Mary "Mark" Read
Mary Read killing her antagonist cph.3a00980.jpg
An 1842 sketch of Read (right) killing a pirate
Died28 April 1721 (aged 35–36)
Resting placeSt. Catherine Parish, Jamaica
Piratical career
AllegianceEnglish-allied infantry and cavalry in Holland
Years activec. 1708–1721
Base of operationsCaribbean

Mary Read (1685 – 28 April 1721), also known as Mark Read, was an English pirate. She and Anne Bonny were two famous female pirates from the 18th century, and among the few women known to have been convicted of piracy at the height of the "Golden Age of Piracy".

Read was born in England in 1685. She began dressing as a boy at a young age, at first at her mother's urging in order to receive inheritance money and then as a teenager in order to join the British military. She then married and upon her husband's death moved to the West Indies around 1715. In 1720, she met Jack Rackham and joined his crew, dressing as a man alongside Anne Bonny. Her time as a pirate was successful but short lived, as she, Bonny and Rackham were arrested in November 1720. Rackham was executed, but Read and Bonny both claimed to be pregnant and received delayed sentences. Read died of a fever in April 1721.

Early life

Her mother had married a sailor, with whom she had a son.[1] Her mother’s husband then disappeared at sea. His mother then had began to send her financial support.[2]

Soon she became pregnant again by another man and went to live with friends in the country to hide the shameful second pregnancy. After she arrived in the country, the infant boy died, and she gave birth to a girl, Mary. Several years later, on a visit, her mother passed off young Mary as her first and only child, the boy, to continue receiving support from the boy's grandmother. The grandmother was fooled, and they lived on her money until the grandmother died.[3]

At age 13, dressed as a boy, Read found work as a foot-boy, and, then, employment on a ship.[2] She later joined the British military, and the crew of a British Man of War. She later quit this and moved into Flanders where she carried Arms in a Regiment of Foot as a cadet and served bravely but couldn't receive a commission because promotion in those days was mostly by purchase. Mary moved on to a Regiment of Horse [4] which was allied with Dutch forces against the French (this could have been during the Nine Years War or during the War of the Spanish Succession). Read, in male disguise, proved herself through battle, but fell in love with a Flemish soldier. When they married, she used their military commission and gifts from intrigued brethren in arms to acquire an inn named "De drie hoefijzers" ("The Three Horseshoes") near Breda Castle in The Netherlands.

Upon her husband's early death, Read resumed male dress and military service in the Netherlands. With peace, there was no room for advancement, so she quit and boarded a ship bound for the West Indies.[5] This ship that she boarded for the West Indies happened to be boarded by a pirate ship and her being disguised as a British male helped her and they took her on board with the crew which was British.

Becoming a pirate

A contemporary engraving of Mary Read
A contemporary engraving of Mary Read
A contemporary engraving of Anne Bonney
A contemporary engraving of Anne Bonney

Read's ship was taken by pirates, whom she willingly joined. She accepted the King's pardon c. 1718–1719, then took a commission to privateer, but joined the crew in mutiny. In 1720 she joined pirate John "Calico Jack" Rackham and his companion, Anne Bonny, who both believed her to be a man. On 22 August 1720, the three stole an armed sloop named William[6] from port in Nassau.[7][8] Scholars are uncertain how female pirates like Read and Bonny concealed their sex in a male-dominated environment.[9] Some scholars, however, have theorized that the wearing of breeches by female pirates may have been either a method of hiding their identity or simply as practical clothing that solidified their working place on board the ship among the other seamen.

When Bonny told Read that she was a woman because she was attracted to her, Read revealed that she too was a woman. To abate the jealousy of her lover, Rackham, who suspected romantic involvement between the two, Bonny told him that Read was a woman.[10] Speculation over the relationship between Bonny and Read led to images depicting the two in battle together.[9]

A victim of the pirates, Dorothy Thomas, left a description of Read and Bonny: 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."[11]

