Biography of the Pirate Mary Read

This woodcut of Anne Bonny and Mary Read was engraved by Benjamin Cole (1695-1766) circa 1724. The work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published (or registered with the U.S. Copyright Office) before January 1, 1923.
This woodcut of Anne Bonny and Mary Read was engraved by Benjamin Cole (1695-1766) circa 1724. The work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published (or registered with the U.S. Copyright Office) before January 1, 1923. | Source

Female Pirates of the Caribbean

Earlier this year, I published Penzance, Cornwall: Pirates. I discussed pirates operating in the town of Penzance in the county of Cornwall in England, the Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera Pirates of Penzance, and the Cornish Pirates, a professional rugby union team based in Penzance.

I wondered whether there were ever any female pirates. Through my research, I learned that there were two female pirates, Anne Bonny from Ireland and Mary Read from England, who operated in the Caribbean during what became known as the Golden Age of Piracy (sometimes called the Golden Age of Pirates).

In this article, you will learn all about Mary Read, an early eighteenth century pirate often more terrifying and bloodthirsty than her male counterparts.

Golden Age of Piracy

The Golden Age of Piracy is a term given to the period of maritime history beginning in 1690 and ending in 1730. It was during this time frame that there were more acts of piracy than in any other period in the history of seafaring. Piracy occurred off the east coast of what is now the United States, off the west coast of Africa, and in the Indian Ocean. The majority of acts of piracy occurred, however, in the Caribbean, among the islands surrounding the Caribbean Sea.

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Mary Read's Life Before Piracy

Mary Read was born in Plymouth, England between 1685 and 1690. Her mother was married to a ship’s captain who went out to sea and was never heard from again. Less than a year before Mary was born, her mother gave birth to a boy, a sickly child. The boy’s father was Mary’s mother’s husband, the sea captain. Mary’s father is not known. Presumably, he was someone living in, or passing through, Plymouth.

Mrs. Read's Scheme

Mary’s mother became resigned to the fact that her husband the sea captain was never going to return home. She didn’t have any source of income, and she had to feed and clothe her two children—the son of the sea captain and her illegitimate daughter. When Mary’s half-brother died, her mother devised a scheme to obtain money from the sea captain’s family. Mrs. Read began dressing Mary as a boy—her son who had died. She appealed to her late husband’s mother for financial support.

Mrs. Read’s scheme worked. Mary masqueraded as a boy through her teen years, and Grandmother Read sent money to her daughter-in-law and “grandson.”

Mary Read Joins the British Military

When Grandmother Read died, Mary first obtained work as a footboy (a young manservant or page) and later went to work on a ship. Mary, in the guise of a young man, worked on the ship for a few years. She then joined the British military and fought in the War of Spanish Succession, a war fought by several European countries which involved the possible unification of Spain and France under a French monarch.

While in the military, Mary met and fell in love with a Flemish soldier. She revealed herself as a woman, they married, she left the military, and she and her husband moved to the Netherlands, where he bought a tavern, The Three Horseshoes. Mary’s husband died at a young age, and Mary rejoined the military, once again dressing as a man. Peace broke out, and Mary was now without a job.

Mary Read, looking for adventure, soon found herself, dressed as a man once more, on a Dutch merchant ship traveling to the Caribbean

This woodcut of Calico Jack Rackham is from "A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates," published in 1725.
This woodcut of Calico Jack Rackham is from "A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates," published in 1725. | Source

Mary Read Becomes a Pirate

While en route to the Caribbean, Mary’s ship was attacked by pirates. Rather than allow herself to be taken prisoner, Mary decided to join the pirates. She became a pirate in the Caribbean.

In 1718, all British pirates were offered a pardon by the king. Mary accepted the offer. She then signed on as a crew member (a privateer) on a British ship—also called a privateer—a privately owned and manned armed ship authorized by the government to attack and capture enemy ships, especially those carrying cargo. Mary’s ship was charged with hunting down pirates who didn’t accept the king’s pardon. The crew of Mary’s ship decided they didn’t like being privateers—they would rather be pirates, so they mutinied.

Mary Read Meets Anne Bonny

Mary traveled to New Providence Island in the Bahamas and joined the crew of pirate Captain John Rackham, known as “Calico Jack” due to the colorful clothes he wore. There was another woman on Captain Rackham’s ship, a pirate groupie and his lover, Anne Bonny. After being a member of the pirate crew for a while, Mary Read revealed herself as a woman. She and Anne Bonny would dress as women during their “off hours” and as men while fighting. Both women were two of Calico Jack’s most fearsome and bloodthirsty pirates.

