Anne Bonney and Mary Read

March 8,1702-1782 (?) –  1685 -1721

Anne Bonney and Mary Read are the most famous women pirates in history.  They were the only ones known to have sailed in the new world.

Anne Bonney, born March 8th, 1702 (there wasn’t an International Women’s Day then) in County Cork, Ireland, the daughter of lawyer William Cormac and his wife’s housemaid. The happy couple relocated to a plantation near Charleston, South Carolina, to escape the shame of their daughter, and the wrath of Mrs. Cormac.

Anne grew up as a headstrong girl, with a known ferocious temper. She eloped with a sailor/pirate James Bonney when both were quite young. There is some question that her father drove them away, and that is not in the Ford Bronco sense. Bonney took his new bride to honeymoon in the Bahamas, not the resort area we know now, but a known haven for pirates.  James picked up a temp job as an informant, and Anne, disgusted with his cowardice, proceeded to fall for Captain Jack Rackham a.k.a. Calico Jack.  Disguising herself as a male, she sailed with Calico Jack on his sloop the Vanity, She is now sailing under the famous skull-and-crossed-daggers flag.  Anne is believed to have become pregnant by Jack and returned to shore only long enough to have her baby and leave it with friends in Cuba before rejoining him on the high seas.

Mary Read was born at Plymouth, England, about 1685. Her mother’s husband was a seafaring man who went to sea and never returned.  He had left his wife pregnant and she gave birth to a son who soon died. Not long after his illegitimate half sister was born, Mary.  Mom kind of waited for her husband to return for years, and was forced to go to her mother in law for help.  She knew that the old woman was partial to boys and disliked girls.  This is the beginning of Mary’s cross dressing habit.  It worked, with the old lady enough to support them, and it worked with scores of others even after granny died. When Mary was a teenager, she hired out as a footboy, and she was growing more and more bold, looking for a bigger adventure.  She signed onto a man-of-war ship and the military moving her male persona into a career of distinction.  You know how intriguing a man in uniform can be, especially to a cross dressing young woman, and she revealed her sex to a fellow sailor/soldier.  Since he did not appear to have a problem with her fashion sense, they married.  The happy couple became innkeepers, owning the Three Horseshoes near the castle of Breda in Holland.

Mr. died and money became scarce so Mary donned her work clothes.  She knew that job opportunities in the 1700 were much easier for a man, and Mary returned to the sea on a Merchant ship.  Sailing off to the Caribbean her ship was commandeered by English pirates, bad for some and a promotion for Mary. Later her ship was taken by Calico Jack and his pirates; she quickly submitted her resume. Anne Bonney was already part of the crew, and they quickly discovered each other’s secret (probably at the Tampax machine in the women’s bathroom).  They had much in common and they became close friends possibly very very close friends.  Anne and Mary may have been lovers who could have included Calico Jack, which is its own pot of stew.

Anne and Mary were both known for their violent tempers, savage fighting and often called “fierce hell cats.” The crew members knew that in times of action — no one else was more ruthless and bloodthirsty than these two. Calico Jack was one heck of a pirate, but he is remembered more for his involvement with the women.  Unfortunately Calico Jack did not take well to Anne’s flirtatious nature and his authority waned. He sought comfort in rum while, Anne and Mary assumed the real leadership of the ship no longer did they hide their true gender.

In October 1720, they were anchored off Point Negril, Jamaica, for a hard drinking celebration of recent victories. A British sloop surprised them, sending the drunken men scampering below deck to hide.  Anne and Mary were left to defend the ship, and yelled at their mates to “come up, you cowards, and fight like men,” They angrily raged against the crew, killing one and wounding several others. It made little difference the two women were left to fight the Brits alone.  The British Navy was victorious and every survivor was taken to Jamaica.  Jack and the male crew were tried, and sentenced to hang. Anne was allowed to visit him before his execution, and not one for sentimentality her words live in history as “Had you fought like a man, you need not have been hang’d like a dog.” Anne and Mary were tried one week after Calico’s execution and found guilty. At the sentencing the judge allowed them to speak, and they both replied, “Mi’lord, we plead our bellies.” Both were pregnant, and since British law forbade killing an unborn child, their sentences were stayed – temporarily. Mary is said to have died of a violent fever in the Spanish Town prison in 1721, before the birth of her child, (or during the birth per the History Channel). Another theory suggests she feigned death and sneaked out of the prison under a shroud. There is no record of Anne’s execution. Some say that her father bought her release and she settled down to a quiet family life on a small Caribbean island. There is another belief that she lived out her life in England, owning a tavern telling long tales of the sea and adventure.  Choice number three say that Anne and Mary moved to Louisiana where they raised their children together and were non traditional to the end.

Mary Elizabeth Surratt


Mary Elizabeth Surratt
1820 to July 7th, 1865

Mary Elizabeth Jenkins was born in May or June of 1820 near Waterloo, Maryland.  At the age of 17 she married 28 year old John H. Surratt.  They moved to an area of Washington DC, now known as Congress Heights.  Mary had three children with John, they were Isaac, Anna and John Jr. (AKA the problem child).

 Her husband operated a tavern, post office and polling place in an area now known as Surrattsville. There was some suggestion that their business may have been an underground haven for Confederates. Her older brother, Zadoc Jenkins, was arrested by Union forces for trying to prevent the occupying Federal soldiers from voting in the Maryland elections. This will not be the last time Americans will have a problem with voter suppression.  Note, this was for the election that gave Lincoln a second term, and emotions were high.

During the Civil war John Jr. became a Confederate spy and messenger and he became acquainted with John Wilkes Booth. After John Sr. died Mary rented out the tavern and farm, and then opened a boarding house in Washington DC.  Booth and several others became frequent visitors to her establishment.  It was clear that Jr. was involved in the plot to kidnap Lincoln, but he was not in DC at the time of the assassination, historically it is unclear if Mary knew of the activities.  I know my mother didn’t know what was going on in our house. (Yeah Right).

So the middle of this story evolves at Ford Theater with John Wilkes Booth and Abe Lincoln at the incomplete showing of Our American Cousin. The investigation indicated that this was not a two-man operation and an unseen supporting cast was pulled into the story.  There was an involved kidnapping and/or assassination plots not only the President, but also Andrew Johnson the VP and William Seward the Secretary of State.  It appears that Booth was the only one who fulfilled his portion of the plan.

Never sure if Mary was involved, or if they simply met at her boarding house, she was tried. There are still questions on the truth and fairness of the military tribunal trial.  Surely she was aware of the abduction plot, but they couldn’t tie her with the assassination. There is some belief that she was arrested and tried in an attempt to get her son to step forward.  Even though her guilt was questionable, she was hanged on June 29, 1865 with several of the plotters.  The men involved with the kidnapping plot were sentenced to life.  This group included Dr. Samuel Mudd, who had set Booth’s broken leg after his escape from the crime scene. Edward Spangler, a stagehand at Ford’s Theater, was given six years for abetting Booth’s escape.

John Jr. was tried before a civil court. The jury was divided  for acquittal but he was not released from prison until June 1868. The hanging of his mother is generally considered to have been a gross miscarriage of justice. The prosecution  never established that Mary  knew of the abduction plot, and it is fairly clear that she was not part of the assassination plans. Booth’s diary and other evidence that might have cast doubt on the prosecution’s case were suppressed by the government, and it is generally believed that some of the testimony against Mary Surratt was false. Even with the questions about the details of her involvement she uttered her last words “Don’t let me fall.” A moment before she swung.

This all started with marrying an older man, while still in her teens, and pampering the baby.  Lesson noted!