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Book Review, NRJ 68.1

March 07, 2023 3:12 PM | PAUL R MITCHELL (Administrator)

Pirate Queens: The Lives of Anne Bonny & Mary Read

By Rebecca Alexandra Simon

With the thousands of publications about the histories of different male pirates from throughout history, it is refreshing to read one focused on the female. Rebecca Alexandra Simon has published what she describes as the first full length biography of the pirates Anne Bonny and Mary Read. Beyond telling the stories of these female pirates, Simon sets the goal of giving insight into the world these women existed in, specifically regarding their gender, and how they continue to be cultural icons today.

Staring with a discussion on period politics Simon gives early insight into the lives of not only Bonny and Read, but also their mothers. Interestingly, both Bonny and Read come from similar situations where the mothers conceived their daughters out of wedlock and chose to conceal their daughters by dressing them as boys.

As Simon describes the exciting duels, love trysts, and drama that unfolds in these women’s stories, she continues to include engaging discussions on the world that these events unfolded in. Early in her life when Bonny joins the military, Simon includes information about the different ongoing military conflicts that Bonny would have participated in. This information illustrates the world that shaped Bonny in her early years, unknowingly training her to become a pirate later in her life.

Simon dedicates almost a whole chapter exclusively to a discussion on the politics surrounding piracy and how they would affect the lives and pirating careers of Bonny and Read. The detailed look at the world of pirates during this time helps draw a contrast between the worlds they had grown up and the ones they were now entering.

Ultimately, both women end up on the ship of Jack Rackham (aka Calico Jack). During her discussion on Bonny and Read’s careers with Rackham, Simon gives an intriguing look at the geography, economics, and politics that would have influenced Rackham’s choices.

Simon’s final chapter concludes with a discussion on some of the more prominent publications on Bonny and Read over the last three hundred years. She starts with an intriguing description of the history of Captain Charles Johnson’s General History of Pirates, and ends her chapter with a look at the modern television series “Black Sails.” She finishes with the conclusion that Bonny and Read’s, “memory is alive and well and will remain so for years to come.”

In conclusion, Simon’s publication and writing style is one that will hold the reader’s attention. The information that Simon provides to create context for the narratives is intriguing and greatly adds to the stories. The publication would be improved with a few more citations regarding some the facts presented. Ultimately, Simon has successfully met the goals that she set out for herself of giving insight into the world these women existed in, specifically regarding their gender, and how they continue to be cultural icons today.

  • Barnsley: Pen & Sword History, 2022
  • 6-1/2” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, xxii + 181 pages
  • Illustrations, appendices, notes bibliography, index. $32.95
  • ISBN: 9781526791306

Reviewed by: Christine Brin, North Carolina Maritime Museum at Beaufort

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