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Mary Read along with Anne Bonny is one of the most famous female pirates, although her pirating period was short.
Mary’s father was a sailor but grew up outside of London. Her mother dressed her as a boy (how weird is that?) until she was 15. Bored and unhappy on land, she joined the Royal Navy as a “powder monkey”—taking powder to the crews during an engagement—then joined the Flemish Army!
She served with courage and bravery disguised as a man. She also fell in love with a fellow Soldier. Even though she had deceived her fellow soldiers, she and her future husband had proved themselves well enough in battle that they chipped in some money so the newlyweds could set up a tavern and boarding house in Netherands. When Mary’s husband died afterward, debts forced her to abandon the Inn. She joined a Dutch Merchantman headed toward the West Indies.
Mary’s “pirating ways” began when the Dutch ship was attacked by pirates and she was faced with signing up or being killed. She signed on as “Sailor Read”.
After a brief respite in the Bahamas, she joined a privateer commissioned by the Governor of the Bahamas that included among its crew John “Calico Jack” Rackam. The crew mutinied, with Calico Jack leading the charge.
Mary sailed with Calico Jack for two years before being captured off the west coast of Jamaica. She was found guilty along with her friend Anne Bonny and sentenced to hang.
At the sentencing hearing, however, Mary and Anne revealed that they were pregnant. The court refused to hang pregnant women. Mary died of a fever shortly afterward before giving birth, but Anne may have eventually been rescued by her estranged father.