Anne Bonny
1724 engraving of Bonny from A General History of the Pyrates
DiedUnknown; last recorded appearance in 1720
Piratical career
AllegianceCalico Jack
Years activeAugust – October 1720
Base of operationsCaribbean

Anne Bonny[a] (disappeared after 28 November 1720)[4] was a pirate operating in the Caribbean, and one of the few female pirates in recorded history.[5] What little that is known of her life comes largely from Captain Charles Johnson's 1724 book A General History of the Pyrates, though the information presented by Johnson about her is considered dubious.

Bonny was born at an unknown date.[b] Prior to 22 August 1720, she moved to Nassau in the Bahamas, a sanctuary for pirates. It was there that she met Calico Jack Rackham. In August 1720, Rackam, with a crew including Bonny and another woman, Mary Read, stole a ship and became notorious pirates. Bonny was captured alongside Rackham and Read in October 1720. All pirates on board were sentenced to death, but Bonny and Read had their executions stayed because both claimed to be pregnant. Read died in jail around mid April 1721, but Bonny's fate is unknown.

Early life

Bonny's birthdate and place is unknown.[6] Nothing definitive is known about her early life. No primary source including her own trial transcript makes mention of her age or nation of origin. No Anne Bonny born in the late 17th century has been found in the baptism records of Ireland. We cannot be sure she is even Irish, her name is more English: Anne, the third most common English given name of the era,[7] and Bonny, an English surname common in Lancashire County.[8] Bonny is not noted to have been a colonist of Nassau before 1713. Prior to 22 August 1720, little can be definitively said about Bonny's early life.

Early life according to A General History of the Pyrates

Front cover of A General History of the Pyrates. Anne Bonny's name, alongside Mary Read's, is in notably larger font then other pirates like Blackbeard or Charles Vane.

All details concerning Bonny's early life stems from Charles Johnson's A General History of the Pyrates (a greatly unreliable series of pirate biographies).[9] Johnson writes that Bonny was born in a town near Cork in the Kingdom of Ireland.[10] She was the daughter of a servant woman named Mary, and her employer, an unnamed attorney. The attorney's wife had become ill and was moved to her mother-in-law's home a few miles away to be cared for. Whilst his wife was away, he began an affair with Mary, following a comical mix up concerning silver spoons. Mary became pregnant from the affair and gave birth to a daughter, Anne. Although Anne was therefore illegitimate, the attorney presented her as his legitimate daughter.[11]

The attorney first moved to London to get away from his wife's family, and he began dressing Anne as a boy. When his wife discovered he had taken in his illegitimate daughter and was bringing the child up to be a lawyer's clerk and dressing her as a boy, she stopped giving him an allowance.[12] The attorney then moved to the Province of Carolina, taking along Anne and her mother Mary. At first, the family had a rough start in their new home; the attorney attempted to establish himself as a lawyer in Charles Town but did not do well. However, his knowledge of the law and ability to buy and sell goods soon financed a townhouse and eventually a plantation just outside the town. Mary died when Anne was young.[13]

It is recorded that Bonny was considered a "good catch" but may have had a fiery temper; she supposedly stabbed a servant girl with a knife.[14] She married a poor sailor and small-time pirate named James Bonny.[15] James hoped to win possession of his father-in-law's estate, but Bonny was disowned by her father. Anne's father did not approve of James Bonny as a husband for his daughter, and he threw Anne out of his house.[16]

There is a story that Bonny set fire to her father's plantation in retaliation, but even Johnson doubts this occurred. However, it is known that sometime in the 1710s, she and James Bonny moved to Nassau, on New Providence Island, known as a sanctuary for English pirates.[17] Johnson claims that, after the arrival of Governor Woodes Rogers in the summer of 1718, James Bonny became an informant for the governor.[18] This is unlikely, as no James Bonny is noted in Captain Vincent Pearse's list of pirates who took the Kings Pardon.[19] James Bonny would report to Governor Rogers about the pirates in the area, which resulted in a multitude of these pirates being arrested. Anne disliked the work her husband did for Governor Rogers.

