Died: April 28, 1721
Mary Read was born in England, some where in the country, although some tales
put her birth in London and one says Devonshire around 1685. She was born
illegitimate as her mother's husband had been away at sea too long to have been
the rightful father. Mary had an older brother, who died soon after her birth.
The mother in financial difficulties and living off a stipend from her
mother-in-law, sought to disguise Anne as the now dead infant brother in order
to stay in the in-laws good graces and continue the support. (In this day and
time it would not have been terribly difficult, given the clothing and limited
personal interaction.) Thus the mother bred up her daughter as a boy, and when
she grew up to some sense, she induced her to conceal her sex.
Eventually the mother-in-law died and Mary was forced to seek employment as a
French lady's foot-boy at the age of thirteen.
It was not long before Mary signed on a man-of-war and made her way to
Flanders to carry arms in a foot regiment, although she gained the respect of
her peers she could not gain a commission and changed to a horse regiment. This
is where she fell in love with a young and handsome, Fleming. She contrived to
let him know of her sex and without going into a load of speculation as to their
relationship, they fell in love and married. Gifts were given by many in the
regiment and the newlyweds bought an eating house or ordinary, named the Three
Trade Horses (another account has it named The Three Horseshoes and places it in
Breda, Holland). The happiness was fleeting as the young man soon died of fever
and the Peace of Ryswick reduced the traffic through the area.
Mary again donned male attire and set to sea in a Dutch merchant bound for
the West Indies, after a short stint in a Dutch foot regiment. Here accounts
differ somewhat, some say that Mary's ship was taken by unnamed pirates and some
say her ship was taken by Jack Rackam's ship. It is possible that she may have
married in the West Indies and have taken advantage of the King's Pardon around
1709. Regardless of which, she signed with the pirates and eventually made it to
New Providence and eventually joined up with John Rackam and Anne Bonny as
privateers against the Spanish. Mary's sex was not so much as suspected by any
person on board till Anne Bonny took a particular liking to her. Anne Bonny took
her for a handsome young fellow. Mary Read knowing what she would be at, and
being very sensible of her own incapacity that way, was forced to come to a
right understanding with her, and so to the great disappointment of Anrne Bonny,
she let her know she was a woman also. This intimacy was soon disturbed by
Captain Rackam, who was the lover and gallant of Anne Bonny. He grew furiously
jealous and told Anne Bonny that he would cut her new lover's throat. Therefore
she let him into the secret also.
Privateering soon gave way to piracy. This eventually led to the meeting with
Captain Jonathan Barnet in late October of 1720 off the coast of Jamaica, where
that fateful scene in which the two women were the only resistence to capture as
the rest of the crew hid below decks either drunk or recovering from a drunk.
Along the way Mary fell in love with one of the men on board ship and again
contrived to disclose her secret to this man by showing him her breasts.
Accounts again differ as to the events of the trial, some say Mary's lover was
hanged, some say he was set free as having been forced into service with the
pirates against his will. Mary herself, at the age of 36, had her death sentence
commuted by her pregnancy, although she died within months of a fever, possibly
on April 28, 1721.