When Kitty was a little girl she dreamed of being a museum curator or archaeologist. Now she studies and writes all about history.
The Terrifying Duo of the Caribbean
One of the most infamous female pirates in history is Anne Bonny. The story has it that Anne was an extremely rebellious child, going against her father's wishes and, at the ripe age of sixteen, she married the unruly captain of a ship - Captain John Bonny. Prior to marrying John Bonny, there were stories that were told claiming that Anne had stabbed a servant woman in the stomach with a butter knife. Nevertheless, wild Anne married a pirate and some say that John Bonny merely wanted Anne's dowry, but after marrying her, he found out that Anne's father had no intention of letting either of them have the money or estate. Anne immediately adapted to the ways of pirate life and moved to Nassau, Bahamas with John. Supposedly English and American pirates were welcome in Nassau and this is how Anne met her lover, Captain Jack Rackham. Anne left John and John eventually became an informant to the Governor (many claim that this is the reason that Anne left John, but there is no documented proof).
After pillaging and sailing the Caribbean with Jack, John Bonny put out a warrant for Anne and Jack's arrests. Anne was dragged before the Governor and her angry husband to be flogged and then returned to John, as his wife. She refused to go down without a fight, but took the flogging like a man would have and ran away again with Jack Rackham. Jack, Anne, and Anne's cohort Mary Read stole a ship from the port and set out for a life of pirating and pillaging the Caribbean islands and high seas. The funny part about Anne's life as a pirate is that even though she was a female and many female pirates had to disguise themselves, the fact is that Anne never disguised herself aboard their ship. She was proud to be a woman and an extremely tough woman at that. Anne and Jack's pirate crew was very successful at stealing treasures off of other Caribbean ships and also recruiting new crew members.
This success lasted for awhile, until one of the Jamaican Governor's ships raided their ship. Bravely, Anne Bonny and Mary Read fought off their offenders for quite some time, but in the end they were captured due to the fact that the rest or their crew was too inebriated to fight alongside of these women. Both women were put on trial and sentenced to be hanged alongside of their crew mates; however, Anne and Mary both pleaded pregnant and escaped the fate of hanging. Mary ended up dying, either from a fever or during childbirth...no one is quite sure. But Anne, well...Anne is speculated to have escaped and taken up a different identity and continued her pirating of the Caribbean. Some deny this theory and claim that she returned to her husband or that her father possibly stepped in and saved her from a life of crime. However her fate, Anne was a fierce female pirate who terrified anyone her path...be it man or woman.
Mary Read, Anne Bonny's partner in crime, was plunged head-first into pirate life when the ship she was sailing upon was captured by Captain Jack Rackham and his fierce lover, Anne Bonny. When her ship was captured, Mary was disguising herself as a man, as she knew that women would never be permitted to work alongside men on a ship in that day and age. Mary kept her disguise and Anne took a liking to her, thinking that Mary was a good-looking young man. Mary confessed her true gender to Anne and the two of them became very close friends. The closeness between Mary and Anne ignited a fury within the Captain and he wanted to destroy Mary (thinking that Mary was a man moving in on his lady). Anne and Mary then confessed Mary's identity to Jack and he granted the women to work aboard the ship and dress how they pleased.
Tale has it that Mary fell in love with a sea artist and learned that he was to take part in a duel with some other man. She challenged her lover's challenger to a pre-match and killed the man with ease. Now that's love. Mary continued pirating with Anne and Jack until their capture by the Jamaican government. Different historians claim different deaths for Mary...some say fever killed her while she was imprisoned and others say that she died during giving birth to her illegimate child. However she died, her legacy continued in the Caribbean for years following her pirate raids with Anne Bonny in the late seventeenth century.
A View of the Seas Sailed by Anne Bonny
A Flash Back to Piracy (An Interesting Dream)
"The soaked, wooden deck is creaking underneath of my dirty feet as I gaze out over the horizon. I don't think I've ever seen water so crystal blue...the clouds so billowy and a crisp white. The captain shouts the orders, "Drop anchor and all to shore!". Another mysterious land to explore, another treasure to take for my own. I jump off the side of the ship and splash into the abnormally warm water...the water envelopes me and feels refreshing against my sunburned skin. This is what it feels like...I could be a pirate forever." - an excerpt from one of my many dreams of being a pirate. I have sort of always had a fascination with pirates and sea-life, ever since I was a child. Dreams of being a pirate come and go for me, even now in my adulthood. And every time I experience one of these dreams, I feel like I am home within the dream. I don't want to leave the ship's deck, and I want to forever hear the welcoming sound of the clear blue waters lapping against the ship's sides. Many mornings after my pirate dreams, I have laid in bed and wondered what it was like to have been a pirate, were there any female pirates? What if I was a pirate in a past life?