John Rackham and Piracy

John "Calico Jack" Rackham

While in Nassau, Bonny at some point met John "Calico Jack" Rackham. The nature of his relationship with her is unclear; A General History claims it was romantic, while her own trial transcript says nothing on the matter. She was likely well acquainted with Rackham by the year 1720, after the War of the Quadruple Alliance and two years into the reign of Governor Rogers.

Mary Read

In August 1720, Bonny, Rackham, and another woman, Mary Read, together with about a dozen other pirate crewmembers, stole the sloop William, then at anchor in Nassau harbor, and put out to sea.[20] The crew spent months in the West Indies attacking merchant ships.[21] Bonny took part in piracy alongside the men, handing out gunpowder to fellow pirates, a job usually referred to as a powder monkey.[22] On 5 September 1720, Governor Rogers put out a proclamation later published in The Boston Gazette, demanding the arrest of Rackham and his associates. Among those named are Anne Bonny and Mary Read.[18]

Proclamation issued by governor Rogers 5 September 1720 that mentions Anne Bonny as a member of Rackhams crew. She is specifically called Ann Fulford alias Bonny.[23]

A General History claims Bonny eventually fell in love with another pirate on board, only to discover it was Mary Read. To abate the jealousy of Rackham, who suspected romantic involvement between the two, Bonny told him that Read was a woman and swore him to secrecy.[24] This is unlikely, since Rogers' proclamation names both women openly. Later drawings of Bonny and Read would emphasise their femininity, although this too likely did not reflect reality.[25]

A victim of the pirates, Dorothy Thomas of Jamaica, would describe in detail Bonny and Read's appearance during their trial: They "wore men's jackets, and long trousers, and handkerchiefs tied about their heads: and ... each of them had a machete and pistol in their hands and they cursed and swore at the men to murder her [Dorothy Thomas]." Thomas also recorded that she knew that they were women, "from the largeness of their breasts."[26]

Capture and imprisonment

Main article: Capture of John "Calico Jack" Rackham

On 22 October 1720,[27] Rackham and his crew were attacked by a sloop captained by Jonathan Barnet under a commission from Nicholas Lawes, Governor of Jamaica. Rackham and his crew briefly resisted, but surrendered soon after the fight began. They were taken to Jamaica where in groups, they were tried for the crime of piracy. Rackham was tried on 16 November and found guilty. His execution at Port Royal was carried out two days later on the 18th.[28]

Anne Bonny was tried for piracy alongside Mary Read in Spanish Town on 28 November.[29] Like Rackham, the trial was short and the verdict inevitable. After calling three witnesses and a brief period of discussion, Governor Lawes found Bonny and Read guilty of piracy and pronounced the sentence.

"You Mary Read, and Ann Bonny, alias Bonn, are to go from hence to the Place from whence you came, and from thence to the Place of Execution; where you, shall be severally hang'd by the Neck, till you are severally Dead. And GOD of His infinite Mercy be merciful to both of your souls."[30]

With the judgement pronounced, Bonny and Read both "pleaded their bellies", asking for mercy,[31] a jury of matrons likely granted them a stay of execution until they gave birth, but its debatable if they were actually pregnant.[32] Read died in prison of unknown causes around April 1721. A burial registry for Saint Catherine Parish lists her burial on 28 April 1721 as, "Mary Read, Pirate".[33]


There is no record of Bonny's release, and this has fed speculation as to her fate.[34] Johnson writes in A General History that: "She was continued in Prison, to the Time of her lying in, and afterward reprieved from Time to Time; but what is become of her since we cannot tell; only this we know, that she was not executed".[35]

Claims of Bonny being freed by family intervention and moving to the American colonies, dying around the 1780s, are unlikely and appear to originate from the 1964 romance novel Mistress of the Seas.[36]

Burial record of an Ann Bonny in Saint Catherines Parish, 29 December 1733.

