Guest Author - Nicola Jane Soen
One of the most notorious pirates ever to sail the seas was actually a woman. Mary Read. Born in London, Mary was illegitimate. Her Father was a sea captain and this is possibly where her love of the sea came from. But happiness with her father was short lived. He died and her mother decided to dress Mary as a male to claim money. She did this because Mary’s Brother was the legitimate heir, but she wanted to claim the money; so she disguised Mary as a boy.
This worked for a number of years. When she was a teenager Mary went to sea, still disguised as a boy. She joined the Military and served very well until she fell in love with a fellow Sailor. They decided to leave the life of the sea and. With the money from his military service brought a public house, called The three horseshoes. At this period of her life Mary dressed and lived openly as a woman. She and her husband were very happy together. But as before, Mary’s happiness was doomed not to last. Her husband died.
Bereft, Mary once again went to sea. However she did not go back to military service. She joined a pirate ship. Eventually the ship she was on was captured by two more of the most notorious pirates on the seven seas. Calico Jack, called because of the bright cotton trousers he loved to wear; and another, Ann Bonny. Another woman and the pirate lover of Captain Jack Calico.
Mary was seem to be a good sailor, brave and resourceful and was accepted as part of the crew by Jack. But her secret was still intact. No one knew she was a woman. She and Ann Bonny became close friends, which eventually, inevitably led to Mary’s secret coming out.
This was not a bad thing as when it did she fell in love with one of the crew and married again. But as before, Mary’s life was not to end happily.
Possibly because they had had so much success on the sea with piracy, their end was predictable. They became lax, spending much time in pleasurable pursuits, rather then leaving and settling down in safety. In the October of 1720 a bounty hunter called Captain Barnet not only tracked them down, but due to the drunkenness of the crew, raided the ship and captured them all. Ann and Jane did try to fight, but they were out numbered.
Calico Jack and his crew were all found guilty of piracy and sentenced to hang. Ann and Mary pleaded that they were both expecting babies (called ‘pleading the belly’) and won a stay of execution. Mary died in prison in 1721. Is not known of what cause, but possibly either of fever relating to childbirth or of childbirth.
Her life had been short, hard and full of disappointments, but she faced them bravely, even the possibility of hanging. Although she was a pirate, life for women was hard, and Mary died as she had lived, with courage. She was truly a pioneer of the independent spirit of women, long before women gained true freedom in law.