Mary Read Kills a Man

Mary Read was in love with one of the men on Calico Jack's ship, a man who had been captured by the pirates and forced to join the crew. The object of Mary's affection got into an argument with one of the crew members, and the crew member challenged the other man to a duel. Mary, upon learning of the impending duel, picked a fight with the crew member, killing him with a sword so her lover wouldn't have to engage in a duel with the man later that same day.

This 18th century woodcut "Mary Read Killing Her Antagonist" by an unknown artist was uploaded to Wikimedia Commons by the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
This 18th century woodcut "Mary Read Killing Her Antagonist" by an unknown artist was uploaded to Wikimedia Commons by the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. | Source

The Pirates are Captured

In October 1720, a British man-of-war, a heavily armed warship, surprised Calico Jack’s ship as it was anchored off the coast of Negril, Jamaica. The male pirates were all drunk. Rather than fight, the male pirates hid below deck in the hold of the ship.

The male pirates hid below deck—what about Anne Bonny and Mary Read? The two women pirates defended their ship while their drunken crewmates hid. Anne and Mary killed one member of the British navy and wounded several others.

Eventually, the British navy overpowered Anne Bonny and Mary Read, and the entire crew was captured. Everyone on Captain Rackham’s ship was taken to Jamaica to stand trial. All of the male pirates were found guilty on November 16, 1720. They were hanged on November 18, 1720 in Port Royal, Jamaica.

The trial of Anne Bonny and Mary Read was held one week after the hanging of Calico Jack and his crew. They, too, were found guilty, but they were not hanged. British law forbade the killing of an unborn child. Anne Bonny was pregnant with Captain Rackham’s child, and Mary Read was pregnant with a crew member’s child.

Mary Read died in prison of a fever in early 1721. It is not known what became of Anne Bonny.

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Comments 59 comments

Judi Bee profile image

Judi Bee 4 years ago from UK

I've just published a few pirate hubs and have a few more in the works, so I will link them to this one, if that's OK Daisy?

I wonder if there were more women pirates than just Anne Bonny and Mary - perhaps some managed to go undetected. It's a great story!

Voted up and interesting!


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Judi,

Thanks for reading my article and being the first person to comment in it. Thanks, too, for linking your pirate Hubs to mine. I will be very glad to do the same.

Information about Anne Bonny and Mary Read is very sketchy. It's possible that other women pirates went undetected, dressed as men, during the Golden Age of Piracy.


Ruchira profile image

Ruchira 4 years ago from United States

Pirates had so much history. It was good to read this well researched hub on them.

Once again congrats on your graduation from Apprenticeship program...YAY!


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Ruchira,

Thanks for reading my article and commenting in it. Thanks, too, for your congratulatory remarks.

I am honored to be among the talented writers who were in the beta test group for the Apprenticeship Program, to be counted among the first 18 graduates.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK

Daisy, brill hub! I love pirate stories and pirate stories about women are even more intriguing. This was great read, thoroughly enjoyed it. Voted up, pinned etc.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Julie (Jools99),

Thanks for reading, commenting in, and pinning my article. I appreciate your continued support of my writing.

This was an interesting Hub to research. I learned a lot from all the information I gathered online before I began writing.


travmaj profile image

travmaj 4 years ago from australia

What a story! I thoroughly enjoyed reading this and am intrigued by these two women and their life and exploits - amazing really - awesome and interesting.


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 4 years ago

Such a good true story on Mary Read, the pirate. She was very daring and proved herself a true pirate. I don't think I would have tried what she did: disguising as a man is very tricky when on board a boatload of pirates. Good hub topic and well covered.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

travmaj,

It's nice to meet you. Thanks for reading my article and commenting in it. I enjoyed doing the research for this Hub. What lives both women had!


ThoughtSandwiches profile image

ThoughtSandwiches 4 years ago from Reno, Nevada

Daisy,

Great information regarding female pirates! I've always been amazed that the "Golden Age of Piracy" was only 40 years long! Mary and Ann certainly could have used some help in that last battle!

Congrats of the "a" designation!

Thomas


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Dianna (teaches12345),

Thanks for reading another one of my Hubs and adding your comments. I appreciate your continued support of my writing.

Mary Read was more daring than many of her male counterparts. It's amazing how many times she dressed as a man and wasn't caught.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Thomas (ThoughtSandwiches),

I was surprised to learn that the Golden Age of Piracy only lasted 40 years. I hadn't realized that until I began doing the research for my article.

Who could have helped Anne Bonny and Mary Read in that last battle? The drunken male pirates hid below decks when the battle began. The only brave people on the ship were the two pregnant female pirates.

Thanks for your good wishes regarding my green "a." All of the Apprentices have the "a" badge, but the only badges that are green belong to the 18 Apprenticeship Alum.


