That got your attention, right? So maybe you can forgive me for flipping over the press release for local author Robert Q. Hoyt's Anne Bonny: Tale of a Lady Pirate, which trumpeted, "... she developed a strong attraction to violent swordplay, cold-blooded murder and lusty bisexuality (a long-term affair with another lady pirate, who also dressed as a man, surely challenged the sexual morality of the time)." Imagine my disappointment then, when Hoyt, upon being interviewed, said, "We know, from historical documents, that Anne Bonny was on board with this other female pirate and that the two had a rather ambiguous relationship, but I leave that up to the reader."
Hoyt, a former lawyer from Chicago who "started practicing when Kennedy was president," got sick of the weather ("it's always February in Chicago," he says) and moved down to Tucson in 1979. He continued to practice as a jury trial lawyer for civil cases, a profession that he says inspired a lot of the stories he later wrote.
"Most of my cases," he says, "were against lawyers or doctors, nurses, dentists, who had done something bad to their clients."
He wrote two novels prior to Anne Bonny: one about a 1970s battle between a young, idealistic, Hispanic lawyer and a corrupt criminal court judge; another about a female toxicologist who, after losing her license, becomes an assassin for a long-term disability company whose customers are living too long.
"That one," Hoyt says, "was inspired by this women I met; I took her deposition. She had attended a degree mill in the Caribbean some years ago, cheated her way through medical school and finished with a lot less essential courses than she was supposed to have had. Then she took the exam for foreign medical students, and the third time she took it, she passed. I built the story based on those facts, plus the account of another real-life male doctor who actually became an assassin, and had a book written about him."
But Hoyt closed his practice in 1997 because he'd "had it up to here" and wanted to write full-time. So from where did the inspiration for Anne Bonny arise?
"I chanced across several pages of a biography of Anne Bonny written in 1724 by sea captain Charles Johnson," he says, "who some say was actually the legendary Daniel Defoe. I read it and was just fascinated. There were a lot of holes in it, so I did a lot of wondering, and began to research and read all I could about female pirates, and found out that there were actually quite a few. There was a real Mary Reed, just like Anne Bonny, who both disguised themselves as men and were both on the same ship with Calico Jack Rackham. Anne has a sort of relationship with Rackham, but in history and in my novel, Calico turns out to be a bit of a coward, and Anne is a fierce woman--feminine, but fierce. Nobody puts footprints on her face."
The beginning, quasi-end and several in-between points of Hoyt's novel are based on historical documents. Hoyt can reference the names of Anne's parents and the fact that they had cause to dress Anne as a boy when she was young with confidence; it's also evident that Anne continued to dress as a man, and later had one relationship with Calico Jack Rackham and another relationship with fellow pirate Mary Reed. A lot of the action, prior to Anne turning professional-pirate, happens in Nassau, which even King George knew was a nest of piracy. In 1715, the king offered the "act of grace," which Hoyt describes as: "If you're a pirate, and your name is Laurel Allen, and you promise to quit piracy, then despite the fact that pirates are sentenced to hang, we will pardon you, if you never go back to piracy." (I make no such promises.)
Anne Bonny took to the sea, had many adventures, got her hands on some serious treasure, battled the Spanish ferociously, then suddenly, it was over. Her ship was caught off the coast of Jamaica in 1720 by the British, and she, Mary and 20 or so other pirates were sentence to hang. (Hoyt managed to get a copy of the transcript of the trial from the British colonial records.) Anne was 20 years old.
At the last minute, Anne and Mary both told the judge that they were pregnant. "So you plead the belly," the records show the judge to have said. "Well, we'll see about that."
A doctor was called for who found that the two women were indeed both with child, so while all of their shipmates died, Anne and Mary were sentenced to life in prison. Mary Reed died in prison; records show that Anne had her child, a boy, but there's no known record of her death. For Hoyt, that means it wasn't the end of Anne Bonny, and in his novel, at least, she lives on.
Hear the rest of the story from Hoyt himself at a 2 p.m. reading Saturday, Sept. 25, at Reader's Oasis, 3400 E. Speedway Blvd., 319-7887. Free and open to the public.