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Mary Read


contemporary depiction of Mary Read as a pirate

Mary Read was born in Devon County, England, sometime around 1690. Her mother was married to a sea captain who had been missing since before the birth of their son, Mark; who Mary's father was is unknown.

Mary's mother began to disguise Mary as a boy after Mark's death. This was done in order to continue to receive financial support from his paternal grandmother, and Read and her mother lived on his inheritance into her teenage years. She was still dressing as a male when, around age 13, she served as a "powder monkey" on a British man-of-war during the War of the Grand Alliance, carrying bags of gunpowder from the ships hold to the gun crews. She subsequently joined the Army of Flanders, serving in both the infantry and cavalry.

Mary was fighting for the British in Holland when she met and fell in love with a Flemish soldier, to whom she revealed her secret. The soldier thought she would become his mistress, but Mary insisted on marriage. He agreed, and, after both received their discharges, they opened an inn called the Three Horseshoes not far from the castle in the town of Breda.

Mary's "reversion" to being a woman did not last long, however, as her husband died not long after their marriage. Unable to run the inn by herself, she resumed her military career, as a man. That career ended when the war in which she had been fighting ended, so Read decided to join a ship bound for the West Indies.

The "career" for which Read is best known began when her ship was captured by pirates. Whether by force or choice is debated, but she ended up joining the pirates who had captured her, and she was enjoying the pirate life when the King of England granted her and her comrades pardons in 1718.

Read next served aboard a privateer commissioned to hunt down buccaneers who had not accepted the king's pardon. The entire crew of that ship mutinied, however, and the "hunters" soon became the "hunted." By 1720 she was a member of "Calico Jack" Rackham's crew, which also included Anne Bonney. Although they didn't get rich, Rackham, Read, Bonney, and the rest of the crew, did gain a reputation for being fierce. Although she always dressed as a man, it is believed that the men she served with knew that Read was a woman, as did many of her victims.

Read's life as a pirate came to an end in late October of 1720, when Captain Jonathan Barnet cornered Rackham's ship off Point Negril, Jamaica. According to popular accounts, Read and Bonney fought against capture while the men hid below deck. Those same accounts also say that Read actually shot one of her fellow pirates when he refused to come out from hiding. The truth of those accounts is doubted, but there is no doubt that Read and Bonney were captured along with Rackham and the rest of his crew. Rackham and his male comrades were hanged in Port Royal, Jamaica, on November 18, 1720. Read and Bonney would have also been executed on that date, but both were pregnant, and British law forbade the execution of pregnant women. Mary Read died in prison, and her April 28, 1721 burial was recorded in the records of St. Catherine's Church in Port Royal.

Note: Almost everything that is known about Mary Read comes from A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates, by Captain Charles Johnson, who most likely embellished at least some of it. There is no doubt, however, that a woman by the name of Mary Read was arrested as part of Rackham's crew, and that that Mary Read was capable of being just as vicious as her male counterparts.

Krewe of Bonney Read
The Republic of Pirates
The Way of the Pirates

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The Robinson Library >> Geography >> Adventures, Shipwrecks, Buried Treasure, Etc.

This page was last updated on 03/16/2018.