WOMEN OF THE SEA by Lisa A. Olech
In researching my new pirate novel, Within A Captain’s Hold, I was fascinated with the number of female pirates throughout history. These bad-ass, tough-as-hardtack women fought and pillaged throughout the Golden Age of Piracy and beyond. Some captained huge fleets and ruled thousands of men. I’ve based my heroines after several of these captivating women.
Two of the most famous women pirates were Anne Bonney and Mary Reed. Anne could only be described at passionate, violent, and adventurous when she teamed up with her lover Calico Jack to pirate the Caribbean. Soon Mary Reed joined their crew, and the trio was a brutal force until their arrest.
But unlike Calico Jack, neither Anne nor Mary ever hung for their crimes. It is thought that Anne’s wealthy father ransomed her out of prison, and it is believed that she married a Charleston man, raised nine children—two of which had been fathered by Calico Jack—and lived well into her eighties.
Now Mary Reed was probably the most famous cross-dressing pirate. Her parents dressed her and raised her as a boy, and she live a great deal of her life disguised as a man. She even joined and fought in the army until her ship was captured by Calico Jack and Anne Bonney and she joined their merry crew. Seems she caught the wandering eye of Anne Bonney and her true identity was soon discovered. The two quickly became BFFs!
Mary also escaped the noose after the crew was arrested, but not thanks to a wealthy bailout. She was pregnant at the time and spared. Unfortunately, Mary Reed caught a fever while in prison and she perished a few months later.
Another cross-dressing buccaneer, Jacquotte Delehaye, forced into piracy after the murder of her father, escaped her pursuers and faked her own death by taking on a male alias. She lived as a man for many years. Because of her flaming red hair, when she returned to her former life as a woman, she earned the nickname ‘Back from the Dead Red.’
As the captain of her own fleet and hundreds of pirates, Red took over a small island in the Caribbean called the ‘freeboter republic.’ The pirate haven was born. She died, however, in a shoot out defending her lawless paradise.
A few pirates/privateers kept their skirts so to speak, and teamed up to pirate the seas alongside their husbands. Lady Elizabeth Killigrew and her husband were quite the pirating duo all the while hiding behind the velvet curtains of aristocracy. Of the two, she was certainly the more ambitious. One evening she hosted a dinner party for the captain and first mate of the Spanish ship, the Marie of San Sebastian. They had sought safe harbor nearby due to a storm.
During the party, Lady Elizabeth excused herself, changed clothing and left through a maze of secret tunnels under her castle. She and her servants—or should I say ‘crew’—boarded the Marie, killed the rest of the Spanish, and stripped the ship of all its worth.
Lady Elizabeth stowed the treasure and returned to the party without a single hair out of place while her men sailed the Spanish ship out into deep water and sank her.
When she tried the same ‘smash and grab’ with a German ship, however, Queen Elizabeth I, could no longer turn a blind eye and Lady Killigrew grew another inch or two thanks to a noose.
Another husband and wife team was Rachel Wall and her better half. Rachel is said to be the first American born pirate in history. She and her crew worked in the Isle of Shoals—a place near and dear to my heart—off the New Hampshire coastline.
After a storm, Rachel would stand on the deck of her ship and scream for help. Who could refuse a damsel in distress? However, when her rescuers arrived, they were robbed and killed.
Ironically, her husband and her crew all perished when they were swept out to sea during a storm. Talk about karma! But it wasn’t until Rachel was arrested after trying to steal a woman’s hat—and cut out her tongue—that she was ever brought to justice. Rachel insisted that she be tried as a pirate, and at 29 years of age, became the last woman to be hanged on Boston Common in Massachusetts.
The most powerful pirate queen of them all began her pirating career after her husband saved her from a life of prostitution. Rescued from a floating brothel in Canton, China, Ching Shih joined her husband’s crew until his subsequent death three years later. She then became captain of the Red Flag Fleet and built her amazing pirate empire. At its pinnacle, the Red Flag Fleet numbered some fifteen hundred ships and more than seventy thousand men.
Ching Shih’s punishments were brutal, swift, and fierce. She was particularly fond of beheadings for horrendous crimes such as not showing up to work on time. Deserters, however, got to keep their heads, but because they wouldn’t listen to reason, she took their ears.
So powerful, the Chinese government was forced to grant her amnesty to make her stop terrorizing their coastal villages. Ching Shih had a couple more conditions, though. First, she demanded that they pardon her crew as well. Only one hundred and twenty-six ever saw the noose. And, second, after working so hard for so long, she demanded that she be able to keep all her treasure.
Ching Shih retired a very wealthy woman. She married her first mate, opened a brothel/gambling house, and lived out the rest of her days in relative peace.
Such amazing characters, such amazing women! Can’t you see now why I write pirates? Some lusting after the adventure, some forced into pirating to survive, each of these women swung their cutlass into the history books, and made for some fascinating research.
BLURB FOR WITHIN A CAPTAIN'S HOLD
Captain Jaxon Steele is a tall, sun-bronzed, fierce-fighting Pirate King. He and the notorious crew of the Scarlet Night are both feared and respected for their ruthless reputation. The Captain’s only love is the open sea and the ship he calls home. When it comes to women, he has three rules: never sleep with another’s wife, don’t take virgins into bed, and most importantly, never bring a woman aboard—that brings the worst luck of all.
Annalise Gatherone has to leave London—tonight! Usually her only concern is the color of her latest gown, but now she’s choosing between life and death. Desperate to escape the clutches of an evil Duke, she stows away aboard the Scarlet Night, hoping she’s bound for Port St. Maria. Winning Captain Jaxon’s affections, she just might sneak by unharmed. But when her plans are altered in ways she never imagined, she must batten down the hatches for a journey into unknown waters…