ThoughtSandwiches profile image

ThoughtSandwiches 4 years ago from Reno, Nevada

Daisy,

In terms of helping in that last battle...I was referring to the drunken pirates down below. Too bad they were drunk (for the pirates anyway).

Yes...I should have clarified...congrats on the green "a".

Thomas


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Thomas,

Thanks for visiting again.

Think about this... If the male pirates hadn't gotten drink, they would have helped the two preganant female pirates fight the British navy, and they might not have been captured, not have been found guilty of piracy, and not have been hanged two days after their trial.


ThoughtSandwiches profile image

ThoughtSandwiches 4 years ago from Reno, Nevada

Daisy,

lol...yes...I understand. I was using sarcasm which (quite obviously) went over like a pregnant pole-vaulter (i.e. not very well).

Very good information you have here.

Thomas


mary615 profile image

mary615 4 years ago from Florida

This was a very interesting Hub. I never knew about women pirates, so I have learned something new which is good.

I voted this Hub UP, etc.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Mary,

Thanks for reading and commenting in my Hub. I learned a lot when I began going the research for my article. I didn't know whether there had been any female pirates. My research took me to Anne Bonny and Mary Read.


Mike Robbers profile image

Mike Robbers 4 years ago from London

Awesome & well researched hub about female pirates! thanks a lot it was quite interesting


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 4 years ago from New York

Great read. I had heard of Anne Bonny but never Mary Read. You and Judi Bee are quenching our thirst for pirate knowledge!

Voted up and interesting.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Mike,

It's nice to "see" you again. Thanks for reading my Hub and commenting in it. I'm glad you enjoyed it.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Mary (tillsontitan),

I'm glad I did the research to see if there had been any female pirates. It can't have been an easy life for either Anne Bonny or Mary Read, especially for Mary Read...dressing as a man for so many years.


rcrumple profile image

rcrumple 4 years ago from Kentucky

I can only surmise that neither Anne nor Mary were attractive women to pass for men so easily. Still, both were with child, so they must not have been too unacceptable. Obviously, living in a "man's world" of piracy, they had to be even more vicious than their counterparts to survive. Interesting story and very well presented! Great Job!


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Rich (rcrumple),

Thanks for reading my article and commenting in it. I agree with you that neither Anne nor Mary were probable beauty contest winners.

They had to be tough in order to survive in the pirate world. What would have happened, I wonder, if their crewmates hadn't been drunk when the British man-of-war appeared on the scene?


jcevans2009 profile image

jcevans2009 4 years ago from Boise, ID

Thank you for providing this information about women in history. I had never heard of Mary Read or Anne Bonny, and your Hub has sparked an interest in pirate history. Voting up, awesome and sharing! Congratulations on completing the Apprenticeship program!


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Judith (jcevans2009),

Thanks for reading my article, commenting in it, and sharing it. Until I began my research for this Hub, I had no idea that there had ever been any female pirates. Mary Read had a truly amazing life.

Thanks, too, for your congratulations regarding my completing the Apprenticeship Program and becoming an Apprenticeship Alum. I was honored to be invited by HubPages to be a member of the beta test group for the program.


LetitiaFT profile image

LetitiaFT 4 years ago from Paris via California

What an adventure, and a tale well told. No wonder you were selected for the beta test group of the Apprenticeship Program! I'll link to it in my hub on another adventurous woman, the first to climb Mont Blanc. Thanks for the rich reading experience.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Letitia,

It's nice to meet you. Congratulations on winning the 2012 Hubbie for Most Awesome Hub. I won the Hubbie for Most Interesting Hub for Comet Halley.

Thanks for reading my article, commenting in it, and linking it to your article about the first woman to climb Mont Blanc. I'm glad you enjoyed reading my Hub. I appreciate your very kind words.


Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

Glimmer Twin Fan 4 years ago

Always love reading about women in unexpected roles! Interesting hub!


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Glimmer Twin Fan,

It's nice to "see" you again. Thanks for reading about Mary Read's unusual role as a pirate and adding your comments.


Teresa Coppens profile image

Teresa Coppens 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

Awesome article Daisy. I just read a book by Kathy Reichs, part of her Virals series for young adults. The book was called Seizure and Reichs used piracy and some legends both factual and fictional about Anne Bonny as the main thread of the story. It made a very compelling mystery!


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Teresa,

Thanks for reading my article and commenting in it. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Mary Read led quite an adventureous life. Considering the era in which she lived, I'm amazed at what she got away with doing.


Docmo profile image

Docmo 4 years ago from UK

Always loved a good Pirate story.. this has an extra Kick due to the unique nature of the history. Awesome research and detail here, Daisy. I think this deserves a Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Mohan (Docmo),

Thanks for reading my article and adding your comment. As always, I appreciate your support of my writing.

