Fearsome Females: A Tale of Two Pirates

 

They were two notorious cross-dressers who moved easily in the circles of men. Known as tough-talking, hard-drinking, immoral cutthroats, they were sexually promiscuous, hot tempered, sly and stealthy. They were often more ruthless than the men they sailed with.

Anne Bonny and Mary Read were swashbucklers who ventured boldly onto the high seas — a place where females were often banned. They helped usher in what was known as the “Golden Age of Piracy”.

On this day, November 28, 1720, Anne and Mary were both convicted of pirate crimes and sentenced to death. Both also managed to escape execution while the men of their crew swung from the gallows. They cleverly utilized both biology and feminine instinct. Together, they challenged the long standing sailors’ notion that women aboard ship are bad luck…

“Disguise, Thou Art a Wickedness.”

Anne Bonny was the illegitimate daughter of an Irish attorney named James Cormac, and his housemaid Mary Brennan. She was born in County Cork in 1698. Because her birth caused scandal and disgrace, her father left his family, taking baby Anne to live with him in London.

To avoid the further “scandal” of living with a little girl, Cormac reportedly began dressing his young daughter as a boy. (A scheme which probably taught Anne that girls had much to be ashamed of…)

Eventually Cormac took Anne and her mother to the Americas where they lived in the colony of North Carolina.

Mary Read was also taught cross-dressing as a young child. Mary was born in England in 1685. She, too, was an illegitimate child, the daughter of a sailor’s wife. The sailor had gone off to sea, abandoning the family. Mary had a half brother. He was the sailor’s legitimate child, and her mother, having been left penniless, was receiving money to raise the boy from his paternal grandmother. However, this boy died. Mary’s mother — not wanting to end her cash flow —  then began dressing Mary in boy’s clothes and passing her off as the brother. (A scheme which probably taught Mary that a boy was worth more than a girl…)

Rebel Rebel

Anne was described as “red-haired and pretty.” She was strong willed and became a rebellious teenager. Increasingly defiant, she eventually married John Bonny, a penniless sailor, against her father’s wishes. Cormac disowned her. The couple then moved to what is now Nassau, in the Bahamas, which was then considered a sanctuary for English pirates.

Anne quickly got bored with her unambitious husband. She took to hanging out in taverns and seducing the local pirates. There she met the edgy and flamboyant swashbuckler John Rackam, known as “Calico Jack” (so named for his loud clothing!)

The two became lovers and ran away together. Anne became a member of Calico Jack’s crew — still cross-dressing as a man. It is said that the other pirates never realized Anne was a woman until years later when she became pregnant with Jack’s child.

Meanwhile, back in England, Mary Read also continued her cross-dressing. She found out she could quickly get work as a boy and took several jobs. She soon began living as a full fledged man called “Mark”.  Mary/Mark was so convincing she was actually given a position in the British Navy!  She proved herself a worthy soldier, fighting in the Nine Years War.

But then, Mary fell in love with a Flemish soldier. They married, and for a while, Mary lived as a woman. She was a respectable wife. The couple bought and operated an inn in The Netherlands.

However, Mary’s husband died and the business went belly up. Desperate for work, Mary once again resumed her identity as a man and took to the high seas. But during peacetime, there was little chance for jobs in the military. It was then she decided to become a pirate, and (you guessed it!) took up with the boisterous and belligerent crew of Captain Calico Jack.

A Walk on the Wild Side

When Mary came aboard ship, it is said that the promiscuous Anne, thinking Mary was a man, almost immediately fell in love with “him.”

Anne then bared her own breasts, revealing herself as a woman. Mary must have thought the facade was fun — or perhaps she just had too much too lose in her true identity.  She kept up the ruse for a while, but when a jealous Calico Jack entered her bedchamber and threatened to slice her throat, Mary also revealed herself as a woman. This apparently subdued Jack’s envy.

What went on between the three of them after that is anyone’s guess, but by 1720, both women were pregnant.

The women had many adventures together. They were both feared and revered. In the book Black Barty; Bartholomew Roberts and His Pirate Crew 1718-1723, one victim  named Dorothy Thomas, left a description of Anne and Mary:

“They wore men’s jackets, and long trousers, and handkerchiefs tied about their heads: and … each of them had a machete and pistol in their hands and they cursed and swore at the men to murder her me. Yet I knew they were women, from the largeness of their breasts.”

