Buccaneers and Pirates of our Coasts - F. R. Stockton

The Story Of Two Women Pirates

The history of the world gives us many instances of women who have taken the parts of men, almost always acquitting themselves with as much credit as if they had really belonged to the male sex, and, in our modern days, these instances are becoming more frequent than ever before. Joan of Arc put on a suit of armor and bravely led an army, and there have been many other fighting women who made a reputation for themselves; but it is very seldom that we hear of a woman who became a pirate. There were, however, two women pirates who made themselves very well known on our coast.

The most famous of these women pirates was named Mary Reed. Her father was an English captain of a trading vessel, and her mother sailed with him. This mother had had an elder child, a son, and she also had a mother-in-law in England from whom she expected great things for her little boy. But the boy died, and Mrs. Reed, being afraid that her mother-in-law would not be willing to leave any property to a girl, determined to play a little trick, and make believe that her second child was also a boy.

Consequently, as soon as the little girl, who, from her birth had been called Mary by her father and mother, was old enough to leave off baby clothes, she put on boy's clothes, and when the family returned to England a nice little boy appeared before his grandmother; but all this deception amounted to nothing, for the old lady died without leaving anything to the pretended boy. Mary's mother believed that her child would get along better in the world as a boy than she would as a girl, and therefore she still dressed her in masculine clothes, and put her out to service as a foot-boy, or one of those youngsters who now go by the name of "Buttons."

But Mary did not fancy blacking boots and running errands. She was very well satisfied to be a boy, but she wanted to live the kind of a boy's life which would please her fancy, and as she thought life on the ocean wave would suit her very well, she ran away from her employer's house and enlisted on board a man-of-war as a powder monkey.

After a short time, Mary found that the ocean was not all that she expected it to be, and when she had grown up so that she looked like a good strapping fellow, she ran away from the man-of-war when it was in an English port, and went to Flanders, and there she thought she would try something new, and see whether or not she would like a soldier's life better than that of a sailor. She enlisted in a regiment of foot, and in the course of time she became a very good soldier and took part in several battles, firing her musket and charging with her bayonet as well as any of the men beside her.

But there is a great deal of hard work connected with infantry service, and although she was eager for the excitement of battle with the exhilarating smell of powder and the cheering shouts of her fellow-soldiers, Mary did not fancy tramping on long marches, carrying her heavy musket and knapsack. She got herself changed into a regiment of cavalry, and here, mounted upon a horse, with the encumbrances she disliked to carry comfortably strapped behind her, Mary felt much more at ease, and much better satisfied. But she was not destined to achieve fame as a dashing cavalry man with foaming steed and flashing sabre. One of her comrades was a very prepossessing young fellow, and Mary fell in love with him, and when she told him she was not really a cavalry man but a cavalry woman, he returned her affection, and the two agreed that they would quit the army, and set up domestic life as quiet civilians. They were married, and went into the tavern-keeping business. They were both fond of horses, and did not wish to sever all connection with the method of life they had just given up, and so they called their little inn the Three Horse Shoes, and were always glad when any one of their customers came riding up to their stables, instead of simply walking in their door.

But this domestic life did not last very long. Mary's husband died, and, not wishing to keep a tavern by herself, she again put on the dress of a man and enlisted as a soldier. But her military experience did not satisfy her, and after all she believed that she liked the sea better than the land, and again she shipped as a sailor on a vessel bound for the West Indies.

Now Mary's desire for change and variety seemed likely to be fully satisfied. The ship was taken by English pirates, and as she was English and looked as if she would make a good freebooter, they compelled her to join them, and thus it was that she got her first idea of a pirate's life. When this company disbanded, she went to New Providence and enlisted on a privateer, but, as was very common on such vessels commissioned to perform acts of legal piracy, the crew soon determined that illegal piracy was much preferable, so they hoisted the black flag, and began to scourge the seas.

Mary Reed was now a regular pirate, with a cutlass, pistol, and every outward appearance of a daring sea-robber, except that she wore no bristling beard, but as her face was sunburned and seamed by the weather, she looked mannish enough to frighten the senses out of any unfortunate trader on whose deck she bounded in company with her shouting, hairy-faced companions. It is told of her that she did not fancy the life of a pirate, but she seemed to believe in the principle of whatever is worth doing is worth doing well; she was as ready with her cutlass and her pistol as any other ocean bandit.

But although Mary was a daring pirate, she was also a woman, and again she fell in love. A very pleasant and agreeable sailor was taken prisoner by the crew of her ship, and Mary concluded that she would take him as her portion of the spoils. Consequently, at the first port they touched she became again a woman and married him, and as they had no other present method of livelihood he remained with her on her ship. Mary and her husband had no real love for a pirate's life, and they determined to give it up as soon as possible, but the chance to do so did not arrive. Mary had a very high regard for her new husband, who was a quiet, amiable man, and not at all suited to his present life, and as he had become a pirate for the love of her, she did everything she could to make life easy for him.

