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Biography of the Pirate Mary Read

Updated on January 21, 2015
Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa has a B.A. from Montclair University in New Jersey and two occupational certificates from California colleges.

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.

Would you have liked to live as a pirate during the Golden Age of Piracy?

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    • Daisy Mariposa profile image
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      Daisy Mariposa 22 months ago from Orange County (Southern California)

      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.

    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 22 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
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      Daisy Mariposa 2 years ago from Orange County (Southern California)

      Sissi,

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

    • profile image

      Sissi Rocha 2 years ago

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

    • Daisy Mariposa profile image
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      Daisy Mariposa 3 years ago from Orange County (Southern California)

      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.

    • CraftytotheCore profile image

      CraftytotheCore 3 years ago

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

    • Daisy Mariposa profile image
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      Daisy Mariposa 3 years ago from Orange County (Southern California)

      Audrey,

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

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 3 years ago from California

      Very cool! Passing this around!

    • Daisy Mariposa profile image
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      Daisy Mariposa 3 years ago from Orange County (Southern California)

      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.

    • DeborahNeyens profile image

      Deborah Neyens 3 years ago from Iowa

      Great story, Daisy!

    • Daisy Mariposa profile image
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      Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California)

      Michelle (midget38),

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

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

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

    • Daisy Mariposa profile image
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      Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California)

      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.

    • rasta1 profile image

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

      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.

    • poshcoffeeco profile image

      Steve Mitchell 4 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
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      Daisy Mariposa 5 years ago from Orange County (Southern California)

      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.

    • vox vocis profile image

      Jasmine 5 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
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      Daisy Mariposa 5 years ago from Orange County (Southern California)

      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!

    • GetitScene profile image

      Dale Anderson 5 years ago from The High Seas

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

    • Daisy Mariposa profile image
      Author

      Daisy Mariposa 5 years ago from Orange County (Southern California)

      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.

    • profile image

      onlooker 5 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
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      Daisy Mariposa 5 years ago from Orange County (Southern California)

      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.

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 5 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
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      Daisy Mariposa 5 years ago from Orange County (Southern California)

      Suzannah (suzettenaples),

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

    • suzettenaples profile image

      Suzette Walker 5 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
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      Daisy Mariposa 5 years ago from Orange County (Southern California)

      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.

    • Docmo profile image

      Mohan Kumar 5 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
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      Daisy Mariposa 5 years ago from Orange County (Southern California)

      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.

    • Teresa Coppens profile image

      Teresa Coppens 5 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
      Author

      Daisy Mariposa 5 years ago from Orange County (Southern California)

      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.

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Glimmer Twin Fan 5 years ago

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

    • Daisy Mariposa profile image
      Author

      Daisy Mariposa 5 years ago from Orange County (Southern California)

      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.

    • LetitiaFT profile image

      LetitiaFT 5 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
      Author

      Daisy Mariposa 5 years ago from Orange County (Southern California)

      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.

    • jcevans2009 profile image

      Judith C Evans 5 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
      Author

      Daisy Mariposa 5 years ago from Orange County (Southern California)

      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?

    • rcrumple profile image

      Rich 5 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
      Author

      Daisy Mariposa 5 years ago from Orange County (Southern California)

      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.

    • Daisy Mariposa profile image
      Author

      Daisy Mariposa 5 years ago from Orange County (Southern California)

      Mike,

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

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 5 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.

    • Mike Robbers profile image

      Mike Robbers 5 years ago from London

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

    • Daisy Mariposa profile image
      Author

      Daisy Mariposa 5 years ago from Orange County (Southern California)

      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.

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 5 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.

    • ThoughtSandwiches profile image

      ThoughtSandwiches 5 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

    • Daisy Mariposa profile image
      Author

      Daisy Mariposa 5 years ago from Orange County (Southern California)

      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 5 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
      Author

      Daisy Mariposa 5 years ago from Orange County (Southern California)

      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.

    • Daisy Mariposa profile image
      Author

      Daisy Mariposa 5 years ago from Orange County (Southern California)

      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.

    • ThoughtSandwiches profile image

      ThoughtSandwiches 5 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
      Author

      Daisy Mariposa 5 years ago from Orange County (Southern California)

      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!

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 5 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.

    • travmaj profile image

      travmaj 5 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.

    • Daisy Mariposa profile image
      Author

      Daisy Mariposa 5 years ago from Orange County (Southern California)

      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.

    • Jools99 profile image

      Jools99 5 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
      Author

      Daisy Mariposa 5 years ago from Orange County (Southern California)

      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.

    • Ruchira profile image

      Ruchira 5 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
      Author

      Daisy Mariposa 5 years ago from Orange County (Southern California)

      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.

    • Judi Bee profile image

      Judith Hancock 5 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!