Today In Charleston History: April 22

Anne Bonny exposing her breast before killing another pirate.

Anne Bonny exposing her breast before killing another pirate, as a mean of humilation. 

Anne Cormac Bonny Burleigh, former pirate, died at the age of eighty-two. Known as Anne Bonny, she was one of the most infamous pirates during the Golden Age.  

Bonny ran away from Charles Town as a teenager to the Bahamas where she hooked up with Calico Jack Rackham and  later another female pirate, Mary Read. They were one of the most unusual pirate crews in the Caribbean.


The Charleston Courier noted:

A Jury of Inquest was held yesterday, on the body of an African woman, found floating at Craft’s north wharf. The jury brought in a verdict that she came to her death by the visitation of God and supposed her to belong to some of the slave ships in the harbor, and thrown into the river, to save expence (sic) of burial.          

1853 – Slavery

Reuben Roberts, the British Negro sailor, imprisoned in May 1852 sued the sheriff of Charleston, Jeremiah D. Yates, for “for assault, battery, and false imprisonment, the damages being laid at four thousand dollars.” It was a direct challenge of the 1835 Seaman’s Act.

James Petigru

James Petigru

Roberts was represented by the firm Petigru and King, and the sheriff was defended by Attorney General Issac Hayne, with Christopher Memminger and Edward McCready as special counsel.  The Charleston Courier reported:

Although in form an ordinary private action for damages, it is known to all that the case involves and depends upon the constitutionality and validity of the several laws of South Carolina relating to the colored seamen and immigrants …

Ultimately, Petigru won a decision in which British Negro sailors were allowed to stay on board their ships while in port and not arrested.

Today In Charleston History: November 18

1720 – Piracy

Anne Bonny reveals her gender to a surprised male pirate she was about to kill.

Jack Rackham and his male crew were hanged in Port Royal, Jamaica. The two female members of Rackham’s crew, Mary Read and Anne Bonny, were imprisoned by “pleading their bellies” – pregnancy. Read died of a fever in prison. What happened to Anne Bonny is uncertain. Like her early life, her later life is lost in shadow. Captain Johnson’s book first came out in 1724, so her trial was still fairly recent news while he was writing it, and he only says of her “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.”

There are many versions of her fate and no truly decisive proof in favor of any one of them, so you can pick your favorite. Some say she reconciled with her wealthy father, moved back to Charleston, remarried William Burleigh and lived a respectable life into her eighties. Others say she remarried in Port Royal or Nassau and bore her new husband several children.

1740 – Disaster. Fire.

 A fire broke out in the afternoon and consumed all the buildings from Broad and Church Streets down to Granville Bastion (current location of the Missroon House – Historic Charleston Foundation). With more than 300 buildings destroyed –homes, warehouses, stables – it was a major disaster, mainly because this area was along the commercial waterfront district. Losses were estimated at £200,000 ($20 million in 2014). One of the notable losses was the Dock Street Theater.

In the Gazette Elizabeth Timothy reported that “the wind blowing pretty fresh at northwest carried the flakes of fire so far, and by that means set houses on fire at such a distance, that it was not possible to prevent the spreading of it.”

Rev. Josiah Smith responded by publishing The Burning of Sodom, arguing that the fire was God’s response to vanity and wickedness of the city, and the Anglican Church’s treatment of George Whitefield. He wrote: 

Charles-Town is fallen, is fallen. London’s plague and fire came soon after the casting out and silencing a body of ministers … Charlestown … should pay attention and repent … The Pride of Sodom flourished … Let us Enquire seriously … whether our Streets, Lanes and Houses did not burn with Lust … Heaps of Pollution conceal’d from Man … which require’d Brimstone and Fire to burn up … such abandon’d Wretches generally curse the Sun and hate the Light.

The fire bankrupted the Friendly Society for the Mutual Insurance of Houses Against Fire. William Pinckney became so impoverished, he and his wife, Ruth Brewton, were unable to care for their son Charles, who went to live with his namesake, his uncle Charles. The younger Charles began to call himself “Charles Pinckney, Junior.” 

1780 – American Revolution 

Cornwallis issued a proclamation that he was seizing all the “real and personal property” of South Carolina’s patriot leaders, including Henry Laurens and all the St. Augustine exiles.


Lord General Charles Cornwallis, 1780