Died At Age: 36
Also Known As: Mark Read
Born Country: England
Born in: London, Kingdom of England
Notorious As: Pirate
Died on: April 28, 1721
place of death: Port Royal, Colony of Jamaica
Who was Mary Read?
Mary Read was a legendary English pirate of the early 18th century, which is regarded as the zenith of the ''British Golden Age of Piracy." She was born to a widow who disguised her as her dead half-brother to receive financial support. Read, who grew up dressing up as a male and adopted the name “Mark Read,” later joined the British military. There, she met her future husband and, for the first time, revealed her real gender. After her husband died, she headed toward the Caribbean and joined a group of pirates. Read and her crewmate and good friend Anne Bonny eventually became two of the most-feared female pirates in history. Her short life as a pirate was indeed glorious, with many victorious campaigns. Read was convicted of piracy and was sentenced to death, which got postponed due to her pregnancy. She, however, died in prison, and it is believed that she had not delivered her child by then.
Childhood & Early Life
Most of what we know about Read's early life is from 'A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates' (1724) by Captain Charles Johnson, which is again a highly disputed piece of work.
According to the book, Read's mother had a son from her sailor husband. Her husband later abandoned the family. Read's mother's new relationship resulted in her birth in 1685, in the Kingdom of England.
Her half-brother was dead by then. Read's mother disguised her as the dead boy to get financial help from his paternal grandmother. She succeeded in fooling the boy’s grandmother and continued to receive support until Read entered her teenage years.
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Read, who continued to disguise herself as a boy, earned a job as a foot-boy to a wealthy French woman in London. She later got a job as a sailor, which earned her a position in the ‘Royal Navy.’ She was enlisted in a “Man-of-War.” Read then became a foot soldier in Flanders.
She was drafted to the British military and displayed her skills in the war with the Dutch alliance, against the French. This is likely to have happened during the Nine Years’ War or the War of the Spanish Succession.
While in the military, Read fell in love with a Flemish soldier. She then professed her love and revealed her true gender to him. The two got married and bought an inn named ‘De drie hoefijzers’ (meaning "The Three Horseshoes") near Breda Castle in the Netherlands. They used their military commission and wedding gifts from their comrades in arms to finance the property.
After marriage, Read began dressing up as a woman for the first time in her life. The unfortunate early death of her husband brought her back to military service. She went back to her disguise and headed toward the West Indies, as there was no scope left for her in England and Europe.
Read set off for the Caribbean in the "Golden age of Piracy,” roughly spanning from 1650 to the 1730s. She was forced to join the pirates who seized her ship in the West Indies.
The ship sailed to Nassau, Bahamas, in around 1717. According to a new royal proclamation, the pirates who surrendered were to be pardoned.
Some of Read's crewmates agreed to surrender. It is, however, not apparent whether Read agreed or not. She became a commissioned privateer to find the pirates who had not accepted the pardon.
In 1720, Read joined the ship of English pirate John ("Calico Jack") Rackham, who had captured her ship in the West Indies. On the ship, she met his Irish companion and beloved, Anne Bonny.
Bonny believed Read to be a man and was thus attracted to her. Read revealed her gender to Bonny after she professed her love to Read. It is believed that Read and Bonny were in a relationship anyway and that it was approved by Rackham.
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Read and Bonny were now good friends and dressed as women while traveling and as men during wars. Read's gender was eventually revealed to the other crew members.
Read and Bonny eventually became two of the most fierce and ruthless pirates of Rackham's ship. They carried a machete and a pistol each.
On August 22, 1720, Read, along with Rackham and Bonny, captured an armed sailing boat named 'William' from Nassau port on New Providence Island. The following month, the Bahamas governor named Read and Bonny "Enemies to the Crown of Great Britain."
Sources suggest that Read fell in love with a carpenter on Rackham's ship. The man’s life was in danger, as a pirate had challenged him to a fight. To protect her love, she intervened and forced a duel with the pirate. She killed him in the process.
Capture & Imprisonment
Pirate hunter Captain Jonathan Barnet located the sloop named 'William.' On November 15, 1720, he attacked Rackham's ship while they were celebrating with a crew of Englishmen at the westernmost point of mainland Jamaica, called Negril Point.
Rackham's crew was heavily drunk and was thus unable to fight. Barnet's crew launched a fire volley to wreck his ship. Everyone left, leaving behind the women to face Barnet's crew.
It is believed that Read attacked. She killed one and injured other crew members from the opposing side. Unfortunately, Read, Bonny, and Rackham eventually surrendered to Barnet's crew.
The captured crew was taken to present-day Spanish Town, Jamaica, for trials. The male members were sentenced to death. Read and Bonny, too, were to be punished for their acts of piracy.
However, since both Read and Bonny were pregnant at that time, their executions were postponed.
Read died of a violent fever on April 28, 1721 while still in prison. There is no record of Bonny's release, execution, or death, and this has raised speculations regarding her fate.
Read's burial records are available at ‘St. Catherine's Church’ in Jamaica. Since there is no mention of her baby's death and burial, it is believed that Read had died while pregnant or due to complications arising out of pregnancy.
The 2013 video game 'Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag' featured Read's dramatized version, voiced by Olivia Morgan. The game featured her as a member of the 'Assassin Order' named ‘James Kidd’ when disguised as a man. She was portrayed as the illegitimate child of ‘Captain William Kidd.’
Kimberly Adair portrayed Read in the 2006 TV movie 'True Caribbean Pirates,' while Lisa Gastoni played her in the 1961 Italian film 'Le avventure di Mary Read.'
Read and Bonny were featured in the Japanese animated film 'Jolly Roger in the Deep Azure.' She is a game character in the role-playing mobile game 'Fate/Grand Order.'
Italian metal band 'Secret Sphere' had mentioned Read in their song 'Under the Flag of Mary Read.' Read and Bonny have also been featured in the song 'Five Guns West' by 'Adam and the Ants.'
Read and Bonny have been featured in Miriam McNamara's novel 'The Unbinding of Mary Reade.'
Read's wood sculpture, which is believed to have been erected in the 18th century, can be seen at the front elevation of 'The Earle Arms' public house in Heydon, Norfolk.