Anne Bonny was born March 8, 1700, in County Cork, Ireland, the illegitimate daughter of a prominent lawyer and his wife’s maid. The ensuing scandal forced him to flee Ireland with his lover and daughter in disgrace, but the little family found refuge in the Carolinas. There Cormac amassed a fortune and bought a large plantation.
When Anne was sixteen, a ne’er-do-well sailor named James Bonny married Anne in an attempt to steal the plantation, but Anne’s father instead disowned her. Bonny then took Anne to the pirate lair of New Providence in the Bahamas, where he turned stoolpigeon to Governor Woodes Rogers, accusing any sailor he didn’t like of piracy for a handsome reward.
Anne grew to dislike her spineless husband and spent most of her time with the pirate elite. Her best friends consisted of the pirates’ paramours and of Pierre, the most celebrated homosexual on the island, who ran a popular ladies’ establishment— and with whom Anne had a teasing rivalry for the favours of the male population.
Anne first managed to capture the attentions of Chidley Bayard, one of the richest men in the Carribean— although in order to keep him she had to duel his current lover, a violent Spanish beauty named Maria Reynaldi, who, it was rumoured, had once decapitated a child who had inadvertantly dirtied her skirts, in a fight to the death. It was rumoured that in her youth, Anne had killed a servant woman with a carving knife because the servant made her mad. However, one story suggests that the servant attacked Anne, who was forced to defend herself. She enjoyed spending his money, and travelled with him everywhere— until, at a ball, she met up with the spiteful sister-in-law of Governor Lawes of Jamaica. When the woman, after asking Anne catty questions about her position in Bayard’s life, rudely told Anne that she didn’t consider Anne worth knowing and to keep her distance. Anne cheerfully told her she’d make sure there was quite a bit of distance between them— and promptly punched the woman in the mouth, knocking out two of her teeth in the process.
Anne was nearly hauled off to jail, but Bayard’s great power managed to keep her free. However, he could no longer take her with him on his business trips, and so his use for her diminished.
With Bayard away for much of the time, Anne tired of him before long, and quickly caught the eye of one Calico Jack Rackham, a pirate of some renown. Governor Rogers had recently passed an amnesty for pirates which left Bonny out of work. The attraction between Anne and Jack was mutual. Calico Jack was a handsome rogue who knew how to spend money as well as steal it. Anne was a well-endowed lass with a fiery spirit and a temper to match.
Many of the ex-pirates were getting bored with the humdrum life on shore, and Jack was no different. He decided to go back to sea with another pirate, Captain Charles Vane, but when he announced his plans to Anne, she refused to stay ashore and wait for him. She would go a-pirating, too. And so they began a life of piracy together.
Anne often wore men’s clothing, and was an expert with pistol and rapier, proving herself to be as dangerous as any male pirate. Fearless in battle, she was often a member of the boarding party when a prize was about to be taken.
Not long after they went to sea, Anne discovered she was pregnant. At first dismayed at the prospect of becoming a mother, she pleaded with Jack to keep the secret, and stayed on the ship until her condition became obvious, at which time she went ashore for the remainder of her pregnancy.
By the time she went ashore, Anne looked forward to the baby’s arrival, even hoping that she might have a girl, a sign that perhaps she was ready to settle down. But the baby, a girl just as Anne had hoped, was born two months premature, and died within an hour of her birth.
Anne was devastated. She wept bitter tears, convinced that she had caused the death of her tiny daughter. To her, life had lost its flavor. When Jack came back to retrieve his lady, he was shocked at her condition, and took her back to New Providence to recover. The amnesty had been extended for another year, and Jack intended to take advantage of it.
Shortly after their return, Anne learned through her old friend Pierre of a plot to kill Governor Rogers, and relayed the information to the governor, saving his life. Governor Rogers was naturally extremely grateful. But Anne’s husband, James, who was still on the island, was determined to get even with Anne and Jack for openly flaunting their affair under his nose. He had them arrested in the middle of the night and brought before Governor Rogers as quickly as the soldiers could drag the lovers. Jack offered to buy Anne from Bonny, but Bonny, knowing his wife’s temper, refused, saying, “She’ll kill me if she’s set free!” Dryly Governor Rogers asked, “Then she’ll hang for murder. Are you so afraid of her, then?” The answer was obvious to all.
Governor Rogers, remembering the favor Anne had done him recently, waived the standard punishment for the crime— temporarily. He said that unless Jack could persuade Bonny to a divorce-by-sale, the pair must give up their consorting, or Anne was to be flogged— by Jack himself—and returned to her husband. Anne was furious that anyone could even consider selling her like an animal. Refusing to be dictated to, Jack and Anne slipped out to the harbour the next night, stole a sloop and took up pirating again.
In October of 1720, retribution was close at hand. Governor Lawes of Jamaica, hearing of Jack’s presence, sent an armed sloop to intervene and capture the Captain and crew. Jack and Anne were aboard the Providence, a sloop newly-captured by Mary Read, another female pirate. Having just captured a fishing boat the day before, the pirates were making merry with the fishermen’s rum. The Providence was caught by surprise, the male pirates being drunk at the time, and much to Anne’s dismay, instead of fighting, the men hid in the hold and were taken far too easily. Anne and Mary Read were also captured, but confessed their true gender. At their trial, when asked if they had any words to say before they were sentenced, Anne spoke up for both of them: “We plead our bellies, sir!” Both women were pregnant at the time. They received separate trials from the men, but were sentenced to hang after the birth of their babies. When Calico Jack, who at his trial had pleaded for mercy on behalf of the women, was granted a special favor to see Anne on the day he was to hang, Anne’s words to him were, “I’m sorry, Jack. But if you had fought like a man, you would not now be about to die like a dog. Do straighten yourself up!”
Mary Read escaped the hangman by dying from fever while in jail, her unborn babe dying with her.
Anne, however, received several stays of execution before mysteriously vanishing from official records. The most common story is that her father, who had contacts in the island, forgave his daughter for her acts and ransomed her back to the Carolinas, where she assumed a new name and a new life. She was twenty years old.
However, according to the book Mistress of the Seas, by John Carlova, Anne, whose unborn child was fathered not by Jack but by a Dr. Michael Radcliffe, a man whose life Anne had saved and who dearly loved her and vowed to save her from the hangman’s noose, was granted a pardon by Governor Lawes on the condition that she leave the West Indies and never return. (Rumour also had it that another pirate, a Captain Roberts, sent a letter to Governor Lawes, “telling him to let Anne Bonny go or feel the thunder of his pirate guns from Port Royal to Kingston and back again.”) She and Michael were then married (Anne was now a widow, her previous husband, James Bonny, who had become a turtler, having drowned in a hurricane in the Bahamas), and two days later they boarded a trading sloop bound for Norfolk, Virginia. There they were known to have joined a party of pioneers heading westward… and there is where Anne’s known trail ends.