Pirate Anne Bonny was never on The Ranger with Jack Rackham

There exists a well accepted story of a fierce woman pirate, Anne Bonny, sailing aboard The Ranger, a 12 gun brigantine with a crew of 90 and which was captained by Jack Rackham.  The Ranger was a mighty pirate ship that struck fear throughout the Caribbean.  This is a wonderful story, but it isn’t accurate.  The component parts in the story are true, however.

The Ranger was, indeed, a feared pirate ship, but for most of the time the captain was Charles Vane.  Jack Rackham was the quartermaster until November 26, 1718 when he lead a successful mutiny against Vane and took command.  They then sailed south and captured a large merchant vessel, The Kingston, outside Jamaica on December 11, 1718 and took their prize to Isla de la Pinos, an island south of Cuba which served as Rackham’s pirate base.  However, angry merchants in Jamaica hired mercenaries who took the ship back shortly after, although the pirates were able to take a good deal of the booty ashore prior.  Then, on February 19, 1719, a Spanish warship on patrol sighted The Ranger and destroyed it the next day.  Anne Bonny never even saw The Ranger.

There was a woman on board with Jack Rackham, but it was not Anne Bonny.  It was Mary Read, whom Rackham has recruited from a ship they attacked in May of 1718.  At the time it was thought Mary was a man, she was dressed as a soldier and was good with a sword, but her sex was soon discovered and she became attached to Jack, such that when he took command she became the captain’s woman.

Anne Bonny at this time had just arrived in Nassau with James Bonny, her new husband, who would later become a government informer on the pirates, which would end up causing a rift in their marriage.   Anne would meet Jack Rackham in 1720 and would later go to sea with him, and Mary Read, but it would be on a four gun sloop, The William, with a crew of 12.

More about this in the upcoming novel, Love Lust and Passion:  The Real Story of Anne Bonny and Mary Read.


When I read in various historical references about the turbulent period between the 1720s and the American Revolution, I was fascinated to find out that the colonists were relying on smugglers to avoid taxation.  It turns out that many of these smugglers were ‘former’ pirates, some still were and others were hired as privateers, who also had a beef with English authority following the death of Queen Anne and the ascension of the German King George 1st.  As things heated up rum became the currency of America and blockade runners to get both the rum and molasses from islands whom England was at war with…they were trading with the enemy…was a very dangerous thing to be caught doing.  It became clear that these ‘pirates’ had been instrumental to America gaining its independence.

I decided to write a series of historical novels about this.  It made sense that at least some of these pirates would be based in the Bahamas; we know for a fact that government authorized wreckers were there, helping themselves to the cargo of ships who foundered coming through the Bahamas channel for a large take of the prize.

Looking at pirate history, two very colorful characters active in the Bahamas at the end of what is called the golden age of piracy were Anne Bonny and Mary Read.  While most pirates died violent deaths, history tells us that these women both had children, presumably by Jack Rackham.  The numerous stories about Anne Bonny and Mary Read told over the past 300 years for the most part agree with each other, and so for the purpose of my story having the next generation of pirates be from be fierce, swashbuckling pirate mothers, they fit very nicely.

The first of my book series, then, Pirates of the Bahamas, was published just over a year ago.  It begins the history of the pirate influences leading up to the America revolution as experienced by these two children.  In the first book of the series we are introduced to them when they are in their 20’s, and this book is also considered a historical romance as well as historical adventure.

After Pirates of the Bahamas was published I tossed around the idea of a prequel, to tell the story of how these two women became pirates in the first place.  From the earliest part of my research I learned that just about everything we hear about them was based on A General History of the Pyrates, a book printed in 1724, and the re-telling and elaborations of those stories has given us what is generally accepted as fact today.

I, however, decided to read the original document.  It’s an excellent source material for all of the other pirates, but the parts about Anne Bonny and Mary Read seem to have been just stuck in at the end of the chapter about Jack Rackham.  Unlike the rest of the book, the Bonny and Read parts don’t seem to follow any chronology and are really just a series of anecdotal tales that the author picked up from the witnesses at their trial, some of which even he considered suspect.  The more I read and compared to what is generally accepted, the more I realized that much (in the case of Mary) or most (in the case of Anne) of what we ‘know’ about these women is incorrect.  This new information definitely made the reason for a prequel even more important to me.  I collected stories and as many original documents as I could find and cross referenced them.  Even the most outlandish tale generally has a basis in fact somewhere, so I also dug into those.

