In honor of Talk Like A Pirate Day here is a list of some of the most notorious women pirates ever to sail the seven seas.
One of the most infamous pirates of all time, Ching Shih terrorized the China Sea in the early 19th century. She was captured by pirates while she was working as a prostitute and ended up marrying pirate Zheng Yi. Together the pirate couple ruled a fleet of over 300 ships and plundered the coastal villages of south China.
After her husband died, Ching Shih became the leader of the Red Flag Fleet. He fleet grew to be as larger as other nation’s navies and she caused terror all over southeast Asia. When the British and Portuguese navies were brought in by the Chinese government to help put a stop to Ching Shih, instead of attempting to fight them off she surrendered and negotiated a deal. Ching Shih would no longer plunder the seas as long as she got to keep her riches, and that is how she retired as one of the most successful pirates of all time.
Lady Killigrew and her husband controlled shipping in Cornwall. They used their position and lofty estate to acquire and store stolen goods in the home, Arwenack House. Lady Killigrew buried their treasure in her gardens and while it is unlikely she ever went on a raid herself after her husband died she took control of managing their pirates.
In 1582 a Spanish ship, Marie of San Sebastian, was docked across Arwenack House. Believing that there was treasure aboard the ship Lady Killigrew ordered her pirate to raid the vessel. After the raid, she was arrested for reselling stolen goods and sentenced to death. Lady Killigrew later received a pardon from Queen Elizabeth I.
After the death of her husband in 1515, Sayyida al-Hurra became the governor of Tetouan and turned to piracy. She ruled the western Mediterranean Sea from 1515-1542, while the infamous Barbarossa ruled the eastern half. She terrorized the Portuguese and Spanish and became a key negotiator whenever either nation sought to free captives held by the pirates.
In 1542 her son in law overthrew her and she was stripped of her property, riches and her final fate remains unknown.
Her father disowned Anne after she ran away to marry a penniless sailor by the name of James Bonny. Anne, dressed as a man, and her new husband run away to seek opportunity in the Caribbean. The romance though did not last and not long after the couple arrived in the Caribbean Anne abandoned her husband once she met Calico Jack. Jack, as captain of his own pirate ship, was a more impressive company to be around compared to the broke sailor she married. Bonny and Jack lived together as husband and wife aboard Jack’s pirate ship until they were captured by the British government.
Anne Bonny’s life of piracy was closely intertwined with the life of another notorious women pirate, Mary Read.
Mary Read chose to live a life at sea in order to escape a life of poverty. Mary escaped her impoverished life in England and ran away from her home in her mid teens. She joined the army, going by the alias Mark, where she fought with the infantry and cavalry in Flanders. While serving in the army, Mary met a fellow soldier, fell in love and married. Their marriage though did not last long as Read’s husband shortly died after their wedding. With her husband dead Read abandoned the army and found her way on a Dutch privateer ship that was sailing to the West Indies. Along the journey, the ship was captured and thus began Mary’s life as a pirate and a member of Captain Jack Rackam’s (more famously known as Calico Jack) crew.
Mary found love again on the seas with a member of Calico Jack’s crew. One of the memorable moments of Mary’s life as a pirate was when her lover was challenged to a duel. Read feared for her lover’s life when she found out that he was challenged to a duel so Read decided to save his life by challenging the lover’s opponent to a duel a few hours ahead of the first duel. Read came armed with sword and pistol, and won, thus saving the life of her male companion.
The pirate hunter Jonathan Barnet captured Rackam’s ship while Rackam was anchored in Jamaica in 1720. Calico Jack and his crew hid below the decks while Read and Bonny attempted to fight off their capturers. Read and Bonny failed, though, and the pirates of Rackam’s crew were put on a large show trial in Jamaica.
The verdict of the trial resulted in the death of Rackam and all the male members of his crew. Bonny would bitingly proclaim upon hearing that her pirate husband would be executed that she was sorry to see him go but if “ [Rackam] had fought like a man, he need not have been hanged like a dog.” Rackam and his crew were hanged in Port Royal, Jamaica and then Rackam (and two others) were used as a warning for other pirates that sailed by the Island as his body was gibbeted on display at an entrance to Port Royal known today as Rackam’s Cay.
Read and Bonny received a different fate than the rest of their fellow pirates. When the judge went to sentence the two women to death, they both “pleaded their bellies” in order to save their lives. It was law in Britain not to execute a pregnant woman until they had given birth to their baby because their child would be considered innocent. Read and Bonny was thus imprisoned in Jamaica once it was proven that they were, in fact, pregnant. The act of pleading their bellies, unfortunately, did not save their lives. Mary Read is said to have died of a fever in prison. The cause of the fever is unknown but it was either caused by childbirth or typhoid, no one knows for sure. Anne Bonny’s fate is even more of a mystery. There is no record of her being executed like her husband; she seems to have disappeared from the record completely and there is no mention of her giving birth either.
Of course, there are many other famous women pirates from history. Do you have a favorite that is not on the list? Let us know in the comments or tweet us at @WMofC