Article contains a minor spoiler for A Salmonweird Sleighing.
Most of the Salmonweird characters are complete fiction and not based on anyone in particular. But one is inspired directly by two historical figures.
Robbie Redsword gets a passing mention in the first book. During the conversation where Karl challenges Harry over the case of the two Eddies, Harry admits to being the father of the Eddie we knew. The mother was a woman named Rose who posed as a man aboard The Lady Catherine. She called herself “Robbie Redsword.” In A Salmonweird Sleighing, we finally meet her.
Pirating Was a Man’s World
The background of the typical pirate was of the petty criminal and the demobbed sailor – not always, but mostly. Both of those worlds were largely dominated by men. It’s believed but never confirmed that Blackbeard served as a seaman in a naval military capacity. Bartholomew Roberts was third in command of a slave ship for some time.
There are examples of high born men or merchants becoming pirates too. Stede Bonnet, for example, was a plantation owner born into wealth who fancied himself as a military privateer before turning fully to the life of crime.
Pretty much every famous pirate from before, during, and after The Golden Age of piracy was a man.
But Two Women Stand Out
If you have played Assassin’s Creed Black Flag you will know exactly who I am talking about. Both of these were remarkable women and it’s no surprise they were so central to the game. But their lives are all the more remarkable because of how they became pirates in the first place.
Born to a widowed sailor’s wife, about the same time as Read was born, her half-brother died. Her mother then dressed her as a boy in order to be eligible for financial support from her dead husband’s family. This pretence that Read was a boy carried on through her early childhood until she got work as a footman, her employers believing she was a boy.
Eventually, she found work as a cabin boy aboard a Royal Navy ship. She managed to carry this off for years until she fell in love with a man aboard the ship and revealed her true identity as a woman. Her commission ended and she lived the life of a woman until her husband’s death. At which point she started posing as a man again and rejoined the military.
When her ship was captured by pirates, she agreed to join their crew – still posing as a young man. This is where Robbie Redsword and the real Mary Read have similar paths.
Get this – a couple of years later, she accepted a King’s Pardon but went back to being a pirate immediately afterwards, joining Jack Rackham’s crew. There, she met the second woman pirate who I will come to in a moment. Both at this point were women pretending to be men. In a soap opera-ish love confession, it appears they both confessed to having feelings for the other and then confessed they were both women.
Similarly to Read, Anne Bonney was treated as a boy when she was young. The illegitimate daughter of a lawyer and his servant, the father pretended Bonny was presented as his son. When his wife found out, she cut him off. The lawyer and the servant, along with Anne (presented as “Andy”) fled to the US where they gained wealth and bought a plantation.
As an adult, she fell in love with a man named James Bonny. They married but her father did not approve of the match and cut her off. They fled to the Bahamas. When local pirates found her husband was an informant (something of which Anne did not approve) Jack Rackham offered her money to divorce him and join his crew. The husband refused and so she fled with Rackham anyway to become his lover, pretending to be a male to all other crew members.
This is where she fell pregnant and the story of Robbie Redsword has parallels. She went away to give birth, with Rackham making an excuse for her absence.
She returned to his crew after giving birth and there she met Mary Read. The two grew close and fell in love. Only then did they confess their true biological sex, something that Bonny told Rackham immediately. Despite initially feeling threatened by the love triangle, the three pirated together for a bit.
In late 2020, pirate hunters tracked them down and arrested the crew. Upon the revelation that Rackham’s crew had two women aboard, both “pleaded the belly” (that is, to claim pregnancy in order to avoid the gallows). Bonny called out Rackham, denouncing him at her trial for his failure to protect the crew. The trial also ruled on a stay of execution until both women gave birth.
Mary Read died of sickness while in prison. If she was ever pregnant, the child died with her. Some reports say she died giving birth, but no records exist in any case to determine her Pleading The Belly was a genuine pregnancy.
As for Anne Bonny, the only thing we are certain of is that she was never executed. She remained in prison for some time. Some reports state that her father paid a substantial fine to free her, after which she disappears from history.
I’ve yet to fully flesh out her back story, so far having only taken bits and pieces from the stories of Read and Bonny. Keep reading though because more will be revealed in time.
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