The Ballade Of Mary Reede  Or the Twilight Of The Buccaneers

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Moonshine Cove Publishing Abbeville South Carolina

                                                                   An Introduction to the story and its historical background.

 In November of 1720, one of the most famous pirate trials of what is called ‘the golden age of piracy’ took place in Santiago de la Vega – also known as Spanish town - Jamaica.  Standing at the bar to answer for the crime of high piracy was ‘Captain’ John (Calico Jack) Rackham, along with twenty members of his crew.  Two members of this crew, far more than Rackham’s own middling reputation, were to insure that his name, and this trial, would be prominently remembered in the turbulent history of the 18th Century Caribbean pirates. 

These two pirates were women, Mary Reede and Anne Bonny.

Mary Reede was convicted, along with Anne Bonny, of piracy and sentenced to hang.  Her sentence was reprieved, according to the custom of the law, when she was found to be pregnant.  She steadfastly refused to name the father of her child.  She said only that they were ‘married according to the common law, and customs of the sea’, and that he was "as honest and upright a man as ever walked."  The novel then is based upon the story of Mary Reede, as told to, and recounted in the memoirs of her husband, ‘by common law and custom of the sea’, John Tanner.

I came upon the story of Mary Reede while searching for material that I could use as a Folk Singer/Songwriter, specializing in traditional balladry.  I was deeply impressed with this story of an English  woman who had been forced by circumstances beyond her control to masquerade, successfully, as a man since childhood.

Mary Reede was a combat veteran, she had served with distinction in the army of the Duke of Marlborough during the war of the Spanish succession, 1701-1714, that part of Mary’s story is related to in my novel.

Later in the records, as they appear in A General History Of The Robberies And Murderers Of The Most Notorious Pirates, Johnson London 1724, she risked her own life in what is regarded as the most famous duel in the history of Caribbean piracy, to protect and save the life of the man whom she loved.  This part of Mary’s story and character galvanized me.  I was excited to tell this heroic woman’s story in a proper and respectful manner.

I researched her story, and her place in the history of Caribbean piracy in the early 18th century and wrote a traditional period ballad: The Ballade Of Mary Reede.’

The writing of the Ballade was not to be the end for me. Mary’s story, and my admiration for her, gave me no rest and so I deepened my research of Mary and of piracy in that time and place. Almost all of which information is derived from the ‘General History’ mentioned above, this book being the primary source for all ‘personal’ information regarding the Caribbean pirates of the time. I determined to write a novel based on this remarkable woman. My research has been thorough in all parts and particulars and included the Admiralty records of Mary’s trial from the National Archives in Kew England.

As with the song, the novel gives voice to the man for whom Mary risked her life. In the prologue and chapter one, the reader is introduced to the personality and character of John Tanner, a ships carpenter captured by John ‘Calico Jack’ Rackham and forced to his crew. It is there that John meets the great love of his life, Mary Reede, and now thirty years later he sets out to write a memoir of Mary, and of their love story.

Mary and John’s love story is a tragic action and tension filled romance of the sea. It is accurate to its time and place. I believe that my admiration of her has given me a sympathetic insight into the restless, courageous and resourceful spirit of Mary Reede.

Mary Reede is a tragic heroine whom I believe to be worthy of Homer.  She got me.