10 February 2010

Love Affairs: Jack Rackham & Anne Bonny

By Anna C. Bowling

These real life pirates of the Caribbean shared a love affair that ignited like a flash of gunpowder during the waning days of piracy's golden age. Jack Rackham, dubbed Calico Jack by his peers, due to his brightly colored wardrobe, had already enjoyed a piratical career that included taking over a ship previously captained by James Vane when the pirates found themselves pitted against a warship. Jack's crewmates elected him captain in Vane's stead, and Jack led several successful raids on merchant ships before deciding he wanted something else out of life.

His ship put into New Providence Harbor in the Bahamas, and Jack may well have accepted the open pardon offered by Governor Woodes Rogers for all those who would quit their nefarious ways and live as decent men. It was one far from decent woman, Anne Bonny, a quick-tempered Irishwoman from South Carolina, who turned his head and set his life on a far different course when the pair met at one of the many taverns in the port town.

The attraction between the two was intense and instantaneous, finding themselves matched well in temperament, passion and ambition for adventure. There was only one problem: Anne was already married, and even worse, her husband, James Bonny, was an informant for Governor Rogers. Having his wife carrying on with one of the very pirates he hoped to eliminate did not sit well.

James charged his wife with adultery, and her conviction warranted flogging and a charge to return to James. Jack offered to buy Anne from James in a marriage by purchase, but Anne's pride nipped that in the bud. She refused to be bought and sold like livestock and the pair escaped New Providence to take to the open sea.

Anne learned the art of piracy well under Jack's tutelage, to the extent that most historical mentions of Jack's name are as an associate of Anne's, and that of another piratess in male guise, Mary Read, rather than for his own exploits. Anne and Jack's affair proved fruitful, and they put into port in Cuba for Anne to deliver their first child, whose fate remains unknown.

Jack and Anne resumed their seafaring lifestyle, with pirate hunters hot on their heels. In 1720, Captain Jonathan Barnet captured their ship while the male crewmembers were too inebriated to offer resistance. Only Anne and Mary fought to the end, and the entire crew stood trial in Jamaica, facing a death sentence. Anne, pregnant with her and Jack's second child, plead her belly, and had her execution postponed until she could carry the child to term. (A ruling which proved moot, as Anne escaped well before said time.) Jack, however, had no recourse, and his sentence was passed.

The day of his execution, Jack had but one final wish--to see his beloved Anne one last time. The wish was granted, but historical accounts indicate that Anne turned away from her lover after uttering the fateful words, "If you had fought like a man, you would not be hanged like a dog."