Friday, May 24, 2013

Anne Bonny

[This post has been edited for brevity].

From my Notable Charlestonians series, professional hellion Anne Bonny.
Anne Bonny by Ciana Pullen (detailed description in caption below)
Anne Bonny, by Ciana Pullen. A charcoal drawing of what I imagine Bonny would have looked like circa 1720. Drawn completely from imagination. [Image: realistic, somewhat detailed black & white charcoal drawing on a sepia-grey background of a young white pregnant woman leaning insouciantly against a ship railing. She wears a dress and man's coat, as well as a sabre and pistol holster slung over her belly. She wears a slouchy hat over her loose stringy hair, which was purported to be red. The ocean stretches behind her to the horizon and meets some advancing drizzly nimbus clouds.]

Sometime Charlestonian Anne Bonny (8 March 1702 – 22 April 1782) was a pirate. As a girl she moved with her family from Ireland to Charleston, SC, where she was noted as a “good catch” in the marriage department (we know only that she had red hair). However her notorious temper became infamous; on one occasion she stabbed a family servant with a table knife. Over the objections of her family she married a sailor, whom she soon abandoned. Much of what we know of her time in the Caribbean is from an early 1700s Dutch book called A General History of the Pyrates, which includes the one and only contemporary portrait of of Bonny, likely idealized or imagined:

Historical Illustration of Anne Bonny (detailed description in caption below)
Image: An antique black & white full-length engraving of Bonny pointing a gun. Her hair blows in the wind, she wears a sword, an ax, another pistol, and another sabre. Some of these weapons are hard for me to identify, but there are a lot of them strapped to her. She wears a hat and men's clothes, including long loose pants, boots, a saggy jacket that reminds me of a revolutionary soldier, and a loose blouse that, for whatever reason, bares her breasts. In the style of the day, her head is very small and her breasts are positioned really oddly. Her features look neither particularly pretty nor distinctive, but rather stereotypically eighteenth-century-ish. Several pirate ships sail in the background.]

Bonny had affairs with several others engaged in illegal smuggling, most notably “Calico Jack” Rackham (with whom she had a child in Cuba), on whose ship she was a frequent crew member. But most interesting was her affair with another female pirate, allegedly disguised a as a man, named Mary Read, also in Calico Jack's crew.

Skilled in combat, Bonny, Mary Read and one unknown pirate were the only crew to fight and defend their ship against attack in 1720, as the remaining crew were simply too drunk to fight, including Calico Jack himself. The crew were tried as criminals, but Read and Bonny “pleaded their bellies” and were excused from execution because they were pregnant. Bonny visited Calico Jack in his cell and reportedly uttered that she was “sorry to see him there, but if he had fought like a Man, he need not have been hang'd like a Dog."

It is unknown what she did upon being released-- return to her husband, resume piracy under a new identity-- but most likely her well-connected father secured her release and she returned to Charleston to give birth, presumably to Rackham's child. In 1721 she married a local man named Joseph Burleigh, and they had 10 children. She died “a respectable woman,” at the age of eighty.

The portrait I drew above is purely imagined based off her description and how I imagine a habitually violent, unwashed pregnant woman living off hardtack biscuits and liquor might have looked. Prints of the drawing are for sale on my Etsy store.


Ariel said...

I am very excited about this series! I feel like this could be parlayed into an interesting lecture series or perhaps historical walk. Perhaps Nina would be a docent?

Something around the mouth and nose of this portrait reminds me of Kate McCage. Anne Bonny sounds like one of those truths that is stranger (ie more complicated and awesome) than fiction.

Ciana Pullen said...

Kate McCague would make an excellent pirate, come to think of it.