On November 15, 1720,  Calico Jack’s ship was captured.

Yo Ho Ho and a Bottle of Rum!

One night, having taken port in Negril Point, off the coast of Jamaica, Calico Jack and his scurvy knaves decided to have a celebration. They hosted a rum party with another crew of English pirates. Apparently, all of them were pretty drunk and had no clue of their fate when pirate hunter Captain Jonathon Barnett sneaked in the harbor. Barnett took the pirate ship by surprise, disabling it with a rampage of fire. Jack and his men ran to the hold and hid for the duration of the battle — too inebriated to fight back.

Anne and Mary. however, did not give up! They stayed on deck, battling to the end, firing their pistols and swinging their cutlasses.

According to one legend, Mary was so disgusted with the men that at one point she stopped fighting, peered over the entrance of the hold and yelled, “If there’s a man among ye, ye’ll come up and fight like the man ye are to be!” No one responded. Mary then fired a shot down into the hold, killing one of them.

Eventually Barnett’s forces took over. The women knew they had to surrender. The entire crew were imprisoned.

Calico Jack was scheduled to be executed by hanging on November 18. His final request was to see Anne. Upon her visit to his cell, she had only one thing to say to him:

“If you had fought like a man, you need not have been hang’d like a dog.”

Ten days later, on November 28, she and Mary stood trial at the Admiralty Court in St. Jago de la Vega, Jamaica. Both of them were found guilty and sentenced to be hanged. BUT — remember I said they were both pregnant by this time? It turned out to be their saving grace — also known as “pleading the belly.” Executions for pregnant women were always postponed until the child was born.

Sadly, Mary died of a fever in prison. She was buried on April 28, 1721 at Saint Catherine’s Church in Jamaica.

As for Anne, there is no record of her release, execution, or death. It is suspected she may have escaped and returned to Nassau. In his 1724 book A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the most notorious Pyrates, author Charles Johnson wrote:

“She was continued in Prison, to the Time of her lying in, and afterwards reprieved from Time to Time; but what is become of her since, we cannot tell; only this we know, that she was not executed.”

Not bad for a gender bending bastard who managed to outlive Captain Jack, as well as leave a swashbuckling legacy behind her! 🙂

 

 

Nicola Tesla — Where Credit is Due

 

Born on this day, July 10,  electronics engineer Nicola Tesla is perhaps one of the most overlooked inventors. Although we credit Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Edison with the discovery and implementation of electricity, it was really Tesla who had the most innovative ideas and contributed the most to modern electronics.

Although he later became a US citizen, Tesla was born in 1856  in what is now Croatia. Some biographers claim  he was born — appropriately — in the middle of a lightening storm. He was educated at the Higher Real Gymnasium in Karlovac.  There he became interested in demonstrations of electricity by his physics professor.  He wrote that the demonstrations of this “mysterious phenomena” made him want “to know more of this wonderful force”.

As a child, Nicola reported having strange visions of light which he could reach out and touch.  He had a vivid imagination and was never sure whether these light visions were real or not. He had an unusual ability to visualize his inventions in his head, and even claimed to see, with his inner eye, the entire electromagnetic field of electricity.

In his early years, Tesla showed signs of mathematical genius. He was able to  perform integral calculus in his head. This prompted his teachers to believe that he was cheating.

 Tesla finished a four-year term in three years, graduating in 1873.

The most famous of Tesla’s inventions is the alternating-current (AC) electric system. This provides a fast current of electricity, able to travel long distances, as opposed to the  slower and weaker direct current( DC)  system. Without the AC system we would not be able to power modern cities and our landscape would be quite different — cluttered with small power plants and electric chambers on every corner.  In fact, AC is still the predominant electrical system used across the world today.  He also created the “Tesla coil” which is still used in radio technology, and several other inventions.

Nicola came to the United States in 1884. He briefly worked with Thomas Edison, whom he had greatly admired, until the two parted ways.  A case can be made for “good inventor/ bad inventor” with Edison in the latter role. While Tesla tried to develop his ideas for incorporating the AC system, Edison  — who was already using the DC system — jealously guarded his own interests through aggressive marketing and slanderous propaganda.

Edison convinced the public that Tesla’s AC electronics were dangerous and impractical.  He used underhanded and inhumane methods to prove this.  In his efforts to instill fear in people, Edison even electrocuted a few animals, including elephants!

