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Ann Bonny, Mary Read and John Rackham
The most famous threesome in pirate history
The story of Ann Bonny, Mary Read and John “Calico Jack” Rackham is legendary in Pirates of the Caribbean folklore. The fundamental reason for this is because Ann and Mary are prominently featured in Captain Charles Johnson’s A General History of the Pirates (1724).
This book has a perplexing significance to piracy history. Piracy enthusiasts laud it as a significant primary source on pirates today merely because it is very, very old and has survived 300 years.
One of the driving forces of its success was the inclusion of Ann Bonny and Mary Read in it. People forget that publishers were all about making a profit back in the 1720s just as much as they are today. They knew that for land-dwellers, pirates had an enviable freedom and control over their lives not available to everybody else. Reading/hearing about pirates created a fascination for their adventures. To think that women were doing such a thing made it even more amazing.
As a result, Johnson’s book was phenomenally successful in its time. Repeated editions appeared frequently. Even today, now that it is in the public domain, enterprising self-publishers bundle it up and sell it on Amazon.
On one hand, the book’s success and sheer survival for so long gives it an air of authenticity that has not stood up to historical verification. On the other hand, it’s not entirely fabricated. Ann, Mary and John were real people who engaged in piracy. We know they are because of the only other surviving record of them: a court report of their trial.
These two sources are the basis of everything we know about Ann, Mary and John.
Now you can easily read their Wikipedia pages to give you an idea of Johnson’s version of their exploits/adventures. But in a nutshell, the story goes as follows:
Ann met and married a poor young sailor called James Bonny and followed him out to the Bahamas. She then left James for the pirate, Captain John “Calico Jack” Rackam. Onboard Jack’s ship, she fancied another sailor who was eventually revealed to be a woman, Mary Read. The two become friends. Jack’s crew accepted Ann and Mary as their own.
Much to Ann and Mary’s frustration, Jack and most of his crew were too drunk to be particularly successful pirates. They are all eventually captured. Everyone pleads not guilty to piracy charges. When they are all convicted, Ann and Mary both “plead the belly” - meaning they are pregnant – and the judge stays their executions. Mary dies in prison of illness and Ann somehow escapes, disappearing into history. At some point before she goes, she visits the doomed Jack in prison where she famously says:
“I am sorry to see you here, but if you had fought like a man, you need not have been hang’d like a Dog”.
But how much is true and how much is fabricated?
Let’s find out.
Up next: How Johnson portrays Ann and Mary as “Amazon” women