This article did take quite a bit of research. I found little bits and pieces about Mary Read on numerous Web sites. No one article had very much information about her life.

I like your idea about the *yo ho ho and a bottle of rum*...if you record that as a sound bite, I'll add it to my article.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM

Very interesting and engaging hub. I have heard and read about Anne Bonny and Mary Read. They certainly were colorful women. I think it is interesting that in times past women have always entered every trade and profession of man - even piracy! These women were way ahead of their time! LOL Thanks so much - I enjoyed reading this.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Suzannah (suzettenaples),

Thanks for reading my article and commenting it. Both Anne and Mary really did lead interesting lives, didn't they?


midget38 profile image

midget38 4 years ago from Singapore

These were certainly very fascinating ladies, Daisy. They led such exciting lives! This was a great read, and well researched. Sharing here on HP and tweeting.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Michelle (midget38),

Thanks for reading and commenting in my Hub. The research for this article took more time than most of my Hubs...no one Internet source had very much information about either woman, and there were quite a bit of confusing facts that had to be sorted out.


onlooker 4 years ago

Thank you, Daisy for this adventorous tale. My first read on women pirates and somehow I feel empowered =) In those times they certainly lived, loved and made history. I salute those all like them that have begged to differ and you too. So, thank you again Daisy!


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Ava (onlooker),

It's nice to "see" you again. I'm glad you enjoyed reading my article.

I didn't know whether there had ever been women pirates until I began doing the research for my article. I don't agree with everything Mary Read did, but I certainly salute her individualism and spirit.


GetitScene profile image

GetitScene 4 years ago from The High Seas

Always been fascinated by these two pirate gals. Nice article.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Dale (GetitScene),

It's nice to meet you. Thank you for reading my article and adding your comment.

You're the first person who has commented in my Hub who lives on a boat. How exciting that must be!


vox vocis profile image

vox vocis 4 years ago

I've read about Mary Read and Anne Bonny before, but I didn't find any information about Mary's childhood or life before she married. Enjoyed reading this article. Voted up!


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Jasmine(vox vocis),

It's nice to "see" you again. Thanks for reading my article and commenting.

I had to search for quite a while before I found information about Mary Read's background. Her early life give a lot of insight into why she became a pirate.


poshcoffeeco profile image

poshcoffeeco 3 years ago from Cambridgeshire

It must have been a tough old life, but exciting I should imagine for a man, let alone a woman. Enjoyable read Daisy.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 3 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Steve (poshcoffeeco),

It's nice to "see" you again. Thanks for reading my article and posting your comment.

The Golden Age of Piracy (1690-1730) was an exciting, but dangerous, time. Mary Read was either very brave, or so desperate for money that she didn't care what she did to obtain it.


rasta1 profile image

rasta1 3 years ago from Jamaica

I think their alias's were allure of the seas and oasis of the seas which are the names of the most popular cruise ships.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 3 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Art (rasta1),

It's nice to "see" you again. Thanks for reading my article and adding your comment. I appreciate your support of my writing.


midget38 profile image

midget38 3 years ago from Singapore

Coming in again to say that this lady certainly led an exciting life! Sharing again!


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 3 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Michelle (midget38),

Thanks for visiting another time and sharing my article once again. I appreciate your support of my writing.


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 2 years ago from Iowa

Great story, Daisy!


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 2 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Deb,

Thanks for reading my article and posting your comment. This Hub required a lot of research. I found bits and pieces of information on several different sites.


AudreyHowitt profile image

AudreyHowitt 2 years ago from California

Very cool! Passing this around!


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 2 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Audrey,

Thanks for reading my article, adding your comment, and sharing my Hub. I appreciate your support.


CraftytotheCore profile image

CraftytotheCore 2 years ago

This is really fascinating. I never knew there were female pirates.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 2 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

CraftytotheCore,

Thanks for reading my article and posting your comment. I don't think there were very many women pirates. Mary Read's life was rather unusual.


Sissi Rocha 19 months ago

Amazing, Daisy! Congratulations for the article. I love it. Very interesting. Thanks for sharing.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 19 months ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Sissi,

How nice to hear from you! Thank you for reading my article and posting your comment.


ChitrangadaSharan profile image

ChitrangadaSharan 10 months ago from New Delhi, India

Such a good true story on Mary Read, the pirate. Very daring and proved herself a true pirate. Disguising as a man is very tricky when on board a boatload of pirates.

Interesting hub and well written. Sharing on HH. Thanks.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 10 months ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Chitrangada,

Thanks for reading my article and posting your comment. Thanks, too, for sharing my Hub.

This was such an interesting article to research and write. Before I published this Hub, I had not realized there were real pirates of the Caribbean who were women.

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