The story of Mary Read needs no embellishment. Born the illegitimate daughter to a sea captain’s widow, she had an older brother named Mark. When he passed away at a young age, Mary’s mother took to dressing her as a boy and passing her off as Mark in order to collect child support from Mark’s grandmother. The ruse worked and Mary and her mother continued to live with this financial aid well into Mary’s teenage years.
Mary took to dressing and living as a boy like a pirate to plunder, and joined the British military forces fighting against the French. No one suspected she was a woman until she fell in love with a fellow soldier, contriving to let him in on her little secret. She succeeded and they were soon married, and together they took an Inn called The Three Horseshoes.
When her husband died suddenly, Mary returned to military service, but with it now being peacetime military life lacked excitement, nor was there opportunity for advancement and so she left to pursue a life at sea.
Sailing on a Dutch vessel bound for Jamaica, the ship was captured by Caribbean pirates, who thinking Mary as a man, forced her to join their crew, which she did. Mary was a natural pirate, being a great fighter, but in 1718 she accepted an amnesty that was offered to all pirates, and joined the Spanish military. However, the taste for piracy was now in her blood and she soon resumed her life as a pirate, joining the crew of the Revenge under to captaincy of ‘Calico Jack’ Rackham.
On board the Revenge she met fellow female pirate Anne Bonney, but at this stage she was still dressing as a man. It is believed that she eventually revealed herself to be a woman to Anne as Anne had begun to fall for the ‘handsome young pirate’ and this enraged the jealous Calico Jack (Anne’s husband).
Eventually the Revenge was captured by military forces, and though Mary and Anne fought fiercely and put up a strong resistance, the rest of the crew were said to be drunk below decks. Enraged that the crew would not fight beside her, Mary is said to have yelled “If there's a man among ye, ye’ll come up and fight like the man ye are to be!".
Sentenced to hang after her arrest, Mary and Anne both ‘pled their bellies’ and when it was found they were both indeed pregnant their sentences were commuted. Mary is said to have died a short time later in prison, and while not much more is known of Anne, it is believed that her wealthy father paid for her release from jail and she went on to live out her days.
The thing I love about Mary is that she was fierce and uncompromising. She fought alongside men in battle as a man, and no one suspected she was a woman in a time where women were thought of as being weak and inferior, or a possession with very few rights. She used her strength to live a life she chose, not an easy life, but in an age of discrimination a life that must have been a damn sight better than a lot of women in the 18th Century faced. Anne and Mary were also the only women tried for piracy during this time, ensuring their legacy as the most well known female pirates ever to have sailed.