Pirate Profile: Anne Bonny

Name: Anne Bonny (Anne Cormac)
Birth Year: 1698
Birth Location: Kinsale, County Cork, Ireland
Year of Death: 1782?
Location of Death: Charles Towne, S.C.

*Note: Much of what we know about several pirates’ lives, including Anne Bonny’s, come from the 1724 text General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates by Captain Charles Johnson, thought to be an alias for Daniel Defoe. This text is considered highly speculative.

Anne is said to be the illegitimate daughter of William Cormac, an Irish lawyer who had an affair with his family maid, Peg Brennan (or Mary Brennan, depending on the source). William was fond of Anne as a child, and in the attempt to avoid scandal, dressed her as a boy and introduced her as the child of a relative entrusted to his care. However, once the infidelity was discovered, William separated from his wife and brought Peg and Anne to the new world to settle in Charles Towne, South Carolina. Anne’s mother died of typhoid fever in 1711, when Anne was just 13 years old.

During her teen years, Anne began to exhibit a fierce and courageous temper. She took delight in dressing and acting like a boy. She enjoyed shooting, hunting, riding, and even cursing. Rumors spread about Anne’s behavior, saying she had even beaten a potential suitor who tried to rape her. At the age of 19, William took matters in his own hands and arranged a marriage. Yet, Anne had other plans. In 1718, Anne eloped a poor sailor named James Bonny (or John Bonny, depending on the source) and traveled with him to New Providence in the Bahamas. There James became an informer to the governor, Privateer Woodes Rogers. His career path disenchanted Anne, causing her to spend most of her time drinking at local establishments and seducing pirates, where she becomes involved with the famed pirate, John “Calico Jack” Rackham. He attempted to pay Anne’s husband to divorce her, but James Bonny refused. One sources even states James informed Governor Rogers of the situation, and the governor threatened Anne that if she annulled her marriage, he would have her thrown in prison and have Calico Jack whip her.

As a result, on August 22nd, 1720, Anne Bonny abandoned her husband and assisted Calico Jack in commandeering the sloop William from Nassau Harbor. Calico Jack’s decision of allowing Anne accompany him was highly unusual, for women were considered bad luck aboard a ship. Anne did not conceal her gender from her shipmates. Only when pillaging other ships, she disguised herself as a man and participated in armed combat.

Unfortunately, Calico Jack and Anne’s reign on the high seas would not last long. On November 15th, 1720, the privateer, Captain Jonathan Barnet, caught up with the William at Negril Point, Jamaica and cornered her, taking her men by surprise while drunk. Only Anne and Mary Read stood against Captain Barnet’s crew until they were finally overcome. Calico Jack, Anne, and Mary were than brought to Spanish Town, Jamaica to stand trial. Calico Jack and eight of his men were found guilty and hung. Anne and Mary stood trail on November 28th and found guilty. However, on the discovery that the women were pregnant, they won stays of execution. Mary died in prison the next year. Anne gave birth and used her charms to win two more reprieves. She was then released, mostly likely with the help of her father. No one really knows what happen to Anne next, but it is said she returned to Charles Towne, where she married, had children, and lived out the remainder of her life.

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