|Died||28 April 1721 (aged 35–36)|
|Resting place||St. Catherine Parish, Jamaica|
|Allegiance||English-allied infantry and cavalry in Holland|
|Years active||c. 1708–1721|
|Base of operations||Caribbean|
Mary Read (1685 – 28 April 1721), also known as Mark Read, was an English pirate. She and Anne Bonny are two famous female pirates from 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. Although Rackham was swiftly executed, both Read and Bonny claimed to be pregnant and received delayed sentences. Read died of a fever in April 1721, likely due to complications from the pregnancy.
Mary Read was born in the Kingdom of England in 1685. Her mother had married a sailor and had a son. After her husband disappeared at sea, Mary's mother became pregnant after an extramarital love affair. Read's mother attempted to hide the pregnancy by going to live with friends in the country. Shortly thereafter, her son died, and she gave birth to Mary. In financial distress, her mother decided to disguise Mary as her dead son, in order to receive monetary support from her late husband's mother. The grandmother was apparently fooled, and mother and daughter lived on the inheritance into Mary's teen years. Dressed as a boy, Read found work as a foot-boy, and, then, employment on a ship.
She later joined the British military, 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.
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 from port in Nassau. Scholars are uncertain how female pirates like Read and Bonny concealed their sex in a male-dominated environment. 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. Speculation over the relationship between Bonny and Read led to images depicting the two in battle together.
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."
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. 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 (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".
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.
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. There is no record of the burial of her baby, suggesting that she may have died while pregnant.
[…] 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.