A lot of people still think that only men were pirates – it’s true that some buccaneers believed that it would be bad luck to have a woman on board, but this didn’t stop many females disguising their identity (and gender!) to join the crew, or captains ignoring the rule all together, like our very own Calico Jack. Other females who couldn’t find crews to join became Captains and started their own. We’ve compiled a list of our ten favourite fierce female swashbucklers!
10. Sadie the Goat – Operating in America during the 19th Century, Sadie Farrell, known as Sadie the Goat, was a New York gang leader and river pirate. She left her home town of Manhattan following a brawl which resulted in her ear being bitten off. From them on Sadie wore the ear around her neck in a locket, and worked as a pirate on the Hudson and Harlem Rivers, earning the name ‘Queen of the Waterfront’.
9. Teuta of Illyria – One of the earliest known female pirates was Teuta of Illyria. Not only was this powerhouse of a woman a pirate, but she was also a queen! After her husband’s death in 231BC, Teuta became queen regent. She encouraged piracy as a way of fighting back against the surrounding, more powerful, countries.
8. Maria Lindsey – Maria Lindsey met notorious pirate captain, Eric Cobham, and it was love at first sight. Cobham revealed his profession to Maria, but she was not put off – in fact they were married the next day! The two left Maria’s hometown of Plymouth and spent around 20 years sailing the seven seas as swashbucklers.
7. Grace O’Malley – Grace O’Malley was a fiery red head, born in Ireland in 1530. She was known as a pirate and a trader… she even got to meet Queen Elizabeth I! Unlike most pirates she lived a long life, sailing the sea for most of it. She eventually died around the age of 70 – an impressive age for any buccaneer!
6. Charlotte de Berry – Charlotte de Berry was supposedly born in 1636, although there were no known records of her until exactly one hundred years later, leading to many believing that she never existed and is purely fictional. Tales tell how she stowed away on a ship disguised as man, and eventually climbed the ranks to become a captain.
5. Lady Elizabeth Killigrew – Lady Elizabeth Killigrew, sometimes known as ‘Old Lady Killigrew’, lived with her husband Sir John Killigrew at Pendennis Castle in Falmouth, Cornwall during the 1500s. She is one of the few known Cornish pirates. Elizabeth and John both partook in piracy, although it is said that Elizabeth preferred it to her husband.
4. Lady Mary Killigrew – A few generations before Elizabeth Killigrew, came Lady Mary Killigrew. Mary husband, Sir Henry, a retired pirate, was tasked by the queen to suppress piracy in the waters. While her husband was away, Mary would indulge in piracy herself, using the staff of her castle to crew her ship.
3. Mary Read – Mary Read, sometimes operating under the alias of Mark Read, was one of the famous female crewmates of Calico Jack. Dressed as a boy, Mary joined the Army before sailing to the Caribbean and becoming a buccaneer. When captured by a pirate hunter in 1720 she avoided hanging by pleading pregnancy, however she died in prison shortly after from fever.
2. Madame Cheng – One of the most successful pirates of the 19th Century, Madame Cheng (Ching Shih) commanded well over 300 ships, with approximately 3500 pirate followers – these included men, women, and even children, the largest army of any pirate… ever! Like Grace O’Malley, Cheng also lived to an impressive age – she retired from piracy and eventually died in 1844 at the age of 69.
1. Anne Bonny – At the top of the list is Anne Bonny, probably the most famous female pirate to sail during the Golden Age. She was a member of Calico Jack’s crew, along with Mary Read, but it is said that the two women fought with more skill than any man on board the ship. It was even left to Anne and Mary to defend the drunken male crew when their ship was boarded by pirate hunters. It is said that Anne’s final words to her captain and lover, Calico Jack, were ‘If you had fought like a man, you would not be hanged like a dog!’