Out of all of the infamous pirates that tormented the oceans for hundreds of years, there had to have been some female pirates, right? Right ye' are! There weren't very many, or at least not many on record, mainly because the decks of a pirate ship were not a gentle and respectable place for a woman of those times. Most women that worked alongside men on the pirate fleets were forced to disguise themselves as men, simply to gain the respect and trust of their fellow shipmates. Throughout history, one of the known codes of pirate conduct was that young boys and women were never allowed to work on a pirate ship...it was supposedly bad luck. If a woman was discovered working on ship, she was banished and most likely punished in some unspeakable way. If there were any women knowingly on board, they were usually the pirates' filthy concubines...kept around simply to fulfill their manly urges.
In spite of being the "bad luck" charms, some women did make a successful life for themselves as being pirates, but the pirate life did not come easily. They had to prove themselves by means of instilling fear or proving their aggression and ability to handle such a hard existence. Even a few more notable female pirates became captains of entire pirate fleets!
The Chinese Coast's Pirate Queen
Ahhh (or should we say Arggh?), the infamous Cheng I Sao, also known as Mrs. Cheng. She has been known as the Pirate Queen of Asia and is considered by some to be the most successful pirate in history...even bumping Blackbeard and Captain Morgan off the success plank! Cheng I Sao began her adult life as a prostitute, as legend says, and because she was so illuminatingly beautiful, a captain of a large pirate fleet named Cheng, asked for her hand in marriage. Well, Mrs. Cheng was no dumb hooker. She stated that she would accept Cheng's proposal, if he allowed her to rule the fleet in partnership.
Unfortunately, Cheng died but fortunately for Mrs. Cheng, she now had the chance to rule the entire fleet and do as she pleased with the rowdy crews and many ships. Instead of taking direct claim to leadership, she appointed a man as the head captain, but Mrs. Cheng did not bow out of her late husband's responsibilities. In fact, Mrs. Cheng still ruled the fleet behind the scenes. In the peak of Mrs. Cheng's reign over the Chinese seas, she controlled an estimated 1,500 ships and she kept 80,000 crew members fed and obediently under her command. Mrs. Cheng's business techniques led her fleet to other areas of gaining success, not just pillaging but extortion and bartering.
If anyone could be referred to as the most successful pirate in history, Mrs. Cheng would have to be that pirate.
European Women - Scourge of the Sea? You Decide!
Grace O'Malley was born in County Mayo, Ireland in the early sixteenth century into a noble family of sea-faring Irishmen. There were not very many seafaring Irishmen during those times; however, the O'Malley family loved the sea so much that they built most of their castles on the coast, lovingly facing the sea. Grace grew up with an immense desire to go out to sea with her seafaring father. At this point in time, women (especially girls) were not allowed to work on a ship, and because of this, Grace's father would tell her, "You cannot go on the ship because your hair will get caught in the ship's ropes." Grace did something drastic to get her father's attention...she cut off all of her long, red hair! This earned her a popular nickname, "Gráinne Mhaol" (which means The Bald One). She wanted so badly to sail to Spain with her father and his crew that she would do whatever it takes to have that privilege. A love for the ocean ran through her veins, just as it did in her father's and brother's.
As far as marriage, Grace married twice in her lifetime. In each of these marriages, Grace gained strength and further success in her pirating career. In the first marriage to Donal an Chogaidh O'Flaherty, she bore three children - Owen, Margaret, and Murrough. Donal passed after only ten years of wedlock with Grace and so Grace married again - this time to a man known as "Iron Richard". He was so known for this name due to his efforts in warfare and the fact that he always wore a chain-mail shirt. During her first marriage to Donal, Grace dipped her hands into the shipping trade...basing her fleet right out of Donal's castle. When Donal died, much of his family (also employed in Grace's fleet) followed Grace to her next residence with Iron Richard. She had gained their loyalty and utmost respect as a leader, despite the fact that she was a woman.
Grace was not only a respected leader by her men, she was a clever warrior. Other neighboring clans and even the English tried their hand at attacking her fortresses on different occasions and on each occasion, Grace and her men were successful at keeping them back. One legend said that she melted lead from the top of her castle and poured it on the heads of the English soldiers that were attacking her fortress. At this point, rumors were flying around that Grace's fleet was beginning to act like a renegade pirate fleet. In an attempt to settle the attacking English and gain favor, Grace offered some of her forces to aid the Englishmen and so they joined the Englishmen in their calculated attacks up the Irish coast (scouring ships and fortresses for booty). Grace O'Malley has been called the "Pirate Queen" not only for the way she ruled her fleet, but because of her noble blood and demeanor. One of the most famous stories told of Grace was her meeting with Queen Elizabeth to discourage her from ravaging and claiming the Irish lands any longer. Eventually and unfortunately, Grace was arrested and instead of being executed, all of her forces were disarmed and she was stripped of any wealth that she had collected over the years. Yes, the English were to blame for this, as the Queen and her leaders felt that Grace had the ability to lead a rebellion against them...after all, Grace was one of the bravest and most powerful pirates sailing the Irish and English seas.
