Despite their merciless behavior toward rivals on the high seas, pirates were a democratic bunch. They lived by a strict code that was freely agreed upon by all involved. Anyone who came aboard a pirate ship -- including Anne Bonny -- was compelled by the crew agree to the code or suffer the consequences.
Anne Bonny -- sometimes spelled Bonney -- began her life in the world of pirates as the wife of buccaneer James Bonny. Originally from South Carolina, she arrived in Nassau, Jamaica with her husband in 1716 only to leave him two years later for the pirate Calico Jack Rackham. With him and another female pirate, Mary Read, she stole a sloop and departed the Bahamas. While engaged in a short life of piracy -- within two months they all ended up in a Jamaican prison where Rackham was executed -- Bonny and Read behaved no differently than other male members of the crew. They did the same work, swore just as much and even wore men's clothes when engaging in battle.
Articles of the Code
Pirates adhered to a code when aboard a ship. Anne Bonny was no exception. Made up of a list of articles, the code made clear what was acceptable, safe shipboard behavior. The reputation of pirates as uncivilized is contradicted by the terms set forth and freely accepted by the men -- and women. Essentially they required all crew to do their assigned work and to refrain from stealing, fighting, spying or causing fires. Being prepared for battle, obeying orders and treating reputable ladies with respect were also mandated by the code.
Sharing and Compensation
According to the pirate's code, Anne Bonny was entitled to her fair share of captured booty. After the captain received his share and a half and other senior crew their share and a quarter, what remained was evenly divided among the rest. Anne would have received what she was fairly entitled to as gender played no role in such a decision. Finally, the pirate code included a type of early health insurance -- if a crew member lost a limb during a shipboard battle, she was compensated for the loss.
A range of punishments were meted out to pirates who didn't follow the code. The fact that Anne Bonny was a woman did not exempt her from facing the same consequences as male pirates. Punishments included lashings for fighting or marooning -- with one bottle of water and a sword -- for stealing or spying. Sometimes punishment was left up to the discretion of the captain and crew, such as those infractions involving the shirking of duties or not keeping a sword properly sharpened for battle.
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