Bonny is the daughter of servant woman Mary Brennan and Brennan’s employer, lawyer William Cormac. Official records and contemporary letters dealing with her life are scarce, and most modern knowledge stems from Captain Charles Johnson‘s A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the most notorious Pyrates.
Bonny’s father, William Cormac, first moves to London to get away from his wife’s family, and he begins dressing his daughter as a boy and calling her “Andy.” When Cormac’s wife discovers William has taken in his illegitimate daughter and is bringing her up to be a lawyer’s clerk and dressing her as a boy, she stops giving him an allowance. Cormac then moves to the Province of Carolina, taking along his former serving girl, the mother of Bonny. At first, the family has a rough start in their new home, but Cormac’s knowledge of law and ability to buy and sell goods soon finances a townhouse and eventually a plantation just out of town. Bonny’s mother dies when she is 12. Her father attempts to establish himself as an attorney but does not do well. Eventually, he joins the more profitable merchant business and accumulates a substantial fortune.
It is recorded that Bonny has red hair and is considered a “good catch” but may have have a fiery temper as, at age 13, she supposedly stabs a servant girl with a knife. She marries a poor sailor and small-time pirate named James Bonny. He hopes to win possession of his father-in-law’s estate, but Bonny is disowned by her father. He does not approve of James Bonny as a husband for his daughter, and he kicks Anne out of their house. There is a story that Bonny sets fire to her father’s plantation in retaliation, but no evidence exists in support.
Sometime between 1714 and 1718, Bonny and her husband move to Nassau, on the island of New Providence, known as a sanctuary for English pirates called the Republic of Pirates. Many inhabitants receive a King’s Pardon or otherwise evade the law. It is also recorded that, after the arrival of Governor Woodes Rogers in the summer of 1718, James Bonny becomes an informant for the governor. He reports to Governor Rogers about the pirates in the area, which results in a multitude of these pirates being arrested. Bonny dislikes the work her husband does for Governor Rogers.
While in the Bahamas, Bonny begins mingling with pirates in the taverns. She meets John “Calico Jack” Rackham, and he becomes her lover. He offers money to her husband if he would divorce her, but her husband refuses and apparently threatens to beat Rackham. She and Rackham escape the island together, and she becomes a member of Rackham’s crew. She disguises herself as a man on the ship, and only Rackham and Mary Read are aware that she is a woman until it becomes clear that she is pregnant. Rackham then lands her at Cuba where she gives birth to a son. She then rejoins Rackham and continues the pirate life, having divorced her husband and married Rackham while at sea. Bonny, Rackham, and Read steal the ship William, then at anchor in Nassau harbor, and put out to sea. Rackham and the two women recruit a new crew. Their crew spends years in Jamaica and the surrounding area. Bonny takes part in combat alongside the men, and Governor Rogers names her in a “Wanted Pirates” circular published in The Boston News-Letter.
In October 1720, Rackham and his crew are attacked by a sloop captained by Jonathan Barnet under a commission from Nicholas Lawes, Governor of Jamaica. Most of Rackham’s pirates put up little resistance, as many of them are too drunk to fight. They are taken to Jamaica where they are convicted and sentenced by Governor Lawes to be hanged. According to Johnson, Bonny’s last words to Rackham are: “Had you fought like a man, you need not have been hang’d like a dog.”
Read and Bonny both “pleaded their bellies“, asking for mercy because they are pregnant, and the court grants them a stay of execution until after they give birth. Read dies in prison, most likely from a fever from childbirth. A ledger from a church in Jamaica lists her burial on April 28, 1721, “Mary Read, pirate.”
There is no record of Bonny’s release, and this has fed speculation as to her fate. A ledger lists the burial of an “Ann Bonny” on December 29, 1733, in the same town in Jamaica where she was tried. Charles Johnson writes in his book: “She was continued in Prison, to the Time of her lying in, and afterwards reprieved from Time to Time; but what is become of her since, we cannot tell; only this we know, that she was not executed.”