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Ann Bonny, Mary Read and John Rackham
The threesome on trial
As Johnson told the story, Rackam and Bonny got together and she suggested to Rackam that he pay her ‘husband’ (who may or may not have been real) to divorce her. But when the governor Woodes Rogers learned of this, he threatened Bonny with jail and a flogging. Rackam had already decided to return to piracy at this point, so Bonny went with him.
There is no other record of this version of events.
However, it is true that at some point, the couple met Mary Read, who unlike Ann, had spent a good part of her life already passing herself off as a man working on ships.
There is no reliable evidence about the nature of Rackam, Read and Bonny’s relationship with each other either. In more contemporary times, it is often written about as some kind of polyamorous fantasy or secret lesbian love affair but the truth is... nobody really knows.
That Rackam’s small crew, with Bonny and Read aboard, spent several weeks making a nuisance of themselves around the Bahamas is confirmed by a newspaper article and a proclamation from Woodes Rogers in October 1720, ordering the capture of Rackam and his crew. In it, Rogers named the two women explicitly.
By the end of the month, Rackam, Bonny, Read, and his crew were in custody. Only during their trials do we discover an alternate source of information about all three of them.
The trial of John “Calico Jack” Rackam, Ann Bonny and Mary Read
At the present time, the trial record remains the only other source of information on the threesome outside of Johnson’s book. Held in Jamaica about six weeks after their arrest, it is a scant twenty pages and is in no way impartial. The case would probably have been thrown out of court if held today. As trials go, it was based on very weak evidence (mostly hearsay) and like most pirate trials of the time, lasted less than a day. In fact, it was probably only an hour long.
Rackam and his crew were accused of ‘piratically, feloniously, and in a hostile manner,’ attacking, engaging and taking several boats and assaulting the crews. In one case, they stole fish and fishing tackle valued around £10. One witness claimed that John Rackam had identified himself during a raid but it was too dark to for him to see what he looked like.
They all pled not guilty. They had no witnesses to their innocence, they told the court. But they had never committed any Acts of Piracy [because] their design was against the Spaniards... ‘and other such-like frivolous and trifling excuses’, the trial record stated.
Ann and Mary were charged with the same offences but tried separately. Their witnesses all reported seeing them in men’s jackets and trousers, cursing and swearing at the men, carrying weapons, ready and willing to do anything onboard. One noted ‘they did not seem to be kept, or detained by force.’
And that’s about it on them.
There is nothing at all that does much to verify the extensive detail Captain Johnson gave of the two women’s backgrounds or his other assertions of the duo, including Ann’s famous pre-execution visit to Rackam, accusing him of cowardice and telling him he ‘would die like a dog’.
John Rackam and his men were all found guilty of Piracy, Felony and Robbery. They were sentenced to death and executed shortly after ‘some hung on Gibbets in Chains, for a public example, and to terrify others from such-like evil practices.’
Ann and Mary received convictions but a stay of execution on account of pregnancy.
As previous mentioned, Mary died in custody, probably of typhus, and Ann disappeared never to be heard of again.
The legacy of Ann and Mary
Who is to know if young women learning of Ann and Mary’s rejection of imprisonment within the social and economic mores of their time became inspired to do so themselves?
All we know for sure is that the frequent reprinting of their stories captured imagination and challenged the ideology surrounding femininity, domesticity and women’s physical and mental capabilities.