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5 Famous Female Pirates

Ever superstitious, traditionally pirates believed it was bad luck to let a female aboard a ship. Despite this, female pirates existed, and some even became pirate legends in their own right.

Take a look at some of history's most infamous female pirates:

1. Anne Bonny

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Born around 1690 in Ireland, Anne Bonny became a notorious pirate operating in the Caribbean. Born as an illegitimate child to a lawyer in Belfast, she would emigrate to America as an adult where she married a sailor in 1718 and joined him on his travels to the Caribbean. Here she met and fell for the famous pirate Jack Rackham. Abandoning her husband for Jack, they soon became somewhat of a pirate power couple, marrying at sea and having a son in Cuba. Their piracy career was soon the stuff of legends, raiding various ships and obtaining masses of treasure, including the capture of the major vessel Revenge.

The good times were over by 1720 however, when Rackham, Anne and their crew were attacked and captured by a "King's Ship," under commission from the Governor of Jamaica. While Rackham was sentenced to being hanged, Anne was spared after pleading for mercy due to being pregnant. There is no historical record of her release or life after her arrest, but there are some theories that her father may have ransomed her and returned her to her first husband. 

2. Mary Read

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Image source: thepirateking.com

Part of Anne's and Jack's pirate crew, Mary Read began life diguised as a boy in a bid to scam her grandmother into believing she was her dead half-brother. In her early adult life she continued her disguise, taking on several male dominated roles, including that of a soldier and as a merchant sailor. She turned to piracy after one of the ship's she was working on as a sailor was invaded. Eventually she joined the pirate ship and crew of Jack Rackham, where she befriended Anne and revealed herself to be a woman. During her time with them she gained a fierce reputation, and was widely respected as being just as a capable fighter and swordswoman as any of her male counterparts. 

Her time with Anne and Jack's crew was shortlived, as after only a few months she too was captured by the King's Ship. As with Anne, she claimed to be pregnant and pleaded for mercy from hanging, but died only a few months later in prison from a fever.

3. Cheng I Sao

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Image source: hercampus.com

Beginning life in China as a prostitute, Cheng I Sao entered piracy on account of her husband, powerful pirate Cheng I who commanded a huge pirate fleet. His fleet consisted of 400 ships and over 70,000 sailors. After seven years of marriage, her husband died leaving the fate of his pirate army uncertain. In an attempt to unite her crew and maintain power, she married her adopted son, enabling her to become the new leader of the fleet. Over the next few years she commanded many successful raids across Southeast Asia, and quickly became a major enemy of China. In 1810, the Chinese government enlisted the help of British and Portugese navies to capture her and her crew. 

Instead of fighting, Cheng I Sao struck a deal with the Chinese. She agreed to surrender and disband her crew as long as she could keep her riches. They agreed, and she set up shop as a successful gambling house and brothel owner in Guangzhou, South China. She passed away in 1844 at the age of 69. 

4. Rachel Wall

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Image source: citelighter.com

Rachel Wall's legacy is steeped in mystery, but if we are to believe the myths, she was the first American woman to become a pirate. Born around 1760 in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, she ran away from home as a teenager and met and married fisherman George Wall. Fearing a life subjected to poverty, they turned to crime in 1781 by forming a small gang and operating a scam off the coast of New England. Their scam involved pretending that their ship was in danger, and killing and robbing their rescuers. In a space of a year they murdered 24 sailors, and collected $6,000. 

Their luck ran out in 1782 when a storm ravaged their boat and killed George. She continued thieving on land but was arrested in 1789 for attacking and robbing a woman. During her time in prison she confessed to all of her crimes apart from murder, but there was enough evidence mounted against her to sentence her to death by hanging. She was the last woman in Massachusetts to be executed. 

5. Grace O'Malley

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Image source: panoramio.com

Grace O'Malley is one of the earliest known female pirates, born around 1530 in Ireland and growing up to lead a 20-ship fleet. Born into an established clan in the West of Ireland, Grace inherited her father's successful shipping and trading business, making her a wealthy and powerful woman. She continued her family's traditional business model of attacking and plundering English and Spanish ships and claiming their booty for her own. Many legends surround her fighting spirit, including that she returned to battle at sea only a day after giving birth. 

Grace also met with Elizabeth I, requesting that her two sons (captured by the English) to be released. They agreed to various demands on both sides, but when Grace felt that Elizabeth did not uphold her entire side of the deal, she ignored all further demands and she and her sons continued to rebel against the English and attack their ships. While there are no exact historical records, it is generally believed that she died in her early 70's, most likely at Rockfleet Castle.