Childhood & Early Life
She was born in Kinsale, in County Cork, in Ireland. Her year of birth is speculated to be between 1697 and 1700. Her father was a lawyer, while her mother was a servant woman. Her father’s name was William McCormac (later shortened to Cormac), and mother’s name was Mary Brennan.
Since the relationship between her father and mother was not formal, her father sought to move away from Ireland to escape his legitimate wife and her family. He first moved to London where he set up a legal practice and started dressing her as a boy.
After her father’s real wife got to know about his adultery, she made it public and ensured that he did not receive any allowance from his estate. This made it impossible for his father to stay in London. He took the decision to take his family from England to the New World of America.
Her father left London with her and her mother and settled in the then province of Carolina in current day United States of America. After initial struggles, her father built a successful business and became a plantation owner. Her mother passed away when she was twelve years of age.
She was known to have a fiery temper. As per some accounts, she once stabbed a servant girl to death out of rage. She is also said to have stabbed a man who was trying to sexually assault her, which resulted in his hospitalization for many weeks.
Continue Reading Below
As a Pirate
At the age of sixteen she married a small-time pirate named James Bonny. James Bonny married her for her wealth, but her father did not approve of their marriage. Her father disowned her and turned her out of his house.
She and her husband moved to Nassau, on the New Providence island, in the Bahamas. Her husband became an informant to the governor of Bahamas, Woodes Rogers, and helped him send many pirates to prison.
She began mixing with many pirates in the local taverns of Nassau. She met John ‘Calico Jack’ Rackham, a notorious pirate, during this period, and he became her lover. John Rackham was captain of the pirate sloop ‘Revenge’.
John Rackham offered money to her husband for divorcing Anne, but he refused. She and Rackham eloped from Nassau along with Rackham’s crew by commandeering a sloop named William from the Nassau harbour. According to some accounts, fellow female pirate Mary Read was also part of the Rackham pirate crew at the time of commandeering of William.
She became part of Rackham’s crew of pirates which was very rare at that time not only because of social beliefs but also because many pirates thought that women on a pirate ship bring bad luck for the ship, captain and crew. It is said that Rackham asked her to disguise herself as a man on the ship. Only Rackham and fellow female pirate Mary Read, knew about her true gender.
According to some accounts, she never hid her true gender from the crew members of Rackham’s sloop but wore men’s clothes when participating in raids or armed conflicts. She is said to be as ruthless as other members of Rackham’s crew.
Rackham’s crew continued to raid ships and carry out acts of piracy in the Caribbean. She is said to have married Rackham on ship at sea. Her name was listed as a wanted pirate in a wanted pirates’ circular that was published in ‘The Boston News-letter’, which was only newspaper of British occupied North American territories at that time.
In October 1720, Jonathan Barnet, an English privateer, who was on commission from Sir Nicholas Lawes, governor of Jamaica, to capture pirates, came across Rackham’s sloop, William, near Jamaican waters. Barnet pursued the sloop and hailed it when alongside. According to his account, the sloop’s crew were drunk and refused to surrender when ordered to do so. Barnet was able to capture the sloop after a brief battle.
Eighteen crew members of the pirate sloop William were taken prisoner. Among them were John ‘Calico Jack’ Rackham, Anne Bonney, and Mary Read. It is said that Anne Bonney and Mary Read were not as drunk as the rest of the crew and fought hard with the boarding party of Barnet.
The captured crew of the pirate sloop William, along with Rackham, Anne Bonny and Mary Read, was taken to Jamaica and convicted and sentenced to be hanged by governor Sir Nicholas Lawes. Bonny and Read were spared the hanging as they were pregnant at that time and according to the legal convention of that period, pregnant women were not executed. It is said that both Bonny and Read took the defence of pregnancy to plead the governor not to execute them.
While Read died in prison due to complications during childbirth, the fate of Anne Bonny is a mystery. There is no record of her release or execution.
According to one account, she was released due to the influence of her father and went back to Carolina. She married a Joseph Burleigh and had eight children and lived out the rest of her life in anonymity in current day South Carolina. According to this account, she died on April 25, 1782 at a very old age. According to another account, she died in prison, and, according to another, she escaped from prison and resumed her life as a pirate on the high seas. There is no evidence for each of these claims.
Personal Life & legacy
The character of Anne Bonny was that of a rebel in the highly conservative British, English and Irish societies of the sixteenth century who dared to go on adventurous path of a criminal pirate on the high seas of the Caribbean. She quickly became a legend along with her crew member Mary Read as the only two female pirates in the world known to the British at that time.
The life and legend of Anne Bonny has inspired many depictions in popular culture ranging from motion pictures to television series and animation movies and film series. Video game characters have also been created based on her character and legend. Many authors have written novels referring to her life and legend.
Primary source of information about her life is the book ‘A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the most notorious Pyrates’, authored by Captain Charles Johnson, and published in England in 1724. The identity of Captain Charles Johnson itself is unknown as no person of that name was listed to be a ship’s captain at that time.
Scholars have long debated that Captain Charles Johnson was a pseudonym of the English author Daniel Defoe, but so far, no conclusive evidence has been found. In this book also, no information is available on her life after being sent to prison in Jamaica. According to Johnson, after Rackham was sentenced to be hung, she said to him, "Had you fought like a man, you need not have been hang'd like a dog."