A burial register in Spanish Town, where Bonny was tried, lists the burial of an "Ann Bonny" on 29 December 1733.[33]


Despite a career of only two months, Anne Bonny is among the most famous pirates in recorded history, primarily due to her gender. Within a decade, Bonny-inspired characters like Jenny Diver in John Gay's Polly were already appearing.[37] In the 19th century, literature such as Charles Ellms' Pirates Own Book would discuss Bonny at length, often with illustrations. An 1888 cigarette card would depict Bonny as a redhead, a trait that continues to this day despite no evidence supporting it. Swashbuckling cinema would often include a dashing redhaired woman or female pirate companion, occasionally directly naming Bonny.[38] By the 21st century, Bonny has appeared in hundreds of books, movies, stage shows, TV programs, and video games.[39] Almost every female pirate character, is in some form, inspired by Anne Bonny.[40]

Anne Bonny, Firing Upon the Crew, from the Pirates of the Spanish Main series (N19) for Allen & Ginter Cigarettes MET DP835030

Lesbian allegation

Since the mid 18th century, certain writers have claimed that Anne Bonny was the lesbian lover of Mary Read. This was never stated in the trial transcript or newspapers, and has no basis in fact.

The first written appearance of this claim is in an unauthorized 1725 reproduction of A General History titled, The History and Lives of All the Most Notorious Pirates and Their Crews. In the passage describing the trial of Bonny and Read, the book briefly says they were lovers. Since A General History is itself unreliable, this claim cannot be trusted.[41]

This claim would briefly appear again in 1914, via sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld's book, The Homosexuality of Men and Women. Much like History and Lives, its a mere one sentence claim that Mary Read was a lesbian.[42]

The claim that Bonny and Read were lesbians largely entered popular understanding via radical feminist Susan Baker's 1972 article, "Anne Bonny & Mary Read: They Killed Pricks" published in the lesbian magazine The Furies.[43] This article would inspire writers such as Steve Gooch, which in turn would influence many media depictions.

In 2020, a statue of Bonny and Read was unveiled at Execution Dock in Wapping, London. The statues were created in part for the podcast series Hellcats, which centers on a lesbian relationship between Bonny and Read. The statues themselves are abstract depictions of Bonny and Read, claiming that one emotionally completed the other. It was originally planned for the statues to be permanently placed on Burgh Island in south Devon,[44] but these plans were withdrawn after complaints of glamorizing piracy, and because Bonny and Read have no association with the island.[45] The statues were eventually accepted by Lewes F.C.[46]

Ultimately its impossible to determine if Anne Bonny was Mary Read's lover. Neither woman left any primary sources behind, and sources such as the trial transcript makes no mention of their personal lives.[4]

In popular culture


  1. ^ Some contempory sources refer to her as Ann Bonn[1] and Ann Fulford[2]A few contemporary newspapers such as The Post-Boy referred to her as Sarah Bonny, although this is likely a conflation with a similar named woman in Jamaica.[3]
  2. ^ Commonly cited dates include 1690, 1697, 1698, and 1702. All sources on date of birth were written centuries after Bonny's trial and cannot be corroborated.