Tesla abandoned Edison and went to work for George Westinghouse.

Westinghouse Electric  won the bid to light the Columbian Exposition of Chicago in 1893. They asked Tesla to participate. It would be a key event in the history of AC power.

At the Exposition, Tesla showed a series of electrical effects related to AC as well as his wireless lighting system, using  demonstrations he had previously performed throughout America and Europe.  These included using high-voltage, high-frequency alternating current to light a wireless gas-discharge lamp.  He demonstrated to the American public the safety, reliability, and efficiency of a fully integrated AC system,  thus proving that Edison was wrong. 

Throughout his lifetime, Tesla suffered from mad/ genius syndrome and all the impulsiveness that went along with it. He was known to gamble and accrued several exorbitant debts. Sadly, to pay his debts he ended up selling several of his patent rights to Westinghouse, including those to his AC machinery. The success of the Westinghouse Electric company was almost entirely based upon Tesla’s work, although Tesla never got monetary credit for it.

Having become obsessed with the wireless transmission of energy,  in around 1900, Nicola set to work on his boldest project yet: to build a global, wireless communication system — to be transmitted through a large electrical tower — for sharing information and providing free electricity throughout the world. Sounds familiar, right? But this was only 1900 🙂

With funding from a group of investors that included financial giant J. P. Morgan, in 1901 Tesla began work on the project in earnest, designing and building a lab with a power plant and a massive transmission tower on a site on Long Island, New York, that became known as Wardenclyffe.

However, doubts arose among his investors about the plausibility of Tesla’s system. As his rival, Guglielmo Marconi — with the financial support of Andrew Carnegie and Thomas Edison — continued to make great advances with his own radio technologies, Tesla had no choice but to abandon the project.

It’s too bad. Had investors believed in him, perhaps we would have had the Internet a lot sooner!

The closure of the project affected Tesla emotionally. He suffered a nervous breakdown. After that his work was mainly as a consultant. Radically ahead of his time, his interests after that were considered outlandish and a bit crazy. For example, he devoted much time to the care of wild pigeons in New York City’s parks. (Who knows what he had in mind — as carrier pigeons were a well known and reliable source of communication.)  Tesla even drew attention from the FBI for some of his so-called dangerous ideas.

Tesla died on January 7, 1943 at the age of 86. Like many eccentric geniuses, he was poor and virtually unknown. Sadly, American education does not incorporate him into the curriculum, so most kids learn very little about him. Recently however, more attention has been brought to his name by billionaire businessman Elon Musk, who named his electronic automobile company “Tesla”.  According to Musk, the mission of Tesla is “To accelerate the world’s transition to a sustainable energy future.”

The legacy of the work Tesla left behind him lives on to this day. Every time we turn on radio, watch a live stream, plug in a device or use wifi, we should remember who we have to thank!

Happy Birthday Nicola!

 

 

 

 

Anita Pallenberg’s Witchy Ways

 

She was the charming muse of the Rolling Stones, an elusive Ruby Tuesday who, with beauty and charisma, skyrocketed to It Girl fame in the 1960’s and 70’s.  She had notorious love affairs with Brian Jones, Keith Richards, Mick Jagger and a number of women. She was a style icon and an international superstar. She was also a black magic practitioner who regularly cast spells and carried strings of garlic to ward off vampires.

“At the center, like a phoenix on her nest of flames… the wicked Anita. She was the most incredible woman I’d met in my life. Dazzling, beautiful, hypnotic and unsettling. Her smile—those carnivorous teeth!—obliterated everything. Other women evaporated next to her.  — Marianne Faithfull

Dazzling Anita Pallenberg died one year ago today, on June 13, 2017.

She came into a chaotic world, born on April 6, 1944 in Nazi-occupied Rome. Her father was a travel agent and her mother a German embassy secretary.  A true child of war, Anita did not meet her father, then serving in the military, until she was three years old.

She was educated in Rome and  sent to boarding school in Bavaria where she was expelled at age 16. After that she traipsed around Europe and New York City where she became a fixture of Andy Warhol’s Factory and began to pursue a career in modeling and acting.

Anita first met the Rolling Stones backstage at a concert in Munich in 1965. Reportedly, the band was terrified of her.

Keith Richards said of her: “Anita Pallenberg scared the pants off me …  She knew everything and she could say it in five languages. You knew you were taking on a Valkyrie — she who decides who dies in battle.”