Capture and imprisonment

Main article: Capture of John "Calico Jack" Rackham

On 15 November 1720, pirate hunter Captain Jonathan Barnet took Rackham's crew by surprise, while they hosted a rum party with another crew of Englishmen at Negril Point off the west coast of the Colony of Jamaica.[12] After a volley of fire disabled the pirate vessel, Rackham's crew and their "guests" fled to the hold, leaving only the women and one other to fight Barnet's boarding party[8] (it is also possible that Rackham and his crew were too drunk to fight). Allegedly, Read angrily shot into the hold, killing one, and wounding others, when the men would not come up and fight with them. Barnet's crew eventually overcame the women. Rackham surrendered, requesting "quarter".[13]

Rackham and his crew were arrested and brought to trial in what is now Spanish Town, Jamaica, where they were sentenced to hang for acts of piracy, as were Read and Bonny. However, the women claimed they were both "quick with child" (known as "pleading the belly"), and received temporary stays of execution.[14]

Mary Read declared in front of the court that she had never committed Adultery and Fornication with any man of sorts on the ship. She commended the court before her but was ultimately tried after distinguishing the nature of her crimes. One of the pieces of evidence that was included with her crimes was that she was with Rackham and that they fell into discourse when he took Read as a young man. [15]

Read died of a violent fever while in prison. Her 28 April 1721 burial is in the records of St. Catherine's church in Jamaica.[7] There is no record of the burial of her baby, suggesting that she may have died while pregnant.

Modern Interpretations of Mary Read

Read's stories in many ways draw upon modern concepts such as the independent plebeian woman in the eighteenth century which can include new concepts such as the idea of the cross dressing woman warrior and the female criminal. This all builds into the idea of her being seen as a transatlantic subject. [16]

Cross-Dressing Woman Warrior

Mary Read disguising herself as a man and becoming a pirate in order to pillage and plunder is one thing that can be related to the concept of the cross-dressing woman warrior. Anne Bonny also used this disguise to carry on affairs with the men on the ship and this also facilitates this idea of the cross-dressing woman. [17]

Female Criminal

The concept of the female criminal is evident in Mary Read because she was cunning and intuitive and used this to swindle many of the crew members and it is said in the General History of the…Pyrates that she had a “fierce and courageous temper”. This concept is also evident in her life because it is also said in this work that she had a large amount of ambiguity and tenacity in terms of her motivations for piracy.[17]

Transatlantic Subject

Mary Read being seen as a transatlantic subject draws on the laboring class values, women warrior archetypes, as well as concepts of pirate freedoms. It is clear that Bonny has many options in terms of her mobility and independence. Read also embodies the idea of the transatlantic subject because of the disparate expressions of the impulse to escape imperious British rule  which can also show her shrewdness, practicality, resolveness.[17]

Role in Male-Dominated Society

One last concept that can be interpreted with Mary Read is the idea of how they interacted in what is a predominantly male-dominated society. It is known from the little information on the interactions of Mary Read that she supposedly is said to have been at some points better than their male counterparts in being a pirate. They were at times better than them at things such as fighting, drinking, working and this is also what helped Read get away with being a male pirate for so long. [17]

In popular culture

Mary Read, The Duel, from the Pirates of the Spanish Main series (N19) for Allen & Ginter Cigarettes MET DP835033
Mary Read, The Duel, from the Pirates of the Spanish Main series (N19) for Allen & Ginter Cigarettes MET DP835033


