Trans Timelines (1500-1900): Anne Bonny & Mary Read

When most people think of pirates, they usually think of buried treasure, swashbuckling, "argh matey blow the man down", sloops, a blunderbuss, talking parrots, jolly rogers, the black spot, Davy Jones, being marooned, sea shanties and probably Johnny Depp. They also tend to think of men traversing across the seven seas for months even years in a scurvy-ridden sausage party. Depending on what age of piracy is examined, the fact that the practice was dominated by mostly men is pretty accurate. This is particularly true for the time period that comes to most people's minds, the Golden Age of Piracy.

Yes the Golden Age of Piracy was dominated by men. What did you expect? That time period was pretty oppressive to women. But that doesn't mean there weren't any female pirates. Matter of fact there was about a handful of them. Most of them didn't last long or only have a few sentences of recorded history to reference. But there were two particular female pirates that achieved relative success, Anne Bonny and Mary Read. Okay, so what's the significance of these two scalawags to transgender history? Well these two also happen to be particularly unique from their lesser known counterparts in the fact that they dressed as men throughout their careers While neither actually perceived themselves as male that we know of, they did identify as male to others for purposes of safety and anonymity. In those days, women were not usually allowed aboard a pirate vessel. Pirates tended to be rather superstitious and believed that women and children on board their ships brought bad luck. Crews were usually required to sign a contract agreeing to follow the superstitious prohibition of women, with a breach of said contract leading to a harsh form of punishment. Usually death.

Anne Bonny is the better known of the two, but not as significant to the trans experience as Read.
Bonny was a member of Calico Jack Rackham's crew. She dressed as a man to keep her identity a secret from the rest of the crew, but was Calico Jack's lover. The two endured much success in their pillaging and plundering, wreaking havoc along much of the coast of the South-eastern U.S and the Caribbean. Later the two met Mary Read, whom some scholars also suggest Bonny had a relationship with.

Mary Read was born the illegitimate child of a sea captain. Her birth date is of some dispute as there are a couple different accounts as to it's specificity. Because she was illegitimate, her mother hid her from everyone until the death of her older brother Mark Read. She assumed this identity for the majority of her life, fighting in wars proving herself in battle during the Nine Years War. She broke her identity as Mark when she fell in love with a Flemish soldier and married him, living her life as a woman until his death. After her husbands death, she re-assumed the identity of Mark Read and joined the military yet again. However, it was a time of peace and she joined a ship headed for the West Indies.

Read was forced into piracy when the ship was taken by pirates. She took a King's Pardon and was commissioned to privateer. In 1720, she joined Calico Jack's crew where she met Anne Bonny. Her gender was revealed when Bonny approached her and told her that she was actually a woman and was in love with Read. In response to Bonny's affections Read revealed that she was also a woman in turn. Calico Jack suspected romantic involvement between the two and became jealous. But his feelings were calmed when Bonny revealed that Read was also a woman.

In November of 1720, the three were captured, arrested, and put on trial in Spanish Town, Jamaica.  All three were convicted of piracy and sentenced to hang by the neck until dead. Bonny and Read "pleaded their bellies" or claimed they were pregnant and were granted a temporary stay of execution. Bonny is said to have escaped at some point and disappeared from history near Point Royal, Jamaica. Read died in prison of a violent fever. Some believe she died in childbirth, though there are no records of the death of her child at St. Catherine's Church in Jamaica so she may have still been pregnant when she died.

Kristelle's Story: Table of Contents