In the long and interesting history of piracy, Mary Read managed to prove herself as one of the most famous female pirates of all time. Although much of her earlier life remains unknown to modern historians, her time as a pirate remains well remembered today. Even though she was active for only few short years, she has done so in a time that is today remembered as a height of the Golden Age of Piracy, when the seas of Caribbean trebled under the reign of hundreds pirate ships led on by charismatic Blackbeard, wildly successful Bartholomew Roberts and cruel Edward Low.
The only records about Mary's early life come from the pen of Captain Charles Johnson (some believed to be an alias for English author Daniel Defoe), but many historians are criticizing the accuracy of his stories and lack of sources. According to him, Mary was born around 1690s by the widow of sea captain. Since her early life her mother dressed her as a boy in an attempt to secure monetary help from her husband family. This ruse quickly became natural to Mary, and she started liking dressing as a man and working male jobs. Mary quickly found work as a sailor, and after several years at sea she enlisted in English army. During her time in Nine Years War or War of the Spanish Succession, she fell in love with Flemish soldier, revealed himself to him and decided to leave military. They managed to go to Netherlands where they bought small Inn and lived happily until her husband sudden and early death. Devastated by her loss, she again took an appearance of a male sailor, and promptly went to the New World seeking better life.
Upon arriving into Central America, she quickly became accustomed with a pirate life when her entire crew was captured and forced to serve on a pirate ship. In 1718 she accepted the Kings Pardon and became member of the legitimate privateer crew, but that lasted only until her crew mutinied against their captain. While being stationed in New Providence, famous pirate gathering point, she became acquainted with thepirate captain John "Calico Jack" Rackham and her lover Anne Bonny. Mary quickly managed to find her way on board their ship where she still worked dressed as a man. The two women on board quickly became friends, and Mary soon revealed her gender to Anne. Captain Rackham who did not know this secret soon became agitated with their friendship, thinking that Anne is having a secret affair with Mary (known to him only by her fake name Mark). After seeing Rackham rage, both girls soon revealed this secret to him and later on to entire crew. During the several next years that Mary spent on board, both women openly worked on ship dressed sometimes in female clothes, but they also took a part in every pirate raid that Rackham found in the open seas. The stories of pirate crew onboard Rackham's ship "Revenge" soon became well-known across the Caribbean.
According to the legend Mary was a fierce fighter. According to one story she also developed an attraction to the one member of the Rackham's crew. When she saw that her relationship with that pirate has created tensions between the crew, Mary decided to try to save her lovers life from the bloodthirsty pirate who challenged him to the duel. She carefully executed her plan and challenged this pirate to the duel just an hour before her lover was scheduled to fight. Using her knowledge gained as a young sailor and a soldier, she quickly killed bloodthirsty pirate and saved her lovers life.
By 1720, successful operations of Captain Rackham and his crew made them well-known pirates, and many governments that held the power in Central America took notice of them. By October 1720, English Captain Jonathan Barnet managed to corner Rackham ship and mount a successful attack on him. According by some accounts, at the time of attack most of Rackham's crew were drung after celebrating recent successful raid, and Anne Bonny, Mary Read and few other pirates were the only one that put significant resistance to the English attack. While the majority of the crew hid under the deck, Mary and Anne fought valiantly until they were both captured.
The captured crew of Captain Rackham's "Revenge" was promptly transported to Jamaica where majority of them was hanged for the crimes of theft, murder and piracy (tarred body of Jack Rackham was hanged near the entrance of Port Royale's harbor as a warning to the would-be pirates). As for the woman, they both received delay of their execution after they managed to prove to the court that they were pregnant (Anne with Rackham, and Mary most probably with her lover crewmate). Mary Read never managed to leave the prison - shortly after receiving her sentence in early 1721 she died of fever (or by other sources during childbirth).
The legacy of Mary Read is not a big one, but she still managed to survive several years as a pirate crewmember of a small time pirate captain who never received the height of fame such as some of his counterparts (in addition to his female crewmembers, Rackham is also known for popularizing his famous Jolly Rodger flag - white skull with two crossed cutlasses). To this day Mary and Anne remain the only two well documented female pirates who operated during the years of "Golden Age of Piracy", and although some of the historical records that were recorded by Captain Charles Johnson are still disputed today, these two women remain remembered fondly in the modern popular culture. Stories of their lives (and deaths) as full members of legitimate pirate crew have fueled imagination of many modern artists and since the rise of the romanticized view of pirate life their reputation continue to grow with each year.