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Pirate Women: The Fierce Females of the High Seas

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Pirate Women: The Fierce Females of the High Seas

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Tall tales of pirate adventures are saturated with the men whose names live on through the ages. Black Bart, Blackbeard, Captain Kidd: names synonymous with plundering shenanigans. Aboard a ship, pirates of the high seas knew no gender. Pirate women stood toe to toe with men, pilfering villages and striking terror into hapless merchant crews. From Anne Bonny to Mary Read, these are the pirate queens that ruled the seas during the heyday of pirating.

Anne Bonny: Queen of Ferocity

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Anne Bonny began life pretending to be a boy. As the illegitimate daughter of a wealthy Irish lawyer, she played her part. That is, to remain out of the picture. Her father dressed her as a boy to pose as his law clerk. Later, Bonny shipped off to America in search of a life more suited to her need for adventure. There, she married a sailor, and soon thereafter the pair moved to the Bahamas.

Bonny, rejecting the life of quiet complacency, ditched her beau immediately upon meeting one of the Caribbean’s most infamous pirates, “Calico” Jack Rackam. Bonny fell in love with the life of a pirate and let her freak flag fly alongside her pirate flag. She developed a reputation for having a short and violent temper, one which saw her nearly kill a man for attempting to assault her.

Perhaps in an attempt to make up for lost time, Bonny downed as much rum as any of her peers and took up the cutlass and pistol. She soon became one of the most famous female pirates to sail under the skull and crossbones. Bonny soon met her partner in crime, a fellow female pirate with whom she would become synonymous in historical takes: Mary Read.

Mary Read: Born to Plunder

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Like Bonny, Mary Read spent some time in her youth pretending to be a boy. Only, instead of doing so to maintain a reputation, Read did so to aid in a scam. Read’s mother dressed her up as a boy, passing her off as her half-brother – who died many years prior – to scam the boy’s grandmother. She would continue to pass herself off as a man long after her youth. As Mark Read, she became a soldier and a merchant sailor.

In the late 1710s, while working a legitimate job as a merchant sailor, the ship she worked on was attacked by buccaneers. Rather than fight them, she joined the crew and the rest is history. Soon thereafter, she met “Calico” Jack Rackam and would become one of the most famous female pirates. After Anne Bonny joined the crew, she revealed herself to be a woman and the pair of pirate women led a fruitful, if not short, career in piracy.

Some time in the 1720s, while working with Calico Jack, the crew was attacked by pirate hunters. Bonny and Read proved their toughness and resolve by facing the attackers head-on, challenging their male crew members to join them in the battle. The pirates were captured all the same. Read avoided execution by claiming to be pregnant, though this only delayed her death for a short period of time. While in prison, she fell ill and passed away.

Grace O’Malley: Pirate Queen of the Seas

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While most pirate women served under a male captain, Grace O’Malley led her own female pirate crew. In her prime, O’Malley commanded a fleet of twenty vessels and wreaked havoc on the Irish coast in the 16th century.

Long before the Golden Age of Piracy (1650-1730), O’Malley lorded over a crew on the western coast of Ireland. There, she commanded pirate activities and became a genuine thorn in the side of the British Monarchy. As the heir to the outfit, O’Malley began her reign in the 1560s. Upon taking control, she ramped up the pirate activities and became one of the most infamous pirate women of all time.

Her strength was only matched by the fear she instilled in her enemies. One such tale of her triumphs includes leading a siege a day after giving birth and repelling an attack on her stronghold by the King’s army. She was captured at least once – spending 18 months behind bars. Toward the end of her reign, she appealed to Queen Elizabeth I.

Putting on the visage of an old, feeble woman, O’Malley portrayed herself as a helpless, elderly lady in need of her ships back to make an honest living. She promised to give up the life of piracy in return. The ruse worked and her ships were freed, though O’Malley’s pirating ways weren’t lost. Rather, there is evidence to suggest that she continued her criminal activities until her death in 1603.

Rachel Wall: All-American Pirate

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Unlike the women who came before her, Wall is said to have been the only native American to try her hand at the pirate game. Born in Pennsylvania, Wall fell into a life of crime with her husband, George. The pair bought a boat and preyed on would-be rescuers off the coast of New England.

After a storm passed, the pair would dress up their boat as if it had been ravaged by the storm and Wall would act the role of a helpless woman stuck aboard. When the unsuspecting ship drew near, George and crew would board the vessel and murder everyone on board, taking whatever goods they had as treasure.

Like most pirates, Wall’s luck ran out when a storm actually wrecked their ship, killing George. Wall turned to crime onshore and was later arrested for her evil deeds. Among the many legends credited to her name, one is true: she became the last woman ever executed in Massachusetts, hanged to death in 1789 in Boston.

An Equal Opportunity Profession

Piracy sets no boundaries on sex. Anyone willing to pick up a cutlass and use ruthless aggression to procure treasure is welcome aboard a pirate’s ship. So, were there female pirates? Of course – and they were just as scary as the men, if not more so!

Meet some fearsome pirate women aboard the Royal Conquest – who are decidedly much friendlier than the likes of Anne Bonny and Mary Read. Tours depart daily from John’s Pass at Madeira Beach, St. Petersburg. For more information, visit

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