March 14th – Mary Read

Okay, I let this series get away from me, but today we are remembering the pirate Mary Read.

Mary Read was born around 1685 in England. From almost birth, Mary would dress as a man.

At first, her mother did it to fool her deceased husband’s mother into thinking it was her grandson, the son of the dead husband. The son died shortly before Mary, an illegitimate child, was born so in dressing Mary as the dead son, her dead husband’s mother offered to provide financial aid until the “boy” was grown.

Mary and her mother were able to fool the woman for a few years until she figured out Mary was not her grandson and ended the financial aid. Mary continued to dress as a man, getting jobs to earn some money in a time where that was rough for women. At one point, Mary worked on a British Military ship as a “powder monkey”.

Later, Mary joined the British Military, where she still dressed as a man and was noted at being an excellent fighter. Before long, Mary fell in love with her bunkmate, a Flemish soldier. Mary decided to quit the Army and marry her lover. The two opened a small Inn in the Netherlands. Isn’t that the fuckin dream.

Sadly (or fortunately for the pirate story) Mary’s husband died around 1700. Mary decided to resume dressing as a man and take to the high seas, traveling across the planet to the West Indies, the pirate hotbed of the world.

On her way to the Indies, Mary’s ship was captured by pirates. The crew believed Mary to be an Englishman and urged her to join the pirate crew. Mary was described as “aggressive and ruthless, always ready for a raid, and swore, well, like a drunken sailor” (x). She fit right in with the pirates, specifically her bunkmate, Calico Jack.

It was in her time with Jack that Mary met Anne Bonny, another female pirate whom I covered earlier this month. Anne and Mary had a deep relationship, both had a hard past and were women on the pirate ship. Although Anne didn’t hide her gender, Mary concealed her gender from everyone but one day she did reveal her identity to Anne.

Their relationship was thought to be romantic as well. This angered Calico Jack, Anne’s lover at the time. Allegedly, Jack snuck into Mary’s bunk one day with a plan to slit her throat but once Mary revealed that she was, in fact, a woman, Jack’s attitude changed. He promised to keep Mary’s gender an absolute secret from all of the other crewmates and would continue to treat her as an equal.

Confirmed: Calico Jack said equal rights.

Anne and Mary were a dynamic duo in the means of badass pirates. The two often fought side by side, armed with machetes and pistols. They were ruthless but not malicious.

Mary’s life as a pirate was shortlived. In 1720 (Between October and November, depending on the source), the crew of the William was captured. Although, as the governor’s vessel approached, Calico Jack fired back at the ship but soon after surrendered.

Mary and Anne took none of this shit.

Both women fought tooth and nail against their pursuers. Most of the crew hid below deck, in fear and drunken stupor, as their ship was being attacked and these two women battled. Mary and Anne called into the hold for back up and when none came, Mary yelled down:

“If there’s a man among ye, ye’ll come up and fight like the man ye are to be!”

I want that tattooed on me.

When not a single man came up to help, Mary fired into the hold, killing one of the crew. Although they battled hard, the ship was taken prisoner and all the crew was arrested.

Both of the women were convicted of piracy but were given a stay of execution due to both being pregnant. Unlike Anne, Mary did not survive the imprisonment. Mary became sick with a fever and passed away on April 28th, 1721 in Port Royal, Jamacia. 

Both women were inspirational and fierce in a time where women did not have a lot of rights. Mary’s ability to become unrecognizable as a woman is admirable to me because I’ve always said that if I could travel back to these times, this is exactly what I would have done.

Mary Read was a woman who knew what she wanted in life and she went for it.

Thank you, Mary Read.

Sources: Wikipedia, Smithsonian Magazine

I’ll be writing about a different badass woman every day of March so check out the master post here.

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Featured Image:  The Jefferson R. Burdick Collection, Gift of Jefferson R. Burdick

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