Pirate…Queens?

Happy International Talk Like a Pirate Day!

For fear of giving away a spoiler to Pirate King, I will not go into details of where in the story talk turns to Pirate Queen.  (Which is not to be confused with the Broadway musical of that name.)  However, it is a tantalizing mention, and I thought International Talk Like a Pirate Day gave a good excuse to explore the idea a bit more.  (No spoilers, I promise!)

I recently posted elsewhere about women pirates, and mentioned my interest in two lady pirates found in Daniel Defoe’s A General History of the Pyrates:

Mary Read and Anne Bonny, alias Bonn, which were the true Names of these two Pyrates; the odd Incidents of their rambling Lives are such that some may be tempted to think the whole Story no better than a Novel or Romance.

Both Mary and Anne were born into poverty and had truly disastrous home lives.  Mary Read’s mother, “who was young and airy,” married young and had a son.  Soon thereafter, the husband died, and Mrs Read went to her mother-in-law, who agreed to support the family.  However, soon afterward young Mrs Read  “met with an Accident” (“which has often happened to Women who are young, and do not take a great deal of Care”) that drove her to take her leave of the family and go live with other friends for a few months.  While she was away, the son died, and she gave birth to her Accidental daughter.  So to preserve her Crown-a-Week Maintenance income, Mrs Read simply dressed her daughter in boy’s clothing and presented “him” to the grandmother, who seems not to have noticed that the child was a year or so less developed than he ought to have been.  Perhaps it was a short visit.  At night.

At any event, the grandmother eventually died, the maintenance ceased, and Mrs Read found Mary work, as a foot-boy to a French lady.  After a few years, “growing bold and strong, and having also a roving Mind” Mary first signed on board a Man of War, then moved to a regiment of foot soldiers and saw battle as a cadet, before falling in love with a cavalry officer, following him into danger any number of times before she more or less threw herself at him:

Her Comrade himself could not account for this strange Alteration in her, but Love is ingenious, and as they lay together in the same Tent, and were constantly together, she found a Way of letting him discover her Sex…. He was much surprized at what he found out, and not a little pleased.

I’ll bet.  As Defoe says, “the Story of two Troopers marrying each other, made a great Noise,” but eventually dear Comrade died, so Mary dusted off her men’s clothing and joined another foot regiment for a while, then went to sea, where she was taken by pirates.  She stayed with them until they surrendered to accept a pardon, then lived quietly on dry land until His Majesty asked for volunteers to sail against the Spanish, as privateers.  You won’t be surprised to hear that Mary was one of the first to step forward.

In the meantime, Anne Bonny, born out of wedlock in Ireland, ended up married in the Carolinas, where she met the pirate Rackam.  She set sail with him, dressed in men’s clothing.  Pregnancy interrupted their voyage, but after a few months in Cuba, she rejoined him, only to have her eye caught by none other than Mary Read:

Anne Bonny, who was not altogether so reserved in point of Chastity, took a particular Liking to her; in short, Anne Bonny took her for a handsome young Fellow, and for some Reasons best known to herself, first discovered her Sex to Mary Read; Mary Read knowing what she would be at, and being very sensible of her own Incapacity that Way, was forced to come to a right Understanding with her, and so to the great Disappointment of Anne Bonny, she let her know she was a Woman also; but this Intimacy so disturb’d Captain Rackan, who was the Lover and Gallant of Anne Bonny, that he grew furiously jealous, so that he told Anne Bonny he would cut her new Lover’s Throat.  Therefore, to quiet him, she let him into the Secret also.

But this ménage a trois was not the end of the story, by any means.  Mary became smitten with another young sailor, to whom “she suffered the Discovery to be made, by carelessly shewing her Breasts, which were very white.”  Not surprisingly, “the young Fellow, who was made of Flesh and Blood, had his Curiosity and Desire” raised.  Curiosity and Desire clearly ran both ways, because shortly after, when the Fellow challenged another sailor to a duel, it was Mary who showed up, two hours early, and killed the challenger.

Mary and Anne were both eventually captured, although both executions were delayed by conveniently timed pregnancies.  Mary died in prison, Anne had a series of reprieves and disappears from history, but it was Mary’s shipboard conversation with Captain Rackam (before he knew who, or rather what, she was) that condemned her:  “Were it not for hanging,” she’d said, “every cowardly fellow would turn Pyrate, and so infest the Seas, that Men of Courage must starve.”

Or indeed, women.

And just to titillate you as to possibilities, here’s a clip from the 1951 film, “Anne of the Indies”:


Quotes from Defoe’s A General History of The Pyrates, edited by Manuel Schonhorn.

Excerpts and entertainments to do with the world of Laurie ARrrgh! King are here. Pirate Queen has yet to be discussed with Laurie’s editor, but if you’d like a signed copy of Pirate King, there may still be some here.

Comments

  1. The Defoe quotes are pricless. Thank you for sharing them, Laurie.

  2. Meredith T. says:

    I never knew about these ladies, and it’s worth tracking down more about them. Love the overblown Fifties movie trailers like that. If Anne Bonny had sense enough to chase after Louis Jourdan (looking sooooo young) she obviously had good taste! //Meredith

  3. Bill Gibbs says:

    Loved all the Mary Russel books until Pirate King. Mary is a strong enough character to stand on her own. The absence of Holmes didn’t bother me. But the slapstick did. The absence of a coherent and believable plot does Mary a disservice. This book is the kind of whimsy an author ought to confine to her private journals and not inflict on her trusting readers. Being a retired senior citizen I always wait a year and buy my books used in paperback, online. I looked forward so much to a new Russel book that I sprang for the hardback at its release date. Never again will I risk it, even for a series I loved as I have the Russel books.
    Thanks for all the good books I enjoyed them. Sorry for the ditribe, but you disappointed me.

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