Mary Read, born in the late 1600s, was a famous pirate and cohort to Anne Bonny. Little is known about her early life. Read’s mother dressed her in men’s clothing, in a ploy to extort money from her paternal grandmother. The woman adored her grandson, and Mary lived off the funds they received throughout her teenage years. Read continued to wear men’s array long after the death of her grandmother, and took the ruse to sea when she found work on a ship.
Read went on to join the British military, and fought alongside the Dutch in the War of the Spanish Succession. While on duty she met and married a Flemish soldier. They opened an inn in the Netherlands, where they remained until her husband’s death. Read returned to wearing men’s clothing, and after another brief stint with the military, boarded a ship for the West Indies.
The ship was taken captive by pirates, who forced Read to join their crew. She took a pardon from the King when the ship was boarded by the royal navy, and for a brief time served as a privateer. This ended in 1720 when she voluntarily joined the crew of pirate Captain Jonathan “Calico Jack” Rackham and his partner Anne Bonny.
Bonny and Read became fast friends. The pair spent so much time together that Rackham thought they were romantically involved. Mary was forced to reveal that she was a woman when Rackham threatened her life. Jack allowed her to remain on the crew, and Read took an active role in the activities of the ship.
In the fall of 1720 Rackham’s ship was captured by Jonathan Barnet off the west coast of Jamaica. Read and Bonny defended the ship while the rest of the crew hid below deck. Barnet’s crew overtook the women, and the crew were imprisoned. Read was charged with piracy and sentenced to death. She received a temporary stay of execution by claiming to be pregnant.
Mary Read died of a fever while in prison. Her burial records state that on April 28, 1721 she was interred at St. Catherine’s Church in Jamaica. Anne and Mary were the only known women convicted of piracy in the 18th century.
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