Must Love Machetes: The Legend of Pirate Anne Bonny

Anne_bonny

Anne Bonny. Anushka Holding, 2016.

Anne Bonny was born in Cork around 1690 to lawyer William McCormac and his servant, Mary Brennan. The scandal of Anne’s birth caused her father to lose much of his practice as well as his wife, so he took Mary and Anne to Charleston, South Carolina, and set up a new practice there. William – now going by Cormac – was so successful in his new home that he was able to buy a large plantation and Anne grew up in some degree of comfort.

Even by thirteen she was said to be stunningly beautiful, and had more than her fair share of suitors. Lovely as she was, she would soon be known more for her “fierce and courageous temper.” When one suitor attempted to rape her as a teenager, Anne beat him so badly he was bedridden for weeks.

Anne was passionate, capable, and she craved adventure. She wanted to escape life in Charleston, and she married a penniless sailor to do it. At sixteen, Anne married a James Bonny and left for the pirate haven of Nassau, New Providence.

Rackham,Jack

Calico Jack Rackham

Fascinated by piracy, Anne loved life in Nassau and was known to hang around the dives, drinking with the likes of Captains Vane, Hornigold, and even Blackbeard. Surrounded by infamous men with enough swagger to match her own, she quickly got bored with her husband. She washed her hands of him when he became an informant for Governor Rogers, and passed her time with many of the local pirates instead.

One of these pirates was Calico Jack Rackham, so called for his love of flamboyant clothing. Jack was a pirate captain who had come to Nassau in hopes of gaining a privateering commission from the king. He was charming, handsome, and absolutely fascinating to Anne, who was rather romantic at heart.

As for Jack, he fell hard. He accepted her promiscuous past, and swore she would belong to no one else but him going forward, which she seems to have been fine with. He offered to buy Anne from her husband (a relatively common practice at the time, and a form of divorce), but her husband refused. Governor Rogers got involved when her husband made a fuss, and he ordered her to return to her husband or he would have her whipped as an adulteress.

Not only did Anne refuse, but she became a pirate.

Bonney,_Anne_(1697-1720)

Anne Bonny

Anne and Jack took off and began sailing together on his ship, Revenge. Armed with a sword and pistol and dressed as a man, she swore like a pirate and fought like hell. Drop dead gorgeous with long, red hair, Anne may not have passed for a boy, but none of the other sailors gave her any trouble. This may have been because it was common knowledge that she was in a relationship with Jack, or it might have been because she was absolutely terrifying. In Captain Johnson’s General History* he writes that “no body was more forward or courageous than she,” and those who knew her seemed to agree.

In early 1720, Anne and Jack had a child in Cuba. The fate of the child is not known, but if he survived, it is thought he was left with their friends there. Regardless, she was back on the boat and fighting within months.

According to Captain Johnson, Anne’s relationship with Jack was complicated when they took on a young sailor from a Dutch ship. In spite of her love for Jack, she rather fancied the sailor and made it known to him that she was a woman in case he was not already aware. The sailor had a secret of his own – he wasn’t Dutch, and he wasn’t a man, either. Anne’s sailor was actually the twenty-seven year old Englishwoman Mary Read.

Mary had been raised as a boy and had even had a career in the army, serving as a cavalry soldier in Flanders during the War of Spanish Succession. After her own marriage had ended with the sudden death of her husband, Mary decided to make a go of it as a sailor. Anne and Mary became fast friends, presumably out of a mutual love for trousers and swashbuckling.**

It’s a good story, but historian Colin Woodard disputes Captain Johnson’s account as there are records that Governor Rogers knew both women by name and that Mary set out with Anne and Jack from the start. Like many good stories, Mary’s account of her life was probably embellished if not totally fabricated. Regardless of how they met, Anne and Mary were very close friends and important members of Jack’s crew. According to Dorothy Thomas, an eye witness quoted in the pamphlet The Tryals of Jack Rackham and other Pirates (1721):

“(They) wore men’s jackets and long trousers and (had) handkerchiefs wrapped around their heads…a machete and pistol in their hands and cursed and swore at the men.”

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Anne Bonny and Mary Read

The only way Ms. Thomas knew they were women was “by the largeness of their breasts.”

The Golden Age of Piracy was coming to an end by 1720, and Anne and Jack were caught in the middle of it. In an effort to curb piracy in the area, the governor of Jamaica chased them down and caught Jack and his crew in Dry Harbor Bay. The crew was woefully unprepared and almost certainly drunk. Although Anne and Mary fought bravely, they were all taken and imprisoned in Jamaica.

At their trial, Anne and Mary were identified only as “spinsters,” which was laughably inadequate and technically incorrect. They were sentenced to execution for piracy, but their sentences were delayed as both women had managed to become pregnant while in prison. Mary died of a fever during this pregnancy, and her lover, Tom, was acquitted.

Jack was hanged in Port Royal on November 18th, 1720. Still very much in love with Anne, he asked to see her before his execution. According to Johnson, Anne, still angry that they had been captured, said that she was sorry to see him there, but “If he had fought like a man, he need not have been hanged like a dog.”

