Famous Female Pirates of the High Seas: Charlotte de Berry


Female sailors, and female soldiers, have been very common events, but we are certain that our readers have never heard of an instance of a FEMALE PIRATE before the present one; which they may nevertheless depend upon as authentic.

CHARLOTTE DE BERRY, (although a French name,) was born in England in the year 1636 ; her parents were poor, but still most respectable people. Her father had formerly been a ship-owner to some considerable extents but having met with innumerable disasters and misfortunes at sea, he was compelled at last to retire from that hazardous profession, and, at the urgent solicitations of his wife, retired upon the wreck of his fortune, and gave up his thoughts to the care and instruction of his only child, the heroine of the following narrative : Charlotte was a very pretty and sensible child, and her father, being a most accomplished man, took a pride in cultivating her mind, so that at the age of fourteen she was accounted, not only one of the most handsome, but intellectual young ladies the neighbourhood they resided in could boast of. She was very tall, with a most graceful person, a noble countenance, dark penetrating eye and a cheek always rosy with health, and dimpled with the smile of good humour. Yet was she spirited, passionate, tyrannical, and unforgiving, and gave early proofs for the recklessness and determined temper that afterwards so singularly distinguished her.

It happened that when our heroine was born, and the place where she passed all her youthful days, was a seaport town(1) and in consequence of that, it was almost always full of sailors. Strange as it may appear, Charlotte, from a child, expressed her regret that she was not a man, and evinced all the hardihood, spirit, and energy of the opposite sex. She worshipped the sea almost as much as the Deity, and felt a most singular and striking regard for a sailor. She would wander daily to the beach, and watch the vessel as they sailed into port, with a feeling of the most unbounded delight. On more than one occasion too, in order that she might gratify her eccentric propensity, she has, unknown to her parents, assumed male attire, and visited the public-houses resorted to generally by the sailors so great was her extraordinary attachment to a nautical life and its votaries. It was upon one of these occasions, that she met with one Jack Jib(2), (as he was usually called,) a regular rough-spun jolly, goodhearted and weather-beaten seaman, who might have dated his origin from the cabin, and who had been in every engagement in which England had been involved for the last twenty years(3). So strong was Charlotte’s affection for this veteran, that she got married to him unknown to her parents, and he being called away by the breaking out of the war(4), she resolved not to be apart from him, and therefore, assuming the attire of a man, site secretly eloped from home, and got engaged on board the same ship in which her husband was; no one entertaining the slightest suspicion of her real sex. It will scarcely be credited, but it is notwithstanding a fact, that Charlotte fought in no less than six engagements in this ship, and so well behaved, that she received the highest encomiums from her officers, and the promise of promotion.

Her parents, who never more beheld her, died of a broken heart, and our heroine, finding her deception succeed so well, resolved to follow it up; so great was her attachment to the sea. and so ardent her affection for her husband. He was a plain but honest man, and felt a sincere regard for his wife, who always fought by his side, shared in every danger, and had been the means of rescuing him from the sword of the enemy, no less- than four times. Their extreme friendship for each other often surprised the men in the ship, but still they had no suspicion of Charlotte’s real sex. After being engaged in several enterprises with her husband, a circumstance occurred, which turned the current of her feelings in a moment, and filled her mind with that deadly enmity to mankind; and the navy especially, which subsided only with her death, and which afterwards made her so terrible to all who heard even her name mentioned. Charlotte’s husband having by some means or other, offended the lieutenant, who was a cruel and upstart tyrant, the villain accused him of innumerable crimes, for which he was brought to a court martial and sentenced to be flogged through the fleet(5). This inhuman sentence was carried into effect; the poor fellow endured his punishment with great fortitude, never uttering a groan; but it was more than his constitution could withstand, and in a week after, he died. But how shall we attempt to describe the feelings of our heroine at this dreadful catastrophe? She inwardly vowed a deadly revenge against those who had been the cause of her husband’s death, and the sequel will show the reader how well she kept her oath.

The fleet soon afterwards arrived at home, and was paid off, when our heroine, arming herself with a couple of pistols, laid wait for the lieutenant at night, in a lane through which she knew he had to pass. It was not long before he arrived at the spot where she was secreted, and the next minute he was stretched a corpse on the earth, from a well directed pistol in the hand of the revengeful Charlotte. She then stripped him of all the property he had about him, (which was a considerable sum in money,) and made the best of her way to London, where she resumed her female habiliments, and took respectable apartments,

Being a very pretty woman, she attracted a deal of attention; and, among the rest, one Captain Wilmington, of a merchant vessel, took such a particular fancy to her, by having seen her at a ball, that he made her an offer of marriage, and vowed a most fervent affection for her. Charlotte, however, told him that she would never be his, and desired him to forbear his importunities, as there might be danger in his forming a passion for one whom he might have reason to curse. But the unfortunate captain still persisted in his vows, and finding that she was not to be won by a promise of marriage, he made several attempts to seduce her, he finally succeeded in waylaying her and bearing her on board his vessel, which immediately afterwards set sail for the coast of Guinea. Charlotte being thus in the power of Captain Wilmington, was forced to submit to his embraces, but she always cherished in her breast the most implicable hatred towards him, and vowed never to rest till she had been avenged for the triumph he had gained over her. This threat she found it would be imprudent to put in execution at present, but she watched her opportunity in secret, and so well disguised her real sentiments, that the captain had no suspicion of her cruel designs.

