Female Pirates

Old Ironsides
Picture Source: US Navy

Pirates of the 17th, 18th and 19th century have always been a fascinating subject. Most people, when they hear the term pirate, think of a hairy, barrel chested man in a floppy hat or bandana with an earring in one ear holding a cutlass in one hand and a pistol in the other and getting ready to board a ship and steal its treasure. While this may have been true for some some pirates, it certainly wasn't a true description of all. Just let me say, for this discussion we are also talking about privateers who were really pirates with the permission of the government. Getting back to pirates and their descriptions, not all pirates were even men. Here is a short list of women pirates and the dates when they started to ply their trade. This list is only of western pirates, there were far more women pirates if we include asian pirates and ancient pirates.

Sarah Bishop 1778
Ann Bonny early 1700s
Flora Burn 1741
Mary Crickett (or Crichett) 1728
Jacquotte Delahaye 1650
Charlotte de Berry late 1640s
Catherine Hagerty 1806
Mary Harvey (or Harley), alias Mary Farlee 1725
Margaret Jordan 1809
Elizabeth Patrickson 1634
Mary Read, alias Mark Read 1719.
Mary Anne Talbot, alias John Taylor1793
Sadie the Goat 1800s

Here is some info that I was able to find on some of these females.

Charlotte de Berry disguised herself as a man and went into the British Navy with her husband. She was forced aboard a different vessel and led a mutiny, took over the ship, and became its captain. She used her ship to pirate ships all along the African coast.

Not much is known about Mary Harvey or Harley except that she was tried for piracy along with three other men in Virginia in 1726, the men got the death sentence but she was released. It seems the authorities were less inclined to punish women for piracy than men.

Mary Reed was a very interesting individual since she was a woman raised as a man. The reason for this seems to be lost in history. She was serving as a sailor on a ship and the ship was captured by Captain “Calico Jack” Rackham. He told her she could become a pirate on his ship and she accepted and served aboard his ship the Curlew. This is where she met Ann Bonny.

Ann Bonny served as a pirate aboard the ship Curlew captained by “Calico Jack” Rackham. She met her husband by capturing a ship which he was serving aboard and later fell in love with him and married. There is a story that there was supposed to be a duel between Ann's husband and a pirate on shore. When she heard of this she picked a fight with the same pirate to protect her husband. She killed him. She must have been quite a woman.

Saddie the Goat was a woman who traveled with gangs in New York and spent most of her time mugging people. She later went on to become a pirate.

Mary Anne Talbot might have been the daughter of Lord Talbot. While young she disguised herself as a boy and ran away with a ship captain. It is not clear whether she did this on her own or was forced to. She later deserted and in her male disguise became a cabin boy on a French ship. She had no luck, because the British captured her ship and forced her to become a powder monkey on a man of war. She got wounded and when her wound healed she again went out to sea only to be captured this time by the French. She spent a year and a half in prison then became a servant. Her sex had been discovered. She technically may not have been a pirate, but she was involved in many naval battles.

Mary Jordan was involved with her husband Edward in a plot to take over a ship, the Three Sisters. It seems that Edward had enlisted a crew member to help him and tried to shoot the captain, John Stairs. He missed and got into a fight. While he was fighting with the captain Mary Jordan was hitting the captain with a boat hook. His attempt failed and he was tried and found guilty of piracy and murder and was hanged. For some unknown reason Mary was acquitted.

Catherine Hagerty was a British criminal being transported by ship to a penal colony in Australia. She and some of the male prisoners convinced the First Mate to steal the ship while the captain was aboard another vessel visiting. The ship was turned into a pirate ship. Eventually Catherine left the ship and her fate is not certain as there are several different stories as to what happened to her. The ship was captured by natives and burned for its metal. The crew may have been eaten.

Sarah Biship was forced to become a pirate on a British privateer during the Revolutionary War. She was a native New Yorker.

Flora Burn was a pirate that operated on the east coast of America from 1741.

Mary Crickett or Crichett was sentence to hang in Virginia for the crime of piracy. I can't seem to find anything else on her.

One of the more amazing aspects of some of these female pirates is how some were able to disguise themselves as men and remain undiscovered in such tight quarters as a ship. I guess one of the more helpful factors was that no one took baths in those days. But even so just the fact of having to 'having to go' would seem to lead to discovery. This theme of non discovery seems to reoccur several times with these women pirates. Could it have been that some of the crew knew but kept it a secret? This would seem to be the only way the women could have gotten away with this.

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