The Historical Birthday-Tea Party March 8th

International Women’s Day, and I have three birthday girls to choose from. So I’m going with the oldest, and we can catch up with the others later.

Anne Bonny, 8 March 1702 – 22 April 1782 born in Ireland, emigrated to America at a young age, where her father did very well for himself. Anne was a tear away, hotheaded, handy with a knife and married a small-time pirate. her father disowned her, and she and her husband went to Nassau where all the pirates hung out. Anne there met and started a relationship with Jack Rackham, and had a child with him. She abandoned the child, divorced her husband and set about being a ‘proper’ pirate. She was friends with Mary Read, and they were captured together with Rackham after stealing a ship together (The men were all drunk and Mary and Anne were the only ones to put up a fight) they were all sentenced to hang. (Anne’s last words to her lover were, had you fought like a man, you needn’t be hang’d like a dog)  The women got off by claiming pregnancy, but Mary died of a fever, and Anne escaped, possibly with the connivance of her father, and lived to a ripe and respectable old age.

The Historical Birthday-Tea Party 7th January

No-one is owning up to being born on 7th January, so another ‘who knows?’ And because it’s wild weather I thought we’d go for a pirate.

Mary Read, PirateMary Read. Cross-dressing lover of Anne Bonny, and several men, a proper swashbuckler, served in the King’s army, ran a pub and later became a pirate, but no one really knows when she was born, around 1690 is a best guess. She died of a fever in prison in April 1721.

Most of what is written about her is hokum, although she is unquestionably a real person. Since there is so much hokum, you may as well have mine – this is how she appears in my Rotherhithe based short story ‘A Place of Departures’, in Stations – and it’s as true as the next version.

Mary Read dresses as a man, smokes and swears. She used to call herself by her dead brother’s name, used to fight for ‘Kinge and Countrie’ all round Europe.  But peace and boredom intervene, and at last the death of her man nags her into returning to sea.
The relief of britches and a salt wind, she confides to her shipmate, as they rest between battles, no longer on the side of the King.  And the shipmate plants a kiss on her lips, and pulls Mary’s hand within his jerkin to feel the soft curve of a womanly breast. Ann Bonney claims that she had no idea Mary was a woman the first time she kissed her.
My eye, Mary declares, lighting her long clay pipe.
But despite that kiss and fumble and perhaps more that neither will admit to, Mary escapes the hangman’s noose by dying of a child-bed fever before they have a chance to string her up.

So happy un-birthday, Mary, and I’ll raise a glass of rum, if that’s not too predictable.