Captain Wilmington was a very severe man, and was continually punishing the seamen for the most trivial offences; in consequence of which most of them heartily hated him, and only wanted a determined leader, to make them break forth into open mutiny. That determined leader they soon found where they had least expected it – in Charlotte de Berry. She was a great favourite with the crew, who admired her pretty features, her general affable temper, and freedom of manners, and sincerely pitied her for the dupe she had been made by the treachery of their captain. In several instances Charlotte had saved more than one of them from punishment, and their hearts in consequence were overflowing with gratitude towards her. Charlotte was aware of the influence she possessed over the men, and she had likewise watched their sullen look towards the captain, and overheard their murmurs of dissatisfaction she therefore, at a fitting opportunity, resolved to take advantage of it, and make herself mistress of the ship. When they had been out at sea about a month, they found it necessary to put in at a small island for fresh water. Many of the seamen went on shore, and Charlotte got the captain’s permission to do the same, for the purpose (as aforesaid,) of seeing the island. The men, who were seven in number, were some distance in advance of her, and did not notice her following them; which she did very cautiously, as she suspected that they were about to form some stratagem to be avenged on the captain, and that would consequently be a famous time for her to put her own plans into execution. The sailors having arrived at a deep cluster of trees, formed themselves into a group, and commenced a secret consultation! Our heroine secreted herself, and heard all they said; and it was as she had suspected—they were dissatisfied with the captain, thought of murdering him, seizing on the vessel, and become pirates: but not one of them was bold enough to offer himself as the leader of their secret conspiracy. Now was the time for Charlotte to put her project into execution, and she speedily availed herself of it; starting, therefore, from her place of concealment, she presented herself to the astonished eyes of the sailors, who started back in amazement, when one of them, (crying out ” We are betrayed !” drew his cutlass, and was advancing to cleave the daring woman to the earth, when she exclaimed, ” Hold ! I am your friend ; alike the enemy of Captain Wilmington, and burning for revenge. I have overheard all you have said, and only swear to be faithful to me, and I will rid you of your cares, and place the vessel in your hands this very night.”

The sailors could scarcely credit their ears; but when they had somewhat recovered from the astonishment into which it had thrown them, they expressed their admiration of the heroism of Charlotte, by loud shouts of applause, and agreed to be guided by her in everything. She then revealed to them her former history, the service she had seen, and her resolution to again assume the male attire, and to turn pirate. The sailors very highly applauded this singular determination, and promised to obey her mandates as faithfully as if she was one of their own sex, and to stand firm by her in whatever peril which might encounter them. Having then come to a mutual understanding on these points, they next arranged the plan of the assassination of the captain; whom Charlotte proposed murdering with her own hands, when they had retired for the night to their cabin. After she had accomplished this sanguinary deed, she was to give notice of the same to the rest of the mutineers, by blowing a particular signal on the boatswain’s whistle, when they were to rush forth, seize all who offered any resistance, and, at all hazards, make the vessel their own. This proposition having met with the approbation of all, Charlotte left them, and returned to the ship; the sailors, having procured some fresh water, and other necessaries, shortly after followed her, and not the least suspicion haunted the mind of the ill fated captain.

The hour for the performance of the horrible crime shortly arrived, and Charlotte’s determination was unshaken ; upon the captain and herself retiring to rest, he appeared more than usually affectionate, but his kindness only served to inflame the hot blood of the desperate woman the more, and she waited impatiently for the moment in which sleep should have rendered him insensible to her actions. That fatal moment at last arrived – the unfortunate captain slept soundly—and Charlotte, having arose cautiously, got a knife which she had concealed in the cabin, and at one stroke nearly severed her victim’s head from his body. She then gave the signal agreed upon, and the mutineers rushed in to her assistance. They found little opposition to their will, and that only from the mate and another seaman, whom the mutineers quickly settled by tossing them overboard, and in an hour, the mutineers were complete masters of the vessel. They then shouted, “Long life and success to the gallant female pirate captain, Charlotte de Berry!”(6)

Thus commenced our heroine’s interesting, though guilty career as female pirate, when she immediately assumed male attire, and never divested herself of them again on the ocean. She soon spread a great panic among the trading vessels, particularly on the African coast, where she principally prowled, in quest of the ships which traded for gold dust, and her engagements were generally very decisive; for nothing could daunt the courage of her invincible crew; and when they were triumphant, they dealt most unmercifully with those prisoners who refused to join them, putting them to cruel deaths, and plundering them of all they possessed. Charlotte went in the name of Captain Rodolph(7), and was known only as a man to her enemies. It happened once, that the crew of the female pirate were cruising about their usual spot, when they espied a ship, of moderate side, making full sail towards them. Charlotte soon discovered, from the colours which were flying at the mast head, that she was an English vessel; and, as it approached nearer, she found it was a brig carrying several guns, and seemingly well prepared to meet any private ships that might cross her path. Nevertheless, Charlotte, with her usual courage and daring, resolved to attack her, and accordingly put her vessel into proper order, for the bloody action that was soon fated to take place. She was the more stimulated to this engagement, by the idea that occured to her, from the size of the enemy, and the manner in which she was armed, that she had a valuable cargo aboard, of which Charlotte determined to become the mistress, or perish in the attempt. The ship soon came within gun-shot of them, and proved to be the ” Lizard(8),” an English ship, homeward bound, carrying eighteen guns, together with a valuable cargo of gold-dust, and having on board twenty one seamen and twelve passengers

