Province of Carolina with Mary Brennan, who was Anne Bonny’s mother and Cormac’s former servant girl. As part of his new life, Bonny’s father gave up the “Mc” prefix of his family name in hopes of blending in more easily in his new home which is today known as Charleston, SC. While it took some time to adjust to their new home, Cormac has experience with law and was able to find work in order to finance a townhouse to live in. Eventually, he was able to save up to buy a plantation just out of town. Sadly, Bonny’s mother died when she was just 12 years old. Her father did not have much success as an attorney, and eventually became involved in the more profitable merchant business and was able to amass a substantial fortune.


Anne Grows Into Young Adulthood

Bonny had brilliant red hair that was quite eye catching and many comments were made about her attractive appearance. However, that red hair came along with a fiery temper as it is said she once stabbed a servant girl with a knife when she was just 13 years old. Years later as a young woman, she married a poor sailor and small-time pirate named James Bonny. James had his eyes on taking over his new father-in-law’s estate, but her father was quick to recognize the fraudster and Bonny was disowned by her father. Since Anne’s father did not approve of James Bonny as a husband for his daughter, he kicked Anne out of their house as punishment for their marriage.  Rumor says that Bonny was so infuriated that she set fire to her father’s plantation in retaliation. Due to the demise of the relationship with her father, Bonny and her husband moved to Nassau sometime between 1714 and 1718. Nassau is situated on New Providence Island which was a well known sanctuary for English pirates that was also called the Republic of Pirates.  Many inhabitants of the island had received a King’s Pardon or ended up there in hopes of evading the law. In the summer of 1718, Governor Woodes Rogers arrived to Nassau and James Bonny began working as an informant for the governor. As a result, James Bonny would report any pirate activity in the area to Governor Rogers who would subsequently arrest the pirates. His wife Anne disapproved of her husband’s job working for Governor Rogers as she sympathized and idolized pirate life.


Anne’s New Love: Calico Jack Rackham

As Bonny grew unhappier with her marriage, she began socializing with the local pirates in taverns around town. During one afternoon, she encountered John “Calico Jack” Rackham, who was the captain of the pirate sloop Revenge. It was love at first sight and Anne became Rackham’s lover. Rackham was so enamored with Anne that he even offered Bonny’s husband, James Bonny, money in exchange for her with the purpose of facilitating their divorce. However, her husband refused so Anne and Rackham escaped the island together and Anne subsequently became a member of Rackham’s crew while disguised as a man. Anne became pregnant while on board and Rackam docked on the island of Cuba so Anne could give birth to their son whom they left with Rackam’s family to tend to. Craving the pirate life at sea she had grown to love, recently divorced Bonny rejoined and quickly married Rackham to continue their pirate life together at sea as a married couple.  


Trouble At Sea

Rackham, Bonny and another woman named Mary Read recruited a new crew and spent several years in the areas around Jamaica where they captured many small vessels and amassed massive treasure. Pirate Anne Bonny even took part in combat alongside the men, and was described as very competent and effective in battle. Governor Rogers even named her in a “Wanted Pirates” circular that published in the continent’s only newspaper at the time, The Boston News-Letter. While Bonny was known as a Caribbean pirate, she never actually commanded a ship of her own. In October 1720, Rackham and Bonny’s ship was attacked by a “King’s ship” under the command of Jonathan Barnet who worked for the Governor of Jamaica. There was not much of a fight as the majority of Rackham’s pirates were too drunk to fight. However, Read and Bonny fought fiercely and were able to hold off Barnet’s troops for a short time.


Final Moments Shrouded in Mystery

Later, Rackham and his crew taken prisoner to Jamaica where they were later convicted and sentenced by Governor Lawes to be hanged. Read and Bonny both begged for mercy because they were pregnant, and both women received a temporary stay of execution until they gave birth.   Anne stayed in prison until she gave birth, but was supposedly later released amid mystery.  There is no historical evidence of Bonny’s release or execution so her last days remain a mystery. Some people believe she reconciled with her father, returned to her first husband, or even took on a new identity and continued her pirate ways on the open sea. What do you think happened to pirate Anne Bonny?