See also


  1. ^ Cordingly, David (2007). Seafaring women : adventures of pirate queens, female stowaways, and sailors' wives (2007 Random House Trade paperback ed.). New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks. ISBN 9780375758720. OCLC 140617965.
  2. ^ a b Cordingly, David (1996). Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates. New York: Random House. p. 61.
  3. ^ Daniel, Defoe; Johnson, Charles (1724). "Chapter VII: Of Captain John Rackham and His Crew". A General History of Pyrates. Lodon: Ch. Rivington, J. Lacy, and J. Stone. Finding her Burthen grew, in order to conceal her Shame, she takes a formal Leave of her Husband's Relations, giving out, that she went to live with some Friends of her own, in the Country: Accordingly she went away, and carry'd with her her young Son, at this Time, not a Year old: Soon after her departure her Son died, but Providence in Return, was pleased to give her a Girl in his Room, of which she was safely delivered, in her Retreat, and this was our Mary Read.
  4. ^ Defoe, Daniel, and Charles Johnson. A General History of Pyrates . Printed by J. Watts ..., 1725.
  5. ^ Druett, Joan (2005) [2000]. She captains : heroines and hellions of the sea. New York: Barnes & Noble Books. ISBN 0760766916. OCLC 70236194.
  6. ^ Rogers, Woodes (10 October 1720). "A proclamation". The Boston Gazette.
  7. ^ a b Woodard, Colin. "Mary Read Biography". Archived from the original on 4 January 2020. Retrieved 20 August 2014.
  8. ^ a b Cordingly, David (2006). Under the Black Flag. New York: Random House. pp. 57–58. ISBN 978-0812977226.
  9. ^ a b 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 – via JSTOR.
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ Burl, Aubrey (2006). Black Barty: Bartholomew Roberts and his Pirate Crew 1718–1723. Stroud: Sutton Publishing. pp. 147–148. ISBN 978-1846324338. OCLC 852757012.
  12. ^ Pallardy, Richard. "Anne Bonny". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 15 June 2015.
  13. ^ Baldwin, Robert (1721). The Trials of Captain John Rackam and other Pirates. Jamaica.
  14. ^ Johnson, Charles (1724). A General History of Pyrates (1st ed.). London: T. Warner.
  15. ^ Defoe, Daniel, and Charles Johnson. A General History of Pyrates . Printed by J. Watts ..., 1725.
  16. ^ Klein , Ula Lukszo. “Busty Buccaneers and Sapphic Swashbucklers on the High Seas .” Transatlantic Women Travelers, 1688-1843, Bucknell University , Lewisburg , PA , 2021.
  17. ^ a b c d Klein , Ula Lukszo. “Busty Buccaneers and Sapphic Swashbucklers on the High Seas .” Transatlantic Women Travelers, 1688-1843, Bucknell University , Lewisburg , PA , 2021.
  18. ^ Kain, Erik (10 December 2013). "The Surprisingly Beautiful Ending Of 'Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag'". Forbes. Retrieved 24 December 2017.
  19. ^ Ehrhardt, Michelle (28 September 2015). "Assassin's Creed: Syndicate to Feature First Trans Character". Out. Retrieved 24 December 2017.
  20. ^ Dnicola, Nick (30 July 2014). "The Assassins' Propaganda". PopMatters. Retrieved 24 December 2017.
  21. ^ Silver, Dan (29 October 2013). "Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag review: Will you have a whale of a time on high seas adventure?". Daily Mirror. Retrieved 24 December 2017.
  22. ^ Hamilton, Kirk (29 October 2013). "Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag: The Kotaku Review". Kotaku. Retrieved 24 December 2017.
  23. ^ McIntee, David (20 January 2016). Fortune and Glory: A Treasure Hunter's Handbook. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 79. ISBN 9781472807861.
  24. ^ Mize, Clint (28 October 2013). "We played 'Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag' and here's what we learned". MTV News. Retrieved 24 December 2017.
  25. ^ Wong, Steven (10 November 2014). "Assassin's Creed: Can the Assassins Win the War?". Shacknews. Retrieved 24 December 2017.
  26. ^ Schei, Kelley (2 January 2007). Zarker, Karen (ed.). "True Caribbean Pirates". PopMatters. Retrieved 26 March 2018.
  27. ^ Dziki, Oskar (8 June 2016). "Queen of the Seas (1961). Włoska heroina na morzu". Kinomisja (in Polish). Retrieved 8 February 2018.
  28. ^ Patten, Dominic (2 April 2017). Fleming, Mike (ed.). "'Black Sails' Creators On Tonight's Series Finale & More Possible Pirate Adventures". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media, LLC. Retrieved 26 March 2018.
  29. ^ "The Ballad of Mary Read and Anne Bonny, by The Baja Brigade". The Baja Brigade. Retrieved 6 June 2018.
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  33. ^ "The Earle Arms, Heydon, Norfolk | On the outside of the pub … | Flickr". 15 February 2019.
  34. ^ "Female pirate lovers whose story was ignored by male historians immortalised with statue". The Independent. 18 November 2020.