She Captains: Heroines and Hellions of the Sea





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The role of women in maritime history is commonly reduced to that of cook, laundress or prostitute. In short, background service providers in an industry dominated by men. It is difficult now to establish the number of women who went to sea as sailors or pirates. However, there were ‘she-captains’ and female pirates: 5th century Scandinavian pirate, Alwilda, whose courage is said to have equalled or surpassed her male counterparts; Grace O’Malley or Gráinne Mhaol (1530-1603), who led pirate ships off the west coast of Ireland; cross-dressing Englishwoman Ann Mills (18th century), who is usually depicted holding the decapitated head of a Frenchman; Ching Shih (1775-1844), Chinese pirate, who had up to 40,000 people working for her; and American-born pirate Rachel Wall (b. 1760), the last woman to be hanged in Massachusetts.


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Joan Druett, “She Captains: Heroines and Hellions of the Sea,” | OUR Heritage, accessed June 13, 2024,