Women Pirates of the Caribbean

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Captain Jack Sparrow wouldn't want to have to face the real, tough pirate women of the Caribbean. Anne Bonny and Mary Reade terrorized those waters in the early 1700s, only to be caught and tried... while pregnant.

As movie-goers prepare to head to the theater to see Johnny Depp ratchet around the screen in Pirates of the Caribbean II, many would be surprised to discover there were two women who were far tougher than the fictional Captain Jack Sparrow.

Anne Bonny and Mary Reade were arrested and tried for piracy in 1721. The women were captured from a pirate ship they defended with such ferocity, the British never suspected they were females--until they "pled their bellies," meaning, they were both pregnant. A doctor's examination confirmed their sex and their conditions. Because of their pregnancies, the women were jailed, while the rest of the pirates were hanged and left to rot within sight of their cells.

"What is fascinating to contemplate is how these two women from two different backgrounds came to end up on the same ship," says Jacqueline Church Simonds, 47, the author of Captain Mary, Buccaneer, a novel for adults, loosely based on the lives of Bonny and Reade.

Anne Bonny came to be on the ship, William, because she was Captain "Calico Jack" Rackam's lover. Anne was born the illegitimate child of a married Cork, Ireland lawyer and his maid, who moved to Carolina and started a plantation. Anne ran away from home with a sailor named Bonny and wound up in the pirate den of New Providence, Bahamas. It was there she met Jack Rackam and joined him at sea, leaving her husband behind. She donned men's clothing and took to the pirate's life with apparent ease.

Mary Reade lived most of her life pretending to be a male. From an early age, her mother dressed her as a boy in order to get money from her deceased husband's parents (none would have been forthcoming for a girl) in England. From that start, Mary served as a footman on a French frigate. Then she fought with a battalion of Flemish troops until she fell in love with a fellow soldier. After he got over the shock of her revealed sex, they were married and opened up a tavern in what is now Breda, the Netherlands. He died after only a couple of years and Mary went to sea again--dressed as a man. When pirates boarded her ship, it was the very one carrying Anne Bonny. As usually happened, captured crews were pressed into service as pirates.

Legend has it that Anne propositioned the new "handsome sailor" and Mary had to reveal herself. The crew apparently accepted both women. Mary was the fiercer fighter of the two: she is said to have fought two duels to save her less skilled lover. But it may have been he who testified against her to the British authorities on Spanishtown, Jamaica.

Simonds notes: "Mary Reade, along with her unborn child, died of fever in her cell. Ann Bonny disappeared; possibly she was ransomed by her father. It is only recently that claims by one of her descendants have gained credence, that Anne lived to a very old age in South Carolina."

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Jacqueline Simonds
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