Women who Ruled the seas: the Legends of Female Pirates

It wasn’t just men who sailed underneath the black flag, women had their share of plundering, pillaging and all things Pirate as well. Here we explore the story of the most famous women pirates that ever lived.

Men were not the only ones who sailed the seas. Women were amongst the sailors that pillaged unsuspecting ships. They were just as deserving of their place in history as the men. Three of the most notorious female pirates are Grace O’Malley, Anne Bonny and Mary Read.

Whenever the subject of female pirates comes up Anne Bonny and Mary Read are the first names to be mentioned.

Anne Bonny & Mary Read

Anne Bonny, who was born Irish, was the child of a scandalous love affair between her father and the maid. Her father separated from his wife and ran away to Carolina to live with his daughter and mistress.

The maid died, leaving Anne the lady of the house even though she is rumored to have had a horrid temper. Though she had many suitors she chose a sailor whom her father dubbed as not good enough for her so the two lovers ran away to the colony Providence in the Caribbean. It was here that she met Captain Jack Rackham who took her aboard his ship to be his companion. One day they found a young French boy on a ship they commandeered. This boy was asked to join their crew; he turned out to be Mary Read.

Mary Read was used to living her life as a boy. Her mother is what could be considered a con-woman. She gave birth to a male child with her husband but later gave birth to Mary. Both the husband and baby boy died but she dressed Mary and pretended she was the boy so that she could collect money regularly from her mother-in-law.

When Mary was older she told her the truth and then sent her to work for a French lady, again as a boy. Mary held a career in the military as a man for quite a while until she fell in love with a fellow soldier. They were later married publicly and opened an eating house. However, her happy life with her husband was short-lived, he died and Mary couldn’t take care of the eating house. So she dressed as a man again and sailed to the West Indies, to find her new fortune.

No one knows what happened to Anne Bonny, she was pregnant in jail and some people speculate that her father used his connections to get her out alive because it is known for sure that she was not hanged. Mary, who was also with child, died of fever while imprisoned.

Grace O’Malley

Another well-known pirate was Grace O’Malley, who sailed in the mid to late 1500’s off the coast of Ireland. She wasn’t just any female pirate; she was the leader of her clan and a shrewd businesswoman.

Grace found herself in a life of piracy when her clan was being poorly led by her husband from an arranged marriage. Instead of letting her people starve she took a group of men and pillaged the seas. Throughout her long life (she lived to be about 73) she not only captured ships and extorted money from others for “safe passage” she even met with Queen Elizabeth. No one knows what they talked about but the Queen helped Grace out tremendously by letting her family out of jail and basically making her a privateer for England.

Grace retired from pirating and died peacefully.

There were other women that were pirates, these are just a few of the legends. They defied convention and were ruthless sailors.