She even went so far as to fight a duel in his place, one of the crew having insulted him, probably thinking him a milksop who would not resent an affront. But the latent courage of Mary's husband instantly blazed up, and he challenged the insulter to a duel. Although Mary thought her husband was brave enough to fight anybody, she thought that perhaps, in some ways, he was a milksop and did not understand the use of arms nearly as well as she did. Therefore, she made him stay on board the ship while she went to a little island near where they were anchored and fought the duel with sword and pistol. The man pirate and the woman pirate now went savagely to work, and it was not long before the man pirate lay dead upon the sand, while Mary returned to an admiring crew and a grateful husband.

During her piratical career Mary fell in with another woman pirate, Anne Bonny, by name, and these women, being perhaps the only two of their kind, became close friends. Anne came of a good family. She was the daughter of an Irish lawyer, who went to Carolina and became a planter, and there the little girl grew up. When her mother died she kept the house, but her disposition was very much more masculine than feminine. She was very quick-tempered and easily enraged, and it is told of her that when an Englishwoman, who was working as a servant in her father's house, had irritated Anne by some carelessness or impertinence, that hot-tempered young woman sprang upon her and stabbed her with a carving-knife.

It is not surprising that Anne soon showed a dislike for the humdrum life on a plantation, and meeting with a young sailor, who owned nothing in the world but the becoming clothes he wore, she married him. Thereupon her father, who seems to have been as hot-headed as his daughter, promptly turned her out of doors. The fiery Anne was glad enough to adopt her husband's life, and she went to sea with him, sailing to New Providence. There she was thrown into an entirely new circle of society. Pirates were in the habit of congregating at this place, and Anne was greatly delighted with the company of these daring, dashing sea-robbers, of whose exploits she had so often heard. The more she associated with the pirates, the less she cared for the plain, stupid sailors, who were content with the merchant service, and she finally deserted her husband and married a Captain Rackham, one of the most attractive and dashing pirates of the day.

Anne went on board the ship of her pirate husband, and as she was sure his profession would exactly suit her wild and impetuous nature, she determined also to become a pirate. She put on man's clothes, girded to her side a cutlass, and hung pistols in her belt. During many voyages Anne sailed with Captain Rackham, and wherever there was pirate's work to do, she was on deck to do it. At last the gallant captain came to grief. He was captured and condemned to death. Now there was an opportunity for Anne's nature to assert itself, and it did, but it was a very different sort of nature from that of Mary Reed. Just before his execution Anne was admitted to see her husband, but instead of offering to do anything that might comfort him or palliate his dreadful misfortune, she simply stood and contemptuously glared at him. She was sorry, she said, to see him in such a predicament, but she told him plainly that if he had had the courage to fight like a man, he would not then be waiting to be hung like a dog, and with that she walked away and left him.

On the occasion when Captain Rackham had been captured, Mary Reed and her husband were on board his ship, and there was, perhaps, some reason for Anne's denunciation of the cowardice of Captain Rackham. As has been said, the two women were good friends and great fighters, and when they found the vessel engaged in a fight with a man-of-war, they stood together upon the deck and boldly fought, although the rest of the crew, and even the captain himself, were so discouraged by the heavy fire which was brought to bear on them, that they had retreated to the hold.

Mary and Anne were so disgusted at this exhibition of cowardice, that they rushed to the hatchways and shouted to their dastardly companions to come up and help defend the ship, and when their entreaties were disregarded they were so enraged that they fired down into the hold, killing one of the frightened pirates and wounding several others. But their ship was taken, and Mary and Anne, in company with all the pirates who had been left alive, were put in irons and carried to England.

When she was in prison, Mary declared that she and her husband had firmly intended to give up piracy and become private citizens. But when she was put on trial, the accounts of her deeds had a great deal more effect than her words upon her judges, and she was condemned to be executed. She was saved, however, from this fate by a fever of which she died soon after her conviction.

The impetuous Anne was also condemned, but the course of justice is often very curious and difficult to understand, and this hard-hearted and sanguinary woman was reprieved and finally pardoned. Whether or not she continued to disport herself as a man we do not know, but it is certain that she was the last of the female pirates.

There are a great many things which women can do as well as men, and there are many professions and lines of work from which they have been long debarred, and for which they are most admirably adapted, but it seems to me that piracy is not one of them. It is said that a woman's nature is apt to carry her too far, and I have never heard of any man pirate who would allow himself to become so enraged against the cowardice of his companions that he would deliberately fire down into the hold of a vessel containing his wife and a crowd of his former associates.