On this day in 1702, in Kinsale County Cork, Ireland a girl named Anne Cormac was born. Little could anyone have realized, but Anne Cormac grew up to become Anne Bonny, perhaps history’s most famous female pirate.
Shockingly, Cormac actually came from a fairly well-off family. While her mother was a servant, her father was a lawyer (and not-so-coincidentally, her mother’s employer). When Anne Cormac was very young, her father moved the family to the North American colonies in the hope of setting up an independent legal practice. Unfortunately, Cormac’s mother died shortly after arriving in Charles Town, South Carolina and her father’s practice was unsuccessful. However, he became a merchant and quickly established a sizable fortune.
Despite her privileged upbringing, Cormac had a terrible temper and a tendency to get in trouble. It’s said that when she was just 13 years old, she stabbed a servant girl with a table knife. She soon started to hang around with a bad crowd and when she was 16, married a poor sailor and pirate named John Bonny. Unsurprisingly, Anne Bonny was quickly disowned, so the newlyweds traveled to Nassau in the Bahamas.
In the Bahamas, the Bonnys began associating with pirates. While John Bonny was secretly playing the role of a governor’s informant, Anne Bonny became infatuated with the pirate’s life and in 1720 became the mistress of the infamous pirate John “Calico Jack” Rackham, the pirate credited with popularizing the Jolly Roger flag. It was only a matter of time before Anne Bonny set sail with Calico Jack as part of the crew of his sloop Revenge, leaving her husband behind. This was highly unusual, as many pirates believed it to be bad luck to have a woman on the crew.
Rackham, Bonny and the crew of the Revenge began a campaign of terror in the Caribbean taking ship after ship, often “inviting” (usually by force) their victims to join the ship’s crew. One individual who joined the crew of Revenge voluntarily was a fellow named Mark Read. Bonny took a shine to the young man, and Mark Read was forced to reveal that he was actually a woman in disguise named Mary Read. The two became the best of friends and when Rackham learned the truth about Read, he again broke with superstition and allowed both women to serve on the ship. Word soon began to spread around the Caribbean of a ship with two fearsome female pirates who could fight just as good as any man.
The Revenge‘s reign of terror came to an end in October 1720 when the ship was attacked by a “King’s ship”. Most of the crew was drunk at the time, so they were not able to put up much resistance. However, Bonny, Read and an unknown man were able to hold of the English troops for a short while. Eventually, the three pirates were subdued and the crew was sent to Jamaica to be hanged. Read and Bonny were able to “plead their bellies”, allowing them to gain a temporary stay of execution until they gave birth. The men were not as lucky. The last thing Bonny had to say about Rackham was that she was “sorry to see him there, but if he had fought like a Man, he need not have been hang’d like a Dog.”
Interestingly, nobody knows what happened to Bonny and Read after that. It’s believed that Read died in prison, either dying in childbirth or as the result of a fever. As for Bonny, things are a bit murkier. There’s no record of either Bonny’s release or execution. Some speculate that her father quietly paid government officials to release Bonny. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography suggests that there is evidence that after she was released, she returned to Charles Town, where she gave birth to her child. It’s said that she later married a local man named Joseph Burleigh and had ten children before dying as a respectable woman at the age of 80.
A pirate of Anne Bonny’s stature deserves an eponymous cocktail. Anne Bonny is a tropical cocktail with a twist, namely Irish cream liqueur to honor Bonny’s heritage.
- 1 ounce Vodka
- 1/2 ounce Irish Cream Liqueur
- 1/2 ounce Creme de Cacao
- 1 1/2 ounce Pina Colada mix
Blend all ingredients with ice and pour into a highball glass. Garnish with a maraschino cherry.
Tomorrow: Who discovered America?