One of the most famous and ferocious female pirates on record is Anne Bonney. Anne was born the illegitimate child of lawyer William Cormac and one of his housemaids, in County Cork, Ireland. When Cormac's infidelity was discovered he set sail for America with his new daughter in tow, settling in South Carolina. There he became a wealthy plantation owner.
At the age of 16, Anne married a smalltime pirate named James Bonney. Bonney was after Anne's wealth, but her father disowned her shortly after her wedding. In retaliation, Anne torched the plantation, burning it to the ground. Anne and her husband set sail for New Providence, and once there, Bonney accepted the pardon offered by then Governor Woodes Rogers. Bonney became a traitor, turning in other pirates. Anne became disgusted with her husband, and turned her intentions instead to Captain Jack Rackham, more commonly known as Calico Jack.
Calico Jack offered to buy Anne from Bonney, but Bonney refused. Instead, Anne was ordered to be publicly flogged and to return to her husband. Instead, Anne and Rackham fled in his ship, the Revenge, where Anne disguised herself as a man and joined the crew. Anne became a violent and talented pirate, who aided in the plunder and the battles of her crew mates. She was soon discovered to be a woman, but no one on board the Revenge seemed to mind. It was well known that Anne was Calico Jack's mistress, but she fought so well that the rest of the crew accepted her readily.
Anne soon discovered that there was another woman disguised as a man onboard the ship. A young pirate had caught her attention, and when she began flirting and making advances, she had no choice but to reveal herself as Mary Read. Rackham learned of Mary's secret as well, but allowed her to stay onboard his ship, as she was also a talented pirate by this time. Accounts about the two female pirates are always reported together, and there are disputes about whether the women were lesbians, transvestites, due to their dressing as men, or simply radical feminists who rejected the social order of the time. It seems clear however that what is not disputed, is their lives as pirates, and by most accounts they were good at being pirates.
In October, 1720, Rackham's crew had been drinking and partying when their ship was boarded by the British Navy. Most of the crewmen headed below deck to hide, but Anne and Mary called to them, asking them to fight like men. When they received no response, Anne and Mary took on the British officers themselves, holding them back for a good amount of time on their own. They also attacked several of their crew mates for being cowards, and even wounded Calico Jack.
The British crew eventually overcame the women, however, and the ship's crew was captured and taken to Jamaica for sentencing. All of the men were found guilty of piracy and hanged, including Rackham. When Anne went to visit her lover one final time before his death, she told him, "Had you fought like a man, you need not have been hanged like a dog."
When Mary and Anne faced their sentencing they were both found guilty, however, since they were both pregnant at the time, they were able to have their executions stayed. Mary is said to have died of a fever while awaiting the birth of her child, while reports about Anne vary. Some say she was eventually pardoned, others simply state that no other record of her exists.