What I can tell you right away is that of the two of them, Mary Read was the actual pirate and much of what has been since attributed to Anne Bonny were things Mary actually did.  Anne Bonny was an 18 year of girl who had been drawn to a romanticized ideal, spent no more than 3 months as a pirate, and probably only experienced the horrific aspects of pirate life on the day she was captured.  It does seem to be quite factual, however, that they both enjoyed the company of pirate captain Calico Jack Rackham.

I’ve collected much material on this subject and have been sorting it out against known chronology over the past year.  A wonderful story has emerged, which I am now in the process of writing as a historical adventure novel.  Since this will be giving a historically accurate account of these women pirates, it may also end up being an important work.


Pirates didn’t worry about Hurricanes

In the years from 1645 to 1715, which coincided with the golden age of piracy in the Caribbean, there was a lull in tropical storm activity.  Recent studies of examining the tree rings in the wood from 500 year old shipwrecks shows there were 75% fewer storms during that time period.

One wonders if the increasing number of hurricanes, which clearly made their trade more perilous, further encouraged the pirates of Nassau to accept the amnesty pardon offered by Woodes Rogers, the new governor of The Bahamas, when he arrived in 1718.

Here’s a link to the article:



The real Robinson Crusoe was a pirate

I just read a great article from the Smithsonian about Alexander Selkirk, the inspiration for Daniel Defoe to write Robinson Crusoe; click here to read it for yourself.  Not only does it tell the story of Selkirk, but it also provides a glimpse into what life aboard a real pirate ship might have been; here’s an exerpt from the article:

“Because pirates have been so romanticized by actors from Errol Flynn to Johnny Depp, it’s easy to overlook that the typical pirate ship stank of animals and excrement, that scurvy and yellow fever often killed so many that corpses were routinely dumped at sea, and that pirates often delighted in macabre torture.

Pirate prisoners would most likely have chosen to walk the plank—a practice more common in TV cartoons than in pirate history—rather than be subjected to sadists like Edward Low, who, in the 1720s, cut off a prisoner’s lips and broiled them in front of the hapless fellow, or those who practiced “woolding,” in which slender cords were twisted tightly around men’s heads in the hope of seeing their eyes burst from their sockets.

Consequently, when commercial shipowners or governments captured pirates, they were rarely shown mercy. Pirate expert David Cordingly, former curator of the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England, writes in Under the Black Flag that it was common practice in the British colonies to place the body of a captured pirate in a steel cage shaped like a man’s body and suspend it near the entrance to a port as a grisly warning to seamen.”

Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-real-robinson-crusoe-74877644/#uojl6hh0zwYidZiL.99
Give the gift of Smithsonian magazine for only $12! http://bit.ly/1cGUiGv
Follow us: @SmithsonianMag on Twitter

An 18th Century Pirate’s Perspective

In researching the book I’m currently writing about the pirates Anne Bonny and Mary Read, I came across a great passage from “History of the Pyrates” printed in 1724 relating to whether capital punishment, specifically hanging, was a deterrent to becoming a pirate.  I cut and pasted it here because it is fun to read in the original format.

At Mary Read’s trial she was asked why she became a pirate where she would be “fure of dying an ignominious Death, if flie fhould be taken alive ?”

This is her recorded reply:

“-She anfwer’d, that as to hanging, fhe thought it no great Hardfhip, for, were it not for that, every cowardly Fellow would turn Pyrate, and To infeft the Seas, that Men of Courage muft ftarve : That if it was put to the Choice of the Pyrates, they would not have the punifliment lefs than Death, the Fear of which, kept fome daftardly Rogues honeft ^ that many of thofe who are now cheating the Widows and Orphans, and oppreifing their poor Neighbours, who have no Money to obtain Juftice, would then rob at Sea, and the Ocean would be crowded with Rogues, like the Land, and no Merchant would venture out ; fb that the Trade, in a little Time, would not be worth following.”

Mary Read was certainly a tough lady, and I believe her response was probably indicative of the attitudes of her compatriots at the time:  that the “trade” of being a pirate was only for the courageous.  Mary was well educated, raised as a boy, fought as a soldier in Queen Anne’s War, and had been quite law abiding, but readily accepted the pirate life when it became an option for her after she met Jack Rackham.