History of the Carolinas: Women Pirates

Editor’s Note – North Carolina has a tradition of pirates, and I don’t just mean ECU. Here’s a brief history of women pirates, from Gordon Mercer and Marcia Gaines Mercer.

Tell Me a Pirate Story Daddy

When Gordon’s daughters were young, any long trip in the car meant; “Dad tell me a pirate story.” Daughter Beth, who would become a reporter, editor and public relations officer, had high standards. Pirate stories must contain risk, danger, buried treasure and surprise endings to get the seal of approval. Daughter Lisa, who later became a banker, wanted to review the logic of the plot development when the story ended. Beth liked ghosts but Lisa felt this confused the facts.

Pirate Books

We found pirate books in great demand. One bookstore owner indicated that if a used book on pirates arrived, it would be sold in a matter of hours. One trend in pirate literature, he told us, is interest in women pirates.

We found documentation of over 41 women pirates. We also found a few myths about piracy.

Pirates & Privateers

There were two kinds of sea marauders, legal privateers and pirates. Privateers had the authorization of a government and became heroes for looting and pillaging the government’s enemies. Pirates, without government sponsorship, would be hung for their sea crimes.

Pirate Treasure

What about stories of treasure?  Pirates divided the treasure but usually sold stolen goods and spent all money after a few days in port. Pirate ships were crowded and disease filled but the allure of instant plunder and adventure attracted many including women during the golden age of piracy from 1650-1726.

Anne Bonny, Mary Read and Calico Jack Rackham

Two famous women pirates were Anne Bonny and Mary Read whose pirate activities centered on the Atlantic Ocean and West Indies.

Bonny and her husband, John “Calico Jack” Rackham noted for his colorful clothes, stole a ship to resume his pirate career after a previously gained a pardon.

Bonny helped recruit Read and she and Mary were excellent fighters and on several ‘most wanted’ pirate lists. Preying mostly on merchant vessels, they successfully pilfered treasure on land and sea. Part of a pirate’s success was based on selecting ships for boarding that were not well defended. Anne Bonny and Mary Read fought as a team and were masters of pirate tactics.

Mary Read fell in love with the ships navigator, an artist, who had been forced aboard. When her love interest was challenged to a duel, Mary did not think he would win. Before the scheduled fight she slapped his challenger hard in the face and demanded an immediate duel. Read killed the pirate before her betrothed arrived.

Complaints from sea merchants were numerous and officials began to take note. Rackham, Bonny and company were too successful. Governor Nicholas Lawes (Governor of Jamaica 1718-1722) issued the order to capture Rackham and his crew. Anne Bonny and Mary Read fought hard but their comrades were drunk and unable to fight. They were captured, tried and sentenced to hang.

Mary begged unsuccessfully for the life of her betrothed lover, who she claimed was not a pirate. Bonny was still angry at Jack for not fighting and said, “If you’d fought like a man you needn’t hang like a dog.” Anne Bonny and Mary Read were pregnant and could not be hung under law, until the birth of their child. Mary died of heartbreak over her hanged lover before her child was born.

Anne Bonny’s father, a wealthy South Carolina merchant with many contacts, made financial arrangements for Anne’s release. According to “The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography,” Anne Bonny returned to Charleston, had Rackham’s child and eventually married Joseph Burleigh and had more children. This is based on information given by her descendants.

Women’s opportunities in piracy were limited; there were pirate rules against women being aboard a pirate ship. After studying over 41 documented women pirates, who all seemed to be the equal of men, we could only conclude that where there is a Clyde there will always be a Bonny, even in piracy!

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Gordon Mercer is past president and on the Board of Trustees of Pi Gamma Mu International Honor Society and professor emeritus at Western Carolina University. Marcia Gaines Mercer is a published author and columnist. Photo by JD Lasica.

Happy 20th Birthday Cary YMCA!

Story by Lindsey Chester. Photo of 1992 ribbon-cutting provided by the Cary YMCA.

Cary, NC- Hard to believe, but this year the Cary Family YMCA turned 20 years old. I met with Executive Director, Diane Hillsgrove to talk about the past and future of this powerful community organization. Read more

Downtown Notes: Story Behind Cary Mural

Editor’s Note: If like knowing about the history of Cary, you’ll enjoy this free program on Tuesday, January 24, from The Friends of Page-Walker:

Where will you find a mural depicting the Town of Cary and its citizens both past and present? Join the Friends of the Page-Walker in welcoming local artist, Val Fox, who will solve this mystery and share her story of creating the “Cary Then and Now” mural.

Val will take us on a journey of the local places and people depicted in the famous mural and share the role each has played in our Town’s history.

This free program is offered as part of the Friends of the Page-Walker’s Historic Preservation Series.

    • Preservation Speaker Series: “Who Is That Guy? The Story Behind the Cary Mural”
    • Page-Walker Arts & History Center, Main Gallery
    • Date: Tuesday, 24 Jan 2012 7:30 PM

More information and online registration: Preservation Speaker Series: “Who Is That Guy? The Story Behind the Cary Mural”

Town Looking for Historic Plans

Story by Lindsey Chester. Illustration by Jerry Miller.

Cary,NC – Are you a long time Cary resident? By that I mean, have you lived here longer than 30 years? If so you may have some documents that could be of interest to the Town of Cary and the Friends of Page-Walker. Read more

Lochmere’s 6th Annual Christmas Flotilla

Story by Matt Young. Photos courtesy of the Ritter Family.

Cary, NC – One of Cary’s most unique traditions is the Lochmere Christmas Flotilla, started by Former Mayor Harold Ritter in 2005. It’s this Sunday night and we’ll tell you where to go to watch. Read more

Events: Wreaths Across America on Dec 10

Story from staff reports. Above, recent Yates Mill D.A.R. luncheon at Page-Walker.

Cary, NC – The Yates Mill Chapter Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) hosts a Wreaths Across America ceremony at noon, Saturday, Dec. 10, at Hillcrest Cemetery (off Page Street) in Cary. Attending will be Bianca Strzalkowski of Fuquay-Varina, the 2011 Military Spouse of the Year (named by Military Spouse magazine) with a color guard of U.S. Naval Cadets. Read more

History: Remembering Nathaniel Jones

Story and photos by Lindsey Chester

Cary, N C- Tucked away at the end of a cul de sac in a modern day neighborhood stands White Plains Cemetery.  Read more

Cary’s Cemetery Secrets

Story by Lisa Englert, photos by Hal Goodtree.

Cary, NC- For many of us, Cary is a modern place, with newcomers from across the country. But the town’s cemeteries tell a story, and one of those places will be dedicated this Saturday. Read more

Wake County Quiz: Where is St. Matthews Township?

Story by Hal Goodtree. Maps adapted from Wake County GIS.

Cary, NC – Green Level, White Oak, St. Matthew’s and Marks Creek – they are all Wake County townships. Do you know where they are? Read more

History: Cedar Fork Rifles

Story and photographs by Hal Goodtree

Morrisville, NC – Civil War History came to life on Saturday as the Cedar Fork Rifles reenacted their 1861 ceremony of commission. Read more