  1. ^ Baldwin, Robert. "The Tryals Of Captain John Rackham and Other Pirates". Internet Archives. 1721, p. 14. Retrieved 29 May 2024.
  2. ^ The Boston Gazette 1720 October 17 The Documentary Record Archived 25 September 2023 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ The Post-Boy 1721 September 2 The Documentary Record
  4. ^ a b Baldwin, Robert. "The Tryals Of Captain John Rackham and Other Pirates". Internet Archives. 1721. Retrieved 22 October 2023.
  5. ^ Appleby, John (2015). Women and English Piracy 1540-1720: Partners and Victims of Crime. Martlesham: The Boydell Press.
  6. ^ Baldwin, Robert. "The Tryals Of Captain John Rackham and Other Pirates". Internet Archives. 1721, The trial transcript does not give an age, although she claims to be pregnant by the end of the trial. This could theoretically give an upper and lower age range between menarche and menopause, but proof of her pregnancy is not assured and thus cannot be trusted. Retrieved 22 October 2023.
  7. ^ Smith-Bannister, Scott (1997). Names and Naming Patterns in England, 1538-1700. Oxford University Press. pp. 196–201.
  8. ^ ""Bonny"". The Internet Surname Database.
  9. ^ Bartelme, Tony (21 November 2018). "The true and false stories of Anne Bonny, pirate woman of the Caribbean". The Post and Courier. Archived from the original on 11 November 2020. Retrieved 10 November 2020.
  10. ^ "Anne Bonny – Famous Female Pirate". Archived from the original on 12 November 2017. Retrieved 29 December 2017.
  11. ^ Legendary Pirates The Life and Legacy of Anne Bonny . Charles River Editors , 2018.
  12. ^ Joan., Druett (2005) [2000]. She captains : heroines and hellions of the sea. New York: Barnes & Noble Books. ISBN 0-7607-6691-6. OCLC 70236194.
  13. ^ Johnson (1725)
  14. ^ Meltzer (2001)
  15. ^ Lorimer (2002), p. 47
  16. ^ Johnson, Charles (14 May 1724). The General History of Pyrates. Ch. Rivington, J. Lacy, and J. Stone.
  17. ^ Sharp (2002)
  18. ^ a b Woodard, Colin (2007). The Republic of Pirates. Harcourt, Inc. pp. 139, 316–318. ISBN 978-0-15-603462-3. Archived from the original on 4 January 2020. Retrieved 18 June 2020.
  19. ^ Brooks, Baylus. "Vincent Pearse to Admiralty—3 Jun 1718". Baylus C. Brooks. Retrieved 28 May 2024.
  20. ^ Druett, Joan (2000). She Captains: Heroines and Hellions of the Sea. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-684-85690-5.
  21. ^ Canfield, Rob (2001). "Something's Mizzen: Anne Bonny, Mary Read, "Polly", and Female Counter-Roles on the Imperialist Stage". South Atlantic Review. 66 (2): 50. doi:10.2307/3201868. JSTOR 3201868.
  22. ^ Baldwin, Robert. "The Tryals Of Captain John Rackham and Other Pirates". Internet Archives. 1721, p. 18. "Then the said Two Witnesses declared, That the Two Women, Prisoners at the Bar, were on Board Rackam's Sloop, at the Time that Spenlow's Scooner, and Dillon's Sloop, were taken by Rackam; That they were very active on Board, and willing to do any Thing; That Anne Bonny, one of the Prisoners at the Bar, handed Gun-powder to the Men...". Retrieved 28 May 2024.
  23. ^ The Boston Gazette 1720 October 17 The Documentary Record Archived 25 September 2023 at the Wayback Machine,
  24. ^ Johnson, Charles (1724). A General History of the Pyrates. London: T. Warner. p. 162. […] this Intimacy so disturb'd Captain Rackam, who was the Lover and Gallant of Anne Bonny, that he grew furiously jealous, so that he told Anne Bonny, he would cut her new Lover's Throat, therefore, to quiet him, she let him into the Secret also.
  25. ^ O'Driscoll, Sally (2012). "The Pirate's Breasts: Criminal Women and the Meanings of the Body". The Eighteenth Century. 53 (3): 357–379. doi:10.1353/ecy.2012.0024. JSTOR 23365017. S2CID 163111552. Archived from the original on 4 January 2022. Retrieved 1 July 2022 – via JSTOR.
  26. ^ Baldwin, Robert. "The Tryals Of Captain John Rackham and Other Pirates". Internet Archives. 1721, p. 18. "Dorothy Thomas deposed, That she, being in a Canoa at Sea, with some Stock and Provisions, at the North-side of Jamaica, was taken by a Sloop, commanded by one Captain Rackam (as she afterwards heard;) who took out of the Canoa, most of the things that were in her; And further said, That the Two Women, Prisoners at the Bar, were then on Board the said Sloop, and wore Mens Jackets, and long Trouzer:, and Handkerchiefs tied about their Heads; and that each of them had a Machet and Pistol in their Hands, and cursed and swore at the Men, to murther the Deponent; and that they should kill her, to prevent her coming against them; and the Deponent further said, That the Reason of her knowing and believing them to be Women then was, by the largeness of their Breasts.". Retrieved 28 May 2024.
