Mary Read was born in England around 1685. Her mother had a son from her husband, however, her husband died at sea. During that time her mother had an affair and became pregnant with Mary. Her mother tried to hide her pregnancy by living in a more rural setting.
After her son died, Mary was born. Due to being in a financial hard spot she decided to hide Mary’s gender and disguise her as her dead son. This allowed her to receive monetary support from her late husband’s mother.
Amazingly, this worked and the two lived on the inheritance into Mary’s teen years.
As she got older, Mary Read found work as a foot-boy and eventually ended up finding work on a ship.
She later joined the British military, which was allied with Dutch forces against the French (this could have been during the Nine Years War or during the War of the Spanish Succession).
Read, in male disguise, proved herself through battle, but fell in love with a Flemish soldier. When they married, she used their military commission and gifts from intrigued brethren in arms to acquire an inn named “De drie hoefijzers” (“The Three Horseshoes”) near Breda Castle in The Netherlands.
Upon her husband’s early death, Read resumed male dress and military service in Holland. With peace, there was no room for advancement, so she quit and boarded a ship bound for the West Indies.
A Pirate’s Life
Mary Read’s ship was taken by pirates, whom she willingly joined.
In 1720, she joined the pirate Calico Jack and Anne Bonny. Both of them believed Mary to be a man.
On August 22, 1720, the three stole an armed sloop named William from a port in Nassau.
When Bonny told Read that she was a woman (apparently because she was attracted to her), Read revealed that she too was a woman. To abate the jealousy of her lover, Rackham, who suspected romantic involvement between the two, Bonny told him that Read was a woman.
A victim of the pirates, Dorothy Thomas, left a description of Read and Bonny:
They “wore men’s jackets, and long trousers, and handkerchiefs tied about their heads: and … each of them had a machete and pistol in their hands and they cursed and swore at the men to murder her [Dorothy Thomas].” Thomas also recorded that she knew that they were women, “from the largeness of their breasts.
Pirate hunter Captain Jonathan Barnet took Rackham and his crew by surprise on November 15, 1720. Calico Jack, Anne Bonny, Mary Read, and the crew were having a rum party with another crew off the coast of the Colony of Jamaica.
Barnet fired a volley and disabled Rackham’s ship, the crew along with their leader fled to the hold and left the women and one other to fight the boarding party. Most likely, the crew was too drunk to fight.
Allegedly, Read angrily shot into the hold, killing one, and wounding others, when the men would not come up and fight with them. Barnet’s crew eventually overcame the women. Rackham surrendered, requesting “quarter”.
The crew, including Mary Read, were arrested and brought to trial in Jamaica. They were sentenced to hang for their acts of piracy which included Read and Bonny.
Mary Read and Anne Bonny claimed to be pregnant and received temporary stays of execution.
Mary Read died of a terrible fever while in prison on April 28, 1721.
There is no record of the burial of her baby, suggesting that she may have died while pregnant.