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That’s No Lady, That’s A Pirate

When you live along the coast you hear tall tales of pirates. But have you heard the one about the lady pirate from Charleston, South Carolina? That’s right! Not far from Hilton Head Lakes, a young woman named Anne Bonny left Charleston and became a pirate, and a legend.


The legend says that Anne Bonny was born Anne McCormac in Ireland, the illegitimate daughter of a serving woman Mary Brennan and Brennan’s employer William McCormac. Once McCormac’s indiscretion became widely known he packed up Mary and Anne and moved to Charleston, South Carolina.


Anne’s mother died when Anne was just 12 and the child must have been quite the handful as she was known to have a considerably fiery temper. It is said she stabbed a servant girl at the age of 13 with a knife. Nevertheless, she was considered a highly eligible wife and soon her father betrothed her to a local man. Having none of it, Anne ran off to the Bahamas with a poor sailor and small-time pirate named James Bonny. They settled on New Providence Island, known as the Republic of Pirates as it provided sanctuary for English pirates, and Anne was soon swept up in the adventure becoming involved with John ‘Calico Jack’ Rackham.


Anne and Calico Jack began pirating merchant vessels along the coast of Jamaica. Anne fully participated in the pirating life, sailing with Rackham, pillaging and participating in armed conflict. She became referred to as the Lady Pirate. She got so notorious over time that Bahamas Governor Woodes Rogers named her in a ‘Wanted Pirates’ circular published in the continent’s only newspaper, the Boston News-Letter.


Anne, Jack, and another female pirate Mary Read were finally captured in 1720. Captain Jack and the male members of the crew were tried on November 16, 1720 and were sentenced to hang. Anne is said to have visited Jack in prison and is alleged to have told him ‘Had you fought like a man, you need not have been hanged like a dog.” Anne and Mary were tried a week after Jack’s execution but were not executed as they were both pregnant and under English common law and therefore were granted a temporary stay. Mary died in prison from a fever in 1721 but Anne’s fate remains a mystery.


There is no record of her execution, of having died in prison, or her release. The stories vary as to her fate. It is said that her father bought her freedom and she returned to Charleston where she gave birth to Rackham’s child. From there, one story has it that she remarried a man named Joseph Burleigh with whom she had eight children and then died in 1781. Another tale has her living out her days on a small Caribbean island, or perhaps in the south of English telling tales of her adventures. Yet another story has her father marrying her off to a Jamaican official where she changed her name to Annabele had eight children with the man and died at age 88. Whatever the truth, South Carolina can claim the Lady Pirate Anne Bonny as part of the Lowcountry’s rich history.



Legends of America

The Way of Pirates

Encyclopaedia Britannica



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