  27. ^ Baldwin, Robert. "The Tryals Of Captain John Rackham and Other Pirates". Internet Archives. 1721, p. 31. "...on the 22d Day of October, in the feventh Year of the Reign of our faid Sovereign Lord the King, that now is, upon the high Sea, in a certain Place, diftant about one League from Negril-Point, in the Island of Jamaica, in America, and within the Jurisdiction of this Court ; did piratically and felonioufly, go over to, John Rackam...". Retrieved 11 May 2024.
  28. ^ Zettle, LuAnn. "Anne Bonny The Last Pirate". Archived from the original on 22 May 2019.
  29. ^ Baldwin, Robert. "The Tryals Of Captain John Rackham and Other Pirates". Internet Archives. 1721, p. 14. Retrieved 11 May 2024.
  30. ^ Baldwin, Robert. "The Tryals Of Captain John Rackham and Other Pirates". Internet Archives. 1721, p. 18. Retrieved 3 July 2024.
  31. ^ Yolen, Jane; Shannon, David (1995). The Ballad of the Pirate Queens. San Diego: Harcourt Brace. pp. 23–24.
  32. ^ Powell, Manushag (12 December 2023). "The Quick and the Dead (and the Transported)". ABO Interactive Journal of Women in the Arts, 1640-1840. 13 (2). Retrieved 24 May 2024.
  33. ^ a b Bartleme, Tony (28 November 2020). "A 22-year-old YouTuber may have solved Anne Bonny pirate mystery 300 years after trial". The Post and Courier. Archived from the original on 28 November 2020. Retrieved 28 November 2020.
  34. ^ Carmichael, Sherman (2011). Forgotten Tales of South Carolina. The History Press. p. 72. ISBN 978-1-60949-232-8.
  35. ^ Captain Charles Johnson, A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the most notorious Pyrates, Chapter 8, , retrieved 21 September 2017 ISBN 978-1-60949-232-8
  36. ^ Fictum, David (8 May 2016). "Anne Bonny and Mary Read: Female Pirates and Maritime Women". Colonies, Ships, and Pirates. 8 May 2016. Archived from the original on 14 October 2023. Retrieved 6 October 2023.
  37. ^ Powell, Manushag (17 March 2015). British Pirates in Print and Performance. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 128. ISBN 1137339918.
  38. ^ Little, Benerson. "The Women in Red: The Evolution of a Pirate Trope". Swordplay & Swashbucklers. Retrieved 29 May 2024.
  39. ^ Molenaar, Jillian. "Index". Depictions of John Rackam, Anne Bonny, and Mary Read. Retrieved 29 May 2024.
  40. ^ Rennie, Neil (26 July 2016). Treasure Neverland: Real and Imaginary Pirates. Oxford University Press. pp. 241–269. ISBN 0198728069.
  41. ^ The History and Lives of All the Most Notorious Pirates and Their Crews. 1725. p. 55.
  42. ^ Hirschfeld, Magnus (1914). The Homosexuality of Men and Women. p. 284.
  43. ^ Baker, Susan (August 1972). "Anne Bonny & Mary Read: They Killed Pricks" (PDF). The Furies. Retrieved 30 June 2024.
  44. ^ "Female pirate lovers whose story was ignored by male historians immortalised with statue". The Independent. 18 November 2020. Archived from the original on 7 May 2022.
  45. ^ "Burgh Island female pirates statue plans withdrawn". BBC News. 30 March 2021. 30 March 2021. Archived from the original on 14 October 2023. Retrieved 6 October 2023.
  46. ^ Lewis, Samantha (18 March 2023). "Introducing Lewes FC, the world's only gender-equal football club, and the Australians who play there". ABC News. 18 March 2023. Archived from the original on 14 October 2023. Retrieved 6 October 2023.
  47. ^ Molenaar, Jillian (7 July 2019). "Anne of the Indies by Herbert Ravenel Sass". Depictions of John Rackam, Anne Bonny, and Mary Read. 6 July 2019. Archived from the original on 3 March 2021. Retrieved 22 October 2023.
  48. ^ "Production of The Women-Pirates Anne Bonney and Mary Read". Theatricalia. Archived from the original on 6 October 2023. Retrieved 12 September 2023.
  49. ^ "Sarah Greene". IMDB. Retrieved 20 May 2024.
  50. ^ Topel, Fred (29 January 2013). "Black Sails Season 3: Clara Paget Interview". Den of Geeks. Retrieved 11 May 2024.((cite web)): CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  51. ^ "Mia Tomlinson". IMBD. Retrieved 27 May 2024.
  52. ^ Adekaiyero, Ayomikun (26 October 2023). "Here's what the cast of 'Our Flag Means Death' looks like in real life". Business Insider. Retrieved 7 March 2024.

Further reading