From the time first pirate ships sailed the seas of Mediterranean and the North Sea, to the rise of the Golden Age of Piracy and the establishment of large 19th-century pirate fleets in the Chinese sea, the hard work that was demanded from pirate crew almost exclusively attracted male ship crew. The centuries of evolving superstition, written and unspoken laws created an atmosphere where the presence of female crew-members on any ship was almost entirely unwanted. This belief noted that presence of women near the crew that was on the sea for sometimes months at the time would destabilize work ethic, cause arguments, and believed by many, bring incredibly bad luck to anyone on the ship. However, history remembers many notable examples of not only women who managed to disguise their way into the crew of pirate ships and serve undetected but also, brave women who unveiled themselves to the crew, earned their trust, fought fiercely alongside them and even gain the right to become ship captains and leaders of organized fleets of pirates.
The most popular female pirates of all time without a doubt Anne Bonny, who served as a pirate with both her husband James Bonny and her lover John "Calico Jack" Rackham. The same ship was also a temporary home for another female pirate, Mary Read who same as Anne concealed her true gender from the rest of the crew by wearing male clothes. Many historians believe that both Mary and Anne were very accustomed in hiding their gender because of the turbulent youths they had – Mary had very impoverished past while Anne ran away from her wealthy parents toward the life of adventure. During the years both of them were active on the sea as pirates, they fought together alongside the pirate crew, earning their respect, and even being a part of boarding parties on merchant ships they raided. By the time their adventures at sea came to the end in 1720, authorities who captured the crew of John "Calico Jack" Rackham had made a discovery that two of the pirates were in facts women dressed as men. This discovery was made even more incredible when it became clear that both of them were pregnant. This fact saved the lives of Anne Bonny and Mary Read, but historians today cannot be sure what their true fates were. Many believe that Mary Read died in a prison while Anne Bonny managed to find the life freedom and die from old age.
While Anne Bonny and Mary Read managed to gain much of the attention from the modern public who yearned for the romanticized retelling of Caribbean pirate life, many other female pirates made their mark in history. Viking and Medieval centuries featured several notable female pirates and female pirate captains while 16th century saw the rise of several famous female pirate figures such as Irish Grace O'Malley, who commanded the fleet of 20 pirate ships that raided the coast of England (she died in prison after being captured in one of her raids).
In more modern times, two female pirate figures stand among the rest. Chinese leader of organized piracy Cheng I Sao inherited the fleet of pirate ships that were crewed by over 50 thousand men. Instead of pursuing the pirate life forever, after she became public enemy number one of Chinese government she elected to surrender her ships and men to the authorities and retire with all her riches. In the late 20th-century Chinese pirate leader Cheng Chui Ping (with a nickname "Sister Ping") created organized smuggling ring that carried immigrants from Asia to US and Europe. She was caught and sentenced to 35 years in prison.
While this article shows that women pirates managed to play a role in the history of piracy, it is also worth mentioning brave women who elected to serve on military navy ships during a time when only men were allowed to work there. Hannah Snell served as a Marine in the 18th century, she saw combat many times, got wounded 11 times, all without being discovered that she was a female. After she was discovered, she received the honorary discharge and a pension for her excellent service. Other notable examples of women serving in 18th century British fleet are Elizabeth Bowden and a black woman known under a name William Brown who served on a ship for 12 years. She was allowed to do so because of her incredible skill of manually managing the topmost sails.