Throughout our history, American women have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with fighting men, spied on the enemy, protected the fallen, even led troops into battle. Without our women’s active and aggressive participation, this country could never have become what it is today. Women built this land just as men did, cutting down trees and clearing land, killing dangerous animals and sometimes dangerous humans. With such a legacy, it’s no surprise that American women seem a little tougher, a little bolder than most other women.
Hundreds of women can be commemorated for their war efforts. The famous burlesque dancer Josephine Baker, for instance, worked for the French Resistance during World War II as a spy. Clara Barton worked tirelessly to heal wounded soldiers during the Civil War. In World War II, millions of American women went to work in munitions factories to free men for fighting. Without women as camp followers or running farm and businesses, even George Washington’s Continental Army might have failed, and the United States would never have been born.
But not all women were willing to take a secondary or noncombat role. Instead, these women picked up weapons and entered the battle alongside men. Most of these women have been forgotten. A few, however, have been remembered in the footnotes of history.
(image is Anne Bonny and Mary Read. Mary Read was British or Dutch, not American. Via Wikimedia Commons)
1. Anne Bonny
Born in Ireland, little Anne Cormac came to Charlestown as a child. She grew up tough, wild, and independent, the perfect mindset for the pirate she became. Anne met Mary Read, another female pirate, when they worked together on Calico Jack Rackham’s crew, and the two female pirates helped terrorize the Bahamas for over two years.
When the British Navy finally caught up with Rackham’s crew, the men were below decks and thoroughly drunk on brandy, the spoils of a recent victory. The women had been left on deck to guard. By themselves, Anne and Mary held off a British warship for a good while, yelling at the men to “come up, you cowards, and fight like men,” even firing pistols into the hold to get the drunk crew’s attention. Their efforts were in vain, and Captain Jonathan Barnet, commissioned by the governor of Jamaica, captured the ship and crew.
In Jamaica, all the pirates were sentenced to hang, though the two women were spared because they were pregnant. Jack, before his hanging, requested to see Anne one last time. According to legend, she said to him, “Had you fought like a man, you need not have been hang’d like a dog.” She refused to speak to him further.
While it is known that Mary died in prison, probably before giving birth to her child, the fate of Anne is a mystery. There is, however, good evidence that her father, a wealthy merchant, bribed her jailers to release her, then sent her to Virginia. Here she married a farmer, had children, told stories about her pirating days, and lived to a ripe old age.