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Wednesday’s women

November 27, 2013

maryread (1)

Here at the library we have a fine collection of Robinson Crusoe books written by Daniel Defoe.  Although I have never read the any of the books from cover to cover; I do from time to dip in and look out for interesting images.  They are not my cup of tea, I prefer a story that demonstrates a bit of girl power. Which is a shame because I have learned that Captain Charles Johnson (believed by some to be a pseudonym for Daniel Defoe) was aware of at least two female pirates who sailed the seas in the early 18th century.

Mary Read for instance born 1690 to a widow of a sea captain. Her mother, dressed her in boy’s clothes, when her brother died, so she could get money from  her father-in-law. The habit remained and later Mary; dressed as boy was able to find employment as a sailor or soldier.

While Mary was fighting for the British in Holland, she fell in love with a Flemish Soldier; when she revealed her secret they married.  Until her husband died they ran an inn, when she could no longer run the inn alone she went back to war.  However, not long after peace was declared so she took a ship to the West Indies.  

On the way Mary Read’s ship was attacked and captured by pirates; who she joined.  Soon she met with Anne Bonny who had left her husband to be a pirate and had become the lover of Calico Jack Rackham. It is told that Mary and Anne become lovers; with it seems  Rackham’s consent as they were his most valued and bloodthirsty pirates.  

Meanwhile, Mary fell for a male pirate who managed to find himself challenged to a duel. Mary, renown for her fighting and afraid she might lose her lover promptly murdered his opponent.  

By 1720 Rackham and his deadly crew were being pursued by bounty hunters.  Later that year Captain Jonathan Barnett had captured the ship. It  was,  by some accounts Mary and Anne who fought while the men hid below deck.  Rackham and his men were quickly tried and hanged.  Mary and Anne at their trial were pregnant and spared the gallows but they both died in prison soon after.

As said earlier it was said to be Captain Johnson to documented the accounts of Mary Read and maybe embellished the story. Nonetheless it was true that a woman called Mary Read did serve with Rackham and the evidence is strong that Mary and Anne were able, strong and skilled pirates who were just as ruthless as their male colleagues.

Mary Read and Anne Bonny seem to have captured the public imagination in the so-called ‘golden age of piracy’  when women were usually controlled and protected.  

It is a shame Daniel Defoe didn’t write a story about these courageous women. It is strange that piracy now considered terrorism was and still celebrated and romanticized. 


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