There is no record of Anne’s execution. It is suspected that her father had pulled some strings to have her released, and she was never heard of again. It has been suggested that Anne later married and lived into her eighties, but this has not been conclusively proven.

Jessica Cale

Sources
Johnson, Captain Charles. A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates (1724) (Note: All images are from this book unless otherwise noted)
Sherry, Frank. Raiders & Rebels: A History of the Golden Age of Piracy.
Woodard, Colin. The Republic of Pirates.

Notes
*Captain Charles Johnson is a pseudonym. This is thought to have been written by Daniel Defoe.
**Squad goals.

How Smuggling Helped Shape the English Language

A_painting_of_18th_Century_ships_on_the_River_Torridge

For most of us, our knowledge of smugglers in the 18th and 19th centuries comes from the stereotype we have seen on films and television. We picture the salty, pirate-looking smugglers sneaking into moonlit coves, muskets in their hands and ready to do battle with anybody who gets in their way. Of course, in some cases this was the case. However, my research has led me to understand that, in the main, it really was not as covert or as threatening as all of that. Smuggling at this time is also responsible for many of the phrases that we all blithely use every day without understanding the significance of the words or their original meanings.

In order to raise money for numerous wars, against the French or rebellious American colonies to name but two, the British government levied taxes on all manner of household goods from windows to salt. In an economy where wages were painfully low, and a great majority of the population struggled to pay for food to put on the table, smuggled goods became a necessary evil and were largely untraceable once they entered the country. Shopkeepers and merchants happily sold smuggled goods and their customers were none the wiser. In fact, it is estimated that over three quarters of all of the tea drunk in England and Scotland at the end of the 18th century came into the country illegally on smuggling vessels from the continent.

That meant that smuggling was a well-oiled operation, run by intelligent and savvy businessmen rather than coarse sailors and shady criminals we associate with it. The biggest challenge was evading the King’s Men–the nickname for the Customs and Excise officials–who could seize cargoes, impound boats, and transport those guilty of smuggling to Australia or hang them and display the bodies in gibbets as a warning to others.

drunken_sailors_5912In reality, the chance of capture was minimal. The King’s Men were a ramshackle bunch who were largely based on land. As most smugglers entered our shores on manoeuvrable boats, it gave them a distinct advantage over the hapless excise men and their horses. This was a time when drunks and n’er-do-wells were still PRESS-GANGED into the king’s navy after inadvertently drinking a mug of ale with a shilling hidden at the bottom. Once they had ‘accepted’ the king’s shilling they were forced to go to sea, so had precious little expertise of sailing, or more specifically, sailing in difficult conditions. They were no match for the smugglers.

Smuggling vessels usually landed by night and preferred to operate during bad weather when there was even less chance of being caught. They were often painted black, with black sails, so that they were almost impossible to see in the dark. They did not have a specific landing place worked out in advance, merely a rough area of coast to head towards, and relied on conspirators on shore to guide them to a safe place. This was usually done by shining a light at the boat for it to follow.

You need to bear in mind that street lighting was a newfangled, modern and expensive invention at this time. Very few places were lit after dark and those that were tended to be only the wealthier parts of cities or large towns. The villages that peppered the coast would have been plunged into complete darkness the moment the sun went down. One solitary lantern would stick out like a sore thumb in this gloomy landscape and would easily be enough to guide the ships safely to the shore on the spot where the waiting carts would carry the cargo away to safety.

f147b2_d1c678e930ef4dc5a234733fbe96c792Unfortunately, one lantern on a pitch black stretch of beach would also alert the excise men as well. Therefore, the smugglers and those that helped them had to be resourceful. Instead of a constant light, the smugglers resorted to using a flash to let the boats know that the COAST WAS CLEAR.

This could be achieved by striking a match or creating a spark from a tinderbox. A brighter signal could be achieved by using an old flintlock pistol. Those old guns relied on a gunpowder to fire the bullet. The powder would be placed in the pan and lit. The clever smugglers modified some of their pistols, removing the top chamber of the gun, so that when the powder was lit the subsequent explosion burned brightly for a split second–like a firework. This FLASH IN THE PAN would be over almost as soon as it started but would be bright enough for the boats looking for it to see clearly from many miles away.

f147b2_157130680ada426ba1a24ca7cab57b1eOnce the boats came in to the shore, teams of people would be needed to quickly transport the illegal cargoes inland to be hidden, and later distributed. That meant that contraband, like gin or brandy, had to be packed into containers that were easy enough for one person to carry. Specially adapted barrels (or tubs), called ankers were made expressly for this purpose so that a tubsman–the name given to the men to hauled the cargo up the beaches or cliffs to safety–could carry two barrels easily by draping the rope over his shoulders and hanging the pair of ankers on either side of his body.

As one anker held just over 8 gallons of liquid, each tubsman had to carry an enormous weight, over a large distance very quickly. Sometimes these men even had to scramble over rocks or climb cliffs with such a heavy burden. One can only imagine how this weight slowed them down once they had PUT THE ANKERS ON.

Virginia Heath writes witty, raunchy Regency romances for Harlequin Mills & Boon. That Despicable Rogue is available now and her second novel, Her Enemy at the Altar, comes out in July 2016.

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