Numerous versions of the story of the pirate Anne Bonny have been told over the past three centuries, but few have considered them from an actual historical perspective. Most of the stories simply play up to the sensational and titillating aspects of a woman serving aboard an eighteenth century pirate ship, and take what has been generally accepted at face value. By digging deeper, I’ve discovered that what is generally accepted could not have been what actually happened.
Source of the Stories
The origin of these stories comes from the source document, A General History of the Pyrates by Captain Charles Johnson, 1724. When reading this document, one immediately notices that the part about Anne Bonny seem to have been just stuck in at the end of the chapter about Jack Rackham. The only portion of the tale of Anne Bonny that Johnson did apply a chronology to was the time that they were with Captain Calico Jack Rackham aboard his pirate ship. But this only lasted for a period of two months, from August 22nd, 1720, when they commandeered a ship in New Providence, to October 23rd,1720, when they were captured. The dates and activities during these two months are well documented in Johnson’s chapter 7, about Captain Rackham and his crew, but the remaining parts about Anne Bonny don’t seem to follow any chronology and are really just a series of anecdotal tales that the author admits that he picked up from the witnesses at her trial. These reports were, essentially, nothing more than gossip which had most likely been heavily embellished as they were passed around before Johnson even heard the versions of them that he wrote about.
When one researches and cross references other source material it becomes clear that what has been generally accepted as fact about Anne Bonny makes no sense. By combining these sources, it was possible to come up with an actual chronology of her life, which shows that she was only in the company of pirates for a very brief period. It turns out that much of what has been told about Anne was, in reality, the actual activity of another pirate woman by the name of Mary Read. However, considering Mary was an androgynous looking, cross-dressing 30 year old, whereas Anne was a buxom 18 year old, the titillation factor clearly favored Anne as the protagonist in the stories that were told, and was probably the reason why we hear so little about Mary Read, who was the actual woman pirate.
The Real Story
So while the generally accepted story-line about Anne Bonny is a wonderful tale, it simply doesn’t make any sense. It is impossible for so much to have happened to her in a time span of only two months, from August to October, 1720. Plus, the most glaring fact is that Anne Bonny could not have been the fierce swashbuckler that she has been portrayed as. She arrived in Nassau as a girl of 17 whose life until she eloped and ran away had been one of privilege on a plantation in the American Colonies. When Anne met Calico Jack he had given up piracy, having accepted amnesty, and was living ashore in Nassau. It is unlikely, in the short time that they were together, that she could have learned fighting skills, let alone become pregnant, have a child, and then resume a full pirate career. Rather, she was an eighteen year old who was initially caught up in the adventure and romance of it all until she experienced the horrors of being captured and thrown in jail. After learning that Jack Rackham and the rest of the crew had been hanged, she would probably have been glad to return with her father to plantation life in Carolina Colony.