Another infamous European female pirate was Charlotte De Berry. Some debate her existence, in the belief that Charlotte was just a fanciful, made-up story to appease the masses. Either way, Charlotte's story of piracy and rebellion is an intriguing one. The story begins with Charlotte De Berry being born in England in the early seventeenth century. Not a whole lot is known about Charlotte's childhood but in her teen years, Charlotte's lover and hopefully future husband was a sailor and took to the sea to do his job sailing to the coast of Africa. Apparently Charlotte decided to follow her lover to the sea, by cleverly disguising herself as a man and hopping aboard the next vessel out of town. The captain of this ship somehow realized that this "man" that had been working beside his men on board possessed a hidden beauty much like that of a woman's, and so he decided to get some "booty", pun intended. Well, Charlotte wasn't about to let him take what he wanted, so she quickly removed the captain's head. Yes, Charlotte was a ruffian...as she then claimed the ship for herself and declared the vessel as a pirates' vessel from there on out (or so the legend has it). Maybe the feel of the rocking ship beneath her feet and the smell of the sea instilled a pure sense of liberation within Charlotte and she thought, "screw finding me' lover...I think I'll find me some treasure."
The crew on-board Charlotte's ship were more than willing to aid her pirating plans, they contributed to it whole-heartedly, and the ship sailed up and down the African coast, ravaging whole fleets and collecting what riches they could. Charlotte's riveting story continues with the marriage to one of her shipmates, a supposedly wealthy Spaniard. Their ship ends up sinking and the couple plus a few other crew members survive on a raft for close to a week, with nothing to eat or drink. Lots are drawn to determine who will lose their life in order to feed the other crewmates' starving bellies. Sadly, Charlotte's hubby lost the draw and his life and just a little while later their raft is spotted by a merchant ship and rescued. Supposedly a different set of pirates attack her rescuers' ship, and Charlotte dies after fighting the offenders off and jumping suicidally into the water to join her husband. Now that's what I call a good pirate tale!
Participate in a poll:
Gerry Glenn Jones from Somerville, Tennessee on July 16, 2018:
I truly enjoyed reading your hub, Nicole. It was a great history lesson for me because I only knew about Anne Bonny, and didn't know all the details that you pointed out. I will certainly be reading more of your hubs.
Lee Cloak on March 28, 2015:
A very interesting and enjoyable hub, a really great read, thanks, Lee
Anya Brodech from 130 Linden St, Oakland, California, 94607 on January 24, 2015:
Thanks for sharing the role of women pirates in history!
Kitty Fields (author) from Summerland on September 06, 2012:
Astra Nomik - Thank you so much! Glad you enjoyed it...maybe we were both pirate women in the past? LOL.
Cathy Nerujen from Edge of Reality and Known Space on September 05, 2012:
Shiver me timbers. What a great read. Women as Pirates ... now that has a certain ring to it. I loved this hub. I learned a lot. Thank you. :)
Kitty Fields (author) from Summerland on April 01, 2012:
Lilleyth - Maybe we were on the same ship in that life! I know that one of my past lives was that of a pirate. I'm not sure if I was male or female, though. I have had too many dreams of being a pirate, and those dreams were too real to imagine. Thanks for reading! Or shall I say, Argghh!
Suzanne Sheffield from Mid-Atlantic on April 01, 2012:
Really enjoyed this hub. A past-life regression I performed on myself revealed a pirate-like man. It startled me and woke me from my trance. I love marine art and have two large prints of sailing vessels on the wall in my den.
Kitty Fields (author) from Summerland on October 02, 2011:
Maren Morgan M-T - Me, too. :)
Maren Elizabeth Morgan from Pennsylvania on October 01, 2011:
Love Mary Read!
Kitty Fields (author) from Summerland on October 01, 2011:
Haunty - Makes you wanna cry in a good way? Well, what can we say about us females...we ROCK. Thanks for reading and voting. :)
Haunty from Hungary on October 01, 2011:
This hub makes me wanna cry. How come female pirates were so much cooler (and more durable too!) than their male counterparts! Oh wait... I guess I know the answer. Thanks for the hub, Kitty. Awesome'd.
Kitty Fields (author) from Summerland on September 30, 2011:
Greekgeek - I don't know who Captain Faris Scherwiz is! Haha...Awesome though, thanks!
Ellen from California on September 30, 2011:
Would I be giving away my complete geekdom if I said that my favorite female pirate was Captain Faris Scherwiz?
Great Hub. All fascinating, but Mrs. Cheng gets my vote in the real world.