Even though piracy was an occupation dominated by men, there have been a number of women who found success in it. They were known for their ferocity and cleverness, and the brutal nature in which they dealt with their enemies. They planted fear even in powerful empires. Here is the list of 10 most notorious female pirates in history.
10. Sadie the Goat
Originally named Sadie Farrel, she was an American river pirate who lived in the 19th century. She spent her early days in streets of New York as a mugger, and earned the nickname Goat from her habit of head-butting her opponents. After losing an ear in a fight with her rival Gallus Mag, Sadie fled New York and formed a new gang of robbers who eventually became pirates. They travelled along the Hudson river and robbed farmhouses and manors, and often kidnapped people for ransom. She returned to New York later and made a truce with Mag.
9. Queen Teuta of Illyria
One the earliest known female pirates in history, Teuta was a pirate queen of Illyria who lived in 3rd century BC. The ruler of Ardiaei tribe, she asserted her supremacy over the Adriatic sea, attacking Roman and Greek ships. The Romans sent envoys to negotiate but Tetua had one of them killed during the meeting, resulting in a war between the two kingdoms. The war, which lasted from 229 to 227 BC, brought Tetua’s downfall. She was allowed to rule Illyria, but was denied a chance to sail again.
8. Grace O’Malley
Also known as ‘Granuaile’ and in other numerous names, Grace O’Malley was born in a family of pirates in Ireland. She took the reign of family tradition in 1560s and led many raids along the coastline of Ireland. She became a headache for the British and Spanish ships and in 1574, she was captured by the British forces. Grace was imprisoned for nearly 18 months, but she returned to piracy after her release. She was defeated again, but in a direct appeal to Queen Elizabeth I, she regained her fleet back. She died in 1603.
7. Jacquotte Delahaye
Born in Haiti, Jaqcuotte Delahaye was a pirate who lived in 17th century. She became a pirate to look after her mentally handicapped brother, after her mother died giving birth to him. She once faked her death to escape the government and assumed the identity of a man. Jaqcuotte returned to active piracy a few years later, earning the nickname Back From the Dead Red, and dominated the Caribbean waters with another famous female pirate, Anne Dieu-le-Veut. She was killed during a shoot-out to defend an island she had captured.
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6. Rachel Wall
Regarded to be the first American woman to become a pirate, Rachel Wall was born in 1760 as Rachel Schmidt. She married George Wall and along with a few friends, they started the business of piracy. They worked with Isle of Shoals as a base, and captured numerous boats and killed around 25 sailors. After her husband and crew were killed in a sea accident, Rachel returned to Boston and worked as a servant and occasional thief. She was captured during a robbery there and was hanged in 1789, becoming the last woman to be hanged in Massachusetts.
5. Sayyida al-Hurra
A pirate Queen and the ally of the infamous Turkish pirate Barbarossa, Sayyida al-Hurra was the ruler of Moroccan city Tetouan. Actually Sayyida al-Hurra is a title for a noble lady and her real name is unknown. Ruling from 1515 to 1542, she controlled the western part of Mediterranean Sea. She supposedly became a pirate to take revenge on the Christian rulers. She married the king of Morocco later, but was eventually overthrown by her son-in-law. Her remaining life is lost to history.
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4. Jeanne de Clisson
Known as the Lioness of Brittany, she was the wife of Olivier III de Clisson and a mother of five. She became a pirate to take revenge on the French King Philip VI, after her husband was executed for treason. She sold all of her properties and bought three warships. Jeanne and her crew terrorized the English Channel, capturing only French ships and killing most of their crew. She retired from piracy in 1356 and later married English lieutenant Sir Walter Bentley.
3. Mary Read
Born to a sea captain, Mary Read was the close companion of Anne Bonny. She was known for her talent to masquerade as a male and lived early years in disguise of her deceased half-brother Mark. She joined the British Military, and fell in love with a Flemish soldier. Upon his death, she went to the Caribbean as a sailor. She was captured by pirates there and was inducted into their crew. Later, she met and befriended Anne Bonny and joined Calico Jack’s crew. Only a few people knew she was a woman. The English forces captured her with Jack and crew in 1720. Even though she escaped execution with Bonny, Read died in the prison next year from fever.
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2. Anne Bonny
Anne Bonny is a name not to be forgotten in the history of female pirates. Born as the daughter of an Irish lawyer, she married James Bonny, a small-scale pirate, in 1718 and moved to Bahamas. There, she fell in love with the infamous pirate John ‘Calico Jack’ Rackham and parted with her husband. She married Calico Jack and became a member of his crew. She domineered the Caribbean seas, partnering with equally infamous female pirate Mary Read and capturing many ships. In 1720, Rackham and his crew were captured by English forces and executed. Anne and Mary were exempted from execution due to their pregnancy. It is unclear what happened to them next.
1. Ching Shih
Called often the most fearsome woman pirate in history, Ching Shih was a Chinese pirate who reigned over the waters of Chinese Sea in early 19th century. Formerly a prostitute, she was captured by pirates in 1801 and married the captain of the gang, Zheng Yi. She took the command of the fleet, named Red Flag Fleet, following the death of her husband, and attacked British and Chinese ships. Her fleet grew by many times of its formal size. The Chinese government made a truce with her in 1810. She spent rest of the years running a brothel until her death in 1844.
Written By: Nikhil Rajagopalan