Pirates Mary Read and Anne Bonny — Friends of Coincidence or Destiny?

Rafael Sabatini (1875 –1950) is one of my favorite writers of pirate fiction. Here a famous quote by him regarding coincidence . . .

“Open the history of the past at whatsoever page you will and there you shall find coincidence at work bringing about events that the merest chance might have averted. Indeed, coincidence may be defined as the tool used by Fate to shape the destinies of men and nations.”
― Rafael Sabatini, Captain Blood

Coincidence, irony, triumph and tragedy apply to Mary Read and Anne Bonny who met in unusual circumstances on Pirate Jack Rackham’s ship Revenge,dressed as men.


Contemporaries born in late 1600’s Mary (B.1695, Anne B.1698)

At a young age, were dressed as boys and young men, and became talented fighters, and killers.

Competed with men, loved them, bested them.

Left their families early in life. Deception played a role in each of their early lives. They were outsiders in their own birth families.

Orphan types that charted their own course, with deep desires for close relationships and to belong to a group. They were both just as quick to cut off relationships that didn’t measure up.

Met as pirates aboard Pirate Captain Jack Rackham’s ship.

Their lives as Caribbean Pirates were short.

They both appear in my novel Beyond Beauport.

They pled their bellies as pregnant felons at the Pirate Trial of Jamaica in 1720 and their execution was stayed under English Law.


Mary was born in England, Anne was born in Ireland. The countries had a difficult and complex relationship, to say the least.

Mary’s story is one of history, greatness and tragedy, died at age 26. Ann’ story is triumphant, more legendary.

Ann was born to privilege in a rich family, but the illegitimate child of the household maid. She was long lived to 84.

Mary’s father died before she was born. Raised by her mother, Polly Read, in financial straits. Polly dressed Mary up as a boy (her dead half-brother) as a ruse to get money from her mother in law who did not know of the demise of the brother. Polly rented out Mary as a foot-boy (servant). Mary wasn’t having it and joined the English army in her teens, fought in Holland. She kept her identity as a female secret until falling in love with a Flemish soldier she shared a tent with. They left the army, married and became innkeepers in the Netherlands. But he took sick, died soon after. Penniless again she put on men’s clothes, became a soldier-privateer on board a Dutch ship for the West Indies.

Later taken by Rackham’s pirate crew, she fell in love with the ship’s carpenter. The relationship led to a challenge by a jealous pirate on board. The time of the duel was set, but Mary, challenged the challenger an hour earlier and slayed him. She perhaps felt obligated or believed she was the better fighter and wanted to save her lover.

The following images are believed to represent Mary Read. The first proudly displaying her sex to the slain male pirate.


Mary died of fever in prison at and Anne was ransomed free by her rich father and returned to Charleston. Mere coincidence cannot explain the parallels of Mary and Anne in that junction of time and place. Anne outlived her pirate lover, Captain Jack Rackham, with some help from her rich father’s intervention. Mary only had herself in the end.