This Day in History (November 28, 1720)

The number of women venturing to sea was surprisingly high: as servants or prostitutes, as laundresses or cooks, and occasionally, as sailors, merchants, or pirates. Anne Bonny and Mary Read were among the most famous of that final group, particularly after "Captain Charles Johnson's" mythical portrayals in A General History of the Pyrates (1724). The two were dressed as boys from an early age; for Bonny as she was hidden from her mother, and for Read to maintain an inheritance and later to gain work as a sailor/soldier. Similar stories are told in Handsome Cabin Boy, and of a female Captain in The Female Warrior.

As for their crimes, Bonny and Read found themselves on board Calico Jack Rackham's ship. The crew terrorized the waters around Jamaica for a short reign until a sloop commissioned by the Governor brought the pirates to justice. The trio was specifically identified in the stealing of seven fishing boats, three merchant sloops, and a schooner, as well as the robbery of a canoe. Rackham was quickly tried and hanged, and the fate of the two women was to be the same until they revealed they were each with child (an act common enough to be termed "pleading the belly"). Clemency was granted and while Read died within months of fever, Bonny appears to have quietly lived out her days. Full details of the trials can be found in the UK's National Archives.

This Day in History (November 20, 1882)

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