Some historical background:
Female piracy has been around since about 600BC. Although predominantly a male activity there are some female pirates that have made history. If men became pirates in search of adventure, women often did it for more than that. Some times women became pirates to escape from poverty, prostitution, arranged marriages and oppression. Others to avenge the wrong killing of her husband, to bring an empire down a notch, or to reclaim what was hers. Each one was determined to live her life the way she chose rather than by the law/convention. Each of them was in her own way brilliantly disruptive.
Here are a few of the biggest names of lady pirates:
1. Pirate Queen Teuta Of Illyria
REIGN APPROXIMATELY 231-228/227 BC
After her husband, the King of the Ardiaei tribe in Illyria, died she took over the crown. She supported the pirates of her Kingdom and with that support they captured merchant vessels of Greece and Rome. This lead to the capture of two Ambassadors of Rome, one killed and the other held captive. Eventually, Rome was forced to declare war. Once Queen Teuta surrendered Rome declared that no ship should sail under her reign.
2. Anne Bonny
After stabbing a servant girl with a table knife Anne married small-time pirate James Bonny. She was soon after disowned by her father and moved to the Bahamas with her husband. She then became mistress to Jack Rackham, and divorced James. They captured the Revenge took to the seas, and assembled a crew. They captured many ships some transporting tea from England. She befriended Mary Read and became a fearsome duo. The Governor of Jamaica commissioned Captain Jonathan Barnet to deal with Anne and Jack. While most of the crew were too drunk to hold off troops Anne fought them off for sometime before the ship was captured. Rackham was executed and Bonny was spared after it was found she was pregnant.
3. Jeanne de Clisson
Jeanne de Clisson was British and lived in Brittany when she married Olivier III de Clisson a wealthy nobleman. After failing to defend Vannes he switched allegiances to the English and was later captured by French and executed under orders of King Philip VI. Jeanne swore vengeance on the king and sold her lands and bought three ships calling them the "Black Fleet" because of their black exterior and red sails. She assembled a crew and took to the seas defeating any ship belonging to King Philip VI leaving only a few alive to tell that she had struck again. After his death, she continued to capture ships. She later retired to Britain.
4. Mary Read
This lady spent most of her youth disguised as a boy by her mother. Wanting adventure she kept up the charade and adopted the name Mark Read. She became a soldier and later a merchant sailor. She later became a pirate when she found herself aboard Jack Rackham and Anne Bonny's ship. She revealed herself as a woman and befriended Anne in the time she spent aboard the ship she became a fearsome pirate. When the trio was captured her and Anne weren't because they were pregnant. She later would die in prison.
5. Grace O'Malley
She was the Queen of Unmaill she was a fearless leader who rejected the ways a woman was "supposed" to act. Instead, she took to the seas commanding 20 fleet ships to stand against Britain. She raided ships of the English and Spanish. She was legendary for her escapes and her captures. She continued to pirate until her death in 1603.
6. Ching Shih
Ching Shih became one of the most feared pirates in history. She controlled a fleet known as the Red Flag Fleet. She raided ships along the China Sea and plundered towns. She kept a very high code of honor and if you violated it, well, you died. She was so fearsome that the Chinese Navy was sent to stop her and instead were defeated and she got away with it all by basically saying I won't destroy you if you stay out of my way.
7. Anne Dieu-Le-Veut
After being deported from France for criminal behavior Anne married Pierre Length. One night in a bar fight Pierre was killed by Laurens de Graaf. Anne challenged Laurens to a duel and when he drew a sword and her a gun he was so impressed he proposed. She said yes and together they sailed the seas. They took over ships and raided Jamaica. Anne and her two daughters were captured and what happened after they were freed is unknown.
8. Jacquotte Delahaye
This Haitian woman had a hard life after her mother died after giving birth to her brother, and her father killed. To take care of her brother she had to turn to piracy. She had to fake her own death in order to escape the government. After living as a man she returned to pirating and is thought to have sailed alongside Anne Dieu-Le-Vuet.
Although they were outlaws these women often fought for more than just money. Female pirates fought for freedom to be themselves, to love whoever they wanted and when they wanted. As a child Mary Read had been forced to dress and behave as a boy and it is no wonder that later in life assuming her role as a woman and a wife she found her new role frustrating. At a time when women had no voice or vote, the freedom offered to men was too attractive for Mary, so more than likely she was grateful to be offered the opportunity to become a pirate.
Real female pirates had to live among men and made themselves respected in a man's world. They had to spend their lives at sea, not only in a confined insalubrious place - but they must have also suffered from nutritional disorders due to the lack of fresh food in the ships. Not only was food difficult to keep when at sea, but also fresh water was a precious commodity. Alcohol was easier to stock and so it was the preferred beverage. History tells that when the ship with Mary and Anne onboard was captured by pirate hunters, the two women were the only ones sober so they were the only two who fought back while the rest of the crew was drunk and unconscious.
They undoubtedly had to also watch their backs from attempts of rape and physical abuse. Their lives weren't "pretty", but is a life lived to the fullest always so? Their stories and legends have been carried down centuries and books now- making us question how much of these anecdotes are "history" rather than "her story"? How many other groundbreaking and valiant things did these and so many other women do that have gone unmentioned?
Here's to the path carvers, the disruptors, and the brave. To those who are forged by their experiences- who don't regret their past nor wish to shut the door on it. To she who's unafraid to look at her life in a different way- owning her own story, taking chances, and willing to risk it all in pursuit of fulfilling her dreams.
What do you have to lose, Siren?
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