Mick Jagger claimed, “She nearly killed me.”  Nonetheless, they began a relationship with her.  Anita introduced them to pop culture giants like Andy Warhol and Federico Fellini, influencing their fashion trends and ushering them into the avant-garde world of swinging London.

Anita first became romantically involved with Brian Jones. They fought a lot and the relationship eventually became physically violent. Anita, however, was no victim.  According to Keith: “Every time they had a fight, Brian would come out bandaged and bruised.” Brian Jones, a famous member of the ‘27 Club’,  died at age 27 when he drowned in a swimming pool.

Anita then became involved with Keith. She and Richards had three children together and, although they never married, had a passionate, drug-addled relationship which lasted thirteen years. Anita’s appetites for sex and drugs were legendary, and V Magazine even called her “the woman who out-Keithed Keith.” However, Richards still considered her a friend when he married his wife Patty Hansen in 1983.

The flamboyant styles the Stones began to wear in the late sixties — ascots, floppy hats, jewelry — are credited to Anita’s sense of fashion.

“I started to become a fashion icon for wearing my old lady’s clothes.” — Keith Richards. Reportedly, they wore the same size. Keith said he’d get up in the morning and pull on her trousers.

Pallenberg also influenced the Stones music, singing background vocals and calling for remixing when she thought the sound was not up to par. They respected her opinion and some insiders said she was as much a part of the band as Mick and Keith.

An actress in her own right, she appeared in a total of fifteen films. These included Marco Ferreri’s Dillinger is Dead, Christian Marquand’s Candy, which starred Marlon Brando and Richard Burton, and Roger Vadim’s Barbarella which starred Jane Fonda.

According to Keith, during the filming of Candy, Marlon Brando “kidnapped her one night and read her poetry and, when that failed, tried to seduce Anita and me together.”  Who knows what happened in that little threesome, but Keith did name their first son “Marlon”.  🙂

She also appeared in Donald Cammel’s Performance, which starred Mick Jagger. It was during this filming that Anita allegedly had an affair with Mick.

During this time, Keith was writing Gimme Shelter, a song rife with darkness and apocalyptic visions. He later attributed his pessimism to his own jealousy over the fact that he believed Mick, his best friend, was having an affair with Anita. In short, Keith was not convinced that the film’s sex scenes were mere acting. He called director Donald Cammel “a pimp” and said the movie itself was “third rate porn”.  Pallenberg and Jagger, it should be noted, both claimed there was never any affair. According to Anita:  “I was a one-man girl at the time and Keith was the man for me. I loved him. And anyway, Jagger was the last guy I would have done that with.”

However, when Mick began to date the Nicaraguan born Bianca Perez (who later became Mrs. Bianca Jagger) Anita had many objections.

According to Tony Sanchez, who served as Richard’s personal assistant: “Anita hated Bianca from the start. She was convinced that Bianca was a threat to the Stones and one day she announced that she had put a curse on her  –  she had long been obsessed by black magic.

Anita carried a string of garlic everywhere, to ward off vampires, and in her bedroom kept an ornate carved chest which I found was full of bones, wrinkled skin and fur from strange animals. She also had a mysterious old shaker for holy water which she used for some of her rituals. Her ceremonies became increasingly secret, and she warned me never to interrupt her when she was working on a spell.”

Was it Anita’s witchy ways that catapulted the Stones to fame? How Satanic were Their Majesties, how Sticky were their Fingers and how much Sympathy for the Devil did they really have?

While attempting to break up with Anita in 1978, Keith Richards wrote Beast of Burden, in which a man doubts his own virility and begs for reconciliation with his lover. The Guardian calls the song “a wracked plea for mercy from a broken man.”

Perhaps Keith never should have messed with her.

Tony Sanchez also wrote that Anita was “like a life-force, a woman so powerful, so full of strength and determination that men came to lean on her.”

Although Pallenberg had been solicited several times to write her own autobiography, she never agreed to any publisher’s request.  In 2008 she stated: “The publishers want to hear only about the Stones and more dirt on Mick Jagger and I’m just not interested. They all want salacious. And everybody is writing autobiographies and that’s one reason why I’m not going to do it.”

Too bad. It would have been great fun to read the story in the lady’s own words.

Anita Pallenberg Rock In Peace.