Lowcountry Living

The story of Charleston’s infamous female pirate

By Marissa Thompson | October 21, 2022

The season of Halloween, dubbed by many to be “spooky season,” is in full swing as the month of October continues to barrel toward its peak. 

Buccaneers who are familiar with the history of the Charleston area are well aware that this town comes with its own ghost stories and folk tales. However, this town holds dark secrets and spooky tales that even the most well-versed Buc may not know of. 

Pirate Anne Bonny

It comes as no surprise that Charleston, ever a bustling port city, used to be home- or hostage of- several pirates, notably including Edward Teach, better known to most as Blackbeard the Pirate. Worth a mention, though, is one of the most notorious, fierce, and only female pirates to live, Anne Bonny. 

Bonny, a woman of legend, was an Irish immigrant who moved with her father and mother to America in the late 1600s, settling into then Charles Towne, South Carolina. After the death of her mother, who had her out of wedlock, her father, Irish lawyer William Cormac, attempted to marry Bonny off to a local man. Bonny refused.

This is where the details of Bonny’s life get murky, but there are a few definite facts. Bonny married John Bonny in 1718 to spite her father. Some sources report him as being a sailor, others report him to be a pirate. 

Either way, the couple moved to New Providence, an island in the Bahamas. John Bonny shortly after became an informant for privateer Woodes Rogers, who had recently become the governor of the area. Here, Anne Bonny met a pirate known as “Calico Jack,” or John Rackham. The two fell in love, at which point Rackham offered to pay John Bonny to divorce her. He refused, so in 1720, the two fled.

There are legends and stories of Bonny’s adventures as a pirate that span across the southern waters and along the East Coast, but perhaps most interesting is her alleged disappearance and the confusion regarding how she lived out the rest of her days.

After being arrested, tried and sentenced to be hung, only to avoid her execution by claiming she was pregnant, little can be tangibly proven about what happened to Bonny.

Some say she escaped prison and returned to Charles Towne; local legend places her running business out of Charles Towne’s Powder Magazine, a cannon storage space that is still standing to this day. 

Others say Bonny was released due to her father’s influence and spent the rest of her days searching for treasure she herself had hidden from her time as a pirate.

Certain accounts claim Bonny returned to Charles Towne and settled down, got married and had children.

There is also an old death ledger of prisoners from the facility she was jailed at which has record of an “Ann Bonny” being buried at Saint Catherine’s Church in Spanish Town, Jamaica, in the year 1732.

Ultimately, nobody truly knows what became of Anne Bonny, leaving behind a mystery that time may never unwind.

Tourists and locals alike, however, have claimed to see the ghost of Bonny here in Charleston, still residing in the old Powder Magazine, awaiting her next pirating adventure.

For any brave Buccaneers who wishes to pay a visit to Pirate Anne Bonny herself, there are two locations where they can go for a chance to lay eyes on the red-headed daredevil herself.

First is the Powder Magazine. Located at 79 Cumberland Street, nestled in the middle of Charleston’s French Quarter, individuals can purchase tickets to be admitted to the old building and grounds any day of the week. The now-museum is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday and is open from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays. Adults are admitted for $6, children for $4. There are also group tickets for $18 which grant admittance for up to five people; $25 annual passes are also available.

A second, but more contested location to spot Anne Bonny is The Pink House, located in what used to be Charleston’s Lodge Alley, a rough part of town in that time. At 17 Chalmers Street, The Pink House was a well-known tavern in its heyday that played host to several pirates and other lawless types.

There is speculation as to whether Anne Bonny would have ever been here, but there have been reports of multiple sightings of a female pacing in the window, almost as if she is waiting. Anne Bonny is a popular theory for the identity of this spirit due to her occupation, as well as the fact that there have been several supposed Bonny sightings throughout the French Quarter.

The curious may visit this flashy candy-colored abode for free at any time. It is private property, so individuals may not access the premises, but it may still be worth the visit to those invested in the mystery. Who knows? The lucky Buc may even catch a picture of Bonny pacing in the window!

Skeptics and believers alike will surely be enthralled by the history of the area as they explore the old stomping grounds of Charleston’s most infamous residents.

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