Anne Bonny (unknown, possibly 1697 – unknown, possibly April 1782) was an Irish pirate operating in the Caribbean, and one of the most famous female pirates of all time. The little that is known of her life comes largely from Captain Charles Johnson's A General History of the Pyrates.
Bonny's exact birthdate is speculated, but is somewhere around 1700. She was said to be born in Kinsale, in County Cork, Ireland. 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 accurate, the second much embellished).
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 bringing the child up to be a lawyer's clerk and dressing her as a boy, she stopped giving him an allowance. 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.
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. She married a poor sailor and small-time pirate named James Bonny. James hoped to win possession of his father-in-law's estate, but Bonny was disowned by her father. Bonny's father did not approve of James Bonny as a husband for his daughter and he kicked Anne out of their house.
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, some time 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. 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. James Bonny would report to Governor Rogers about the pirates in the area, which result in a multitude of these pirates being arrested. Bonny disliked the work her husband did for Governor Rogers.
While in the Bahamas, Bonny began mingling with pirates in the local taverns. She met John "Calico Jack" Rackham, captain of the pirate sloop Revenge, and Rackham became her lover. Rackham offered Bonny's husband, James Bonny, money in exchange for her with the purpose of divorcing, 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 knew about her true gender. When it became clear that Anne was with child, Rackam landed her on the island of Cuba and there she had a son. 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, Rackham, and Mary Read stole the ship William, then at anchor in Nassau harbour, and put out to sea. Rackham and the two women recruited a new crew. Their crew spent years in Jamaica and the surrounding area. Over the next several months, they enjoyed success, capturing many, albeit smaller, vessels and bringing in abundant treasure.
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. Although Bonny was historically renowned as a 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 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. 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."
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 from childbirth. Anne stayed in prison until she gave birth and was later released.
In his A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the most notorious Pyrates, published in 1724, Captain Charles Johnson 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." However, 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.
An article from 2015 called Anne Bonny: Irish American Pirate stated that after Bonny's release from prison, she returned to South Carolina where she wed and started a family. Some rumours say that Bonny died in prison, while other speculate that she escaped prison and reverted to her life as a pirate. Although there is no official account of Bonny's death, some historians have claimed that Bonny died sometime around April, 1782 in South Carolina.