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Pirates Culture > Women in Piracy

Women in Piracy


Anne Bonny and Mary Read - A General History of Pyrates (1724)

Anne Bonny & Mary Read - A General History of Pyrates (1724)

Women were not generally allowed in piracy, however there are a few exceptions to the rule. Two of the most notorious and Pirates, Anne Bonny and Mary Read were women and served upon 'Calico' Jack Rackham ship.

This was not the norm in pirate culture however, as on the pirate Bartholomew Roberts ship, bringing a women aboard was grounds for death or expulsion from the ship.

Often women served as prostitutes, bartenders or worked in the many inns and taverns in the Locations. In fact, as the story goes the provisional governor actually imported nearly 1650 prostitutes to Tortuga during the buccaneering era in order to appease the pirates that were defending the island.

More often than not, women were actually forced to pick up the jobs left by the men as they went off sailing in search of better futures in the Caribbean. This often meant they stayed at home in England and had jobs in manufacturing, retail and trade. Sometimes these women would move to the Caribbean with their sailor husbands and open an alehouse or tavern and be directly involved in the pirate affairs.

Women would also aid in the buying and smuggling of pirate goods and had a considerable amount of freedom in operating in the markets of the Caribbean.

On the third, final, and most intimate level of interaction, women interacted with male pirates by becoming pirates themselves. This seems surprising for quite a few reasons. First, there are very few female pirates documented by name, and the information on them is often shady and filled with speculation and flourishes rather than facts. In addition to this, pirates did not let women on their ships very often. There were not many conveniences of technology on pirate ships, and not many women were up to the physically demanding tasks the crew had to do. In fact, there were not many men who were up to it, either. Women were also often regarded as bad luck among pirates, and it was feared that arguments would break out between the male members of the crew about them. On many ships, women, young boys, and even different acts such as gambling were prohibited by the ship's contract that the crew all signed.[7] Also, many women on pirate ships did not identify themselves as such. Anne Bonny, for example, dressed and acted as a man while on Captain Calico Jack's ship.[7] She and Mary Read, another female pirate, are often credited with this act as if they had been creative and innovative in their cross-dressing. However, that was not the case. Many women dressed as men during this time period, in an effort to take advantage of the many rights, privileges, and freedoms that were exclusive to men.Female pirates of this time also had a very unique appearance. In modern media female pirates are often shown to be dressed in the same fashion as their male counterparts. While true, there are also at least a half dozen first hand accounts, collected from port authorities as well as pirating victims, describing a style that was unique to their gender. One trend that was especially popular among female pirates of the South American Pacific coast and Caribbean was incorporating common sailing equipment such as fishing nets, jackstays, trunnels, chocks and cordage into their clothingSuperstitions surrounding women on ships were rampant.[4]:28, 29 Being on board a pirate ship demanded "physical strength and stamina". A small group of women were able to do the work to the standard, but they were an insignificant number. It was widely believed aboard ships that women were detrimental to both work and social order. Women were "objects of fantasy," yet they were also seen as cause of poor circumstances, disagreement, and "potential breaches in the male order of seagoing solidarity."[1]:110–111A rare occurrence in which a woman was persuaded to board a pirate ship comes from the story of Captain Eric Cobham and a prostitute named Maria. Even though the ship's articles stated boys and women were not permitted on the ship, Cobham faced no repercussions from the crew when he brought her aboard. While on the ship, Maria proved that she was "as callous as the worst of them." Maria's actions made Cobham "more nervous than ever," so much so that she effectively scared him from pirating.[36] :110, 111Anne Bonny, after meeting "Calico Jack" Rackham, came aboard his ship and gave him the necessary votes he needed to be elected captain. Anne was then elected "second-in-command," but she became the true leader of the ship and even took the captain's residence away from Calico. As a leader, Anne designed her attacks with "cunning and fantasy" which allowed her to escape unharmed from possible battles through duplicity and "a good measure of theater." [37]:192–199Mary Read was less rash and spontaneous than her counterpart, Bonny. Read was also admired for "her virtue and sense of justice." Both Read and Bonny dressed as women aboard the ship but would change into trousers for battle. These women were accepted by the crew due to their management ability, navigational skills, and by their continued perseverance to outperform the rest of the crew."[37]:206, 192, 206–207 Bonny and Read were independently established as fierce, swashbuckling women, and were defined as genuine pirates in every sense. Nonetheless, women as pirates were virtually nonexistent.

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