This was a very formidable foe, but Charlotte was not at all daunted, and quickly hoisting the black flag(9), called upon the enemy to strike! A loud laugh from the crew of the Lizard, was the answer to this order, and our heroine, enraged at this, gave orders for the deadly strife to commence immediately, which was accordingly done, by pouring a heavy broadside upon the English ship, which carried away one of the masts, and killed the lieutenant and two of the female passengers. The battle that now ensued baffles all description; both parties fought desperately, but yet with unparalleled judgment and coolness. Never had Charlotte met with a more equal match, and never did she purchase a dearer conquest. Three times did the pirates board the Lizard, and again were driven back with great slaughter. Both vessels were nearly battered to pieces, and numbers were slain. The pirate crew was reduced to eight, and the Lizard had lost its captain, lieutenant, and several of the crew, in spite of which the sailors continued the struggle with unabated courage, and seemed resolved never to yield to the pirates while they had a man left. In this critical state of affairs, when Charlotte beheld her men fast falling around her, and nothing but ruin seemed to stare her in the face, she resolved to make a final and desperate effort, though it should cost her her life. The enemy were making an attempt to board them, and the pirates being somewhat daunted by the manly courage of their foes, and the number of their comrades that had fallen around them, seemed half inclined to yield, when Charlotte rushed forward with a pistol in each hand, and arousing them once more to act like men, they went boldly to the attack; their heroic female captain bravely leading the way, and being resolved to repel the foes who were now fast rushing on board the pirate ship and committing great havoc around them. In an instant a couple of the pirates who were by the side of our heroine, were stretched dead at her feet; but at the same moment, she fired and shot the leader of the Englishmen, who fell backwards into the ragging deep, and her other pistol felled his companion in the like manner: the rest of the enemy, daunted by Charlotte’s courage, were completely defeated and endeavoured to regain their own vessel, in the utmost terror and confusion. Many of them were precipitated into the ocean, and those who did get back to the ship quickly met their fate, for the Lizard bad been so dreadfully knocked about in the strife that she quickly filled, and sunk like a shot, with all her treasure on board! Thus Charlotte lost a very rich prize, to obtain which it bad cost her so much, and it was with extreme difficulty that she managed to get her own vessel into a little creek close by, with the remnant of her daring crew. Here she bad the ship repaired, and in a few days put to sea again, though she had now but a small number of men, and did not intend to venture any other attack at present, until she had got more hands on board, and the survivors bad recovered from the panic into which the brave conduct of the Lizard had thrown them.

Charlotte de Berry, when ashore, always resumed her female apparel, and passed off as a passenger on board the Trader, (the name she had given to the pirates ship.) Her lieutenant, an intelligent man, always attended her, whom she called her uncle, and who being enabled to sport plenty of wealth passed off as a rich merchant, and was invited into the best society. Charlotte was still a beautiful woman, and excited universal admiration wherever she appeared. It happened that, having put into Grenada(10), our heroine as usual doffed her male attire, and appeared in her own character; and there she attracted the attention of a wealthy planter’s son, a young man not more than twenty two years of age, who was so struck with her charms, that he made an immediate-disclosures of his sentiments, and implored her to look with favour upon his suit. Charlotte was pleased with the young man’s candour, and the gracefulness of his person, and felt for him an affection as ardent as that’ she bad felt for a husband. She therefore received his suit with favor, and consented to a clandestine marriage, which was a accordingly accomplished, and then our heroine made him acquainted with her real character, and left it to his own discretion and free will to follow the same lawless course with her, or abandon her for ever. Such was the strength of the youth’s attachment to this extraordinary woman, that he directly came to the former resolution, swore fidelity to his wife, secretly eloped with her on board the pirate ship, and induced many of his father’s slaves to accompany him, so that the vessel was speedily well manned again and she set sail in company with her new made husband, upon fresh adventures. He proved, in a very short time, a most determined fellow, and fought by her side in the most resolute and heroic manner.

They had only been married however, but three years, when it happened that the pirate ship suffered severely from a tempest, was driven from their latitude, and reduced to famine and extreme distress. Such were the horrors of their situation, that for three days they tasted not a morsel of food, nor drink to slack their burning thirst, and in their horrible situation, reduced to the most wretched condition that the human imagination can conceive, till their sufferings were actually iusupportahle ; they at last came to the dreadful resolution, that they should cast lots to see which of them should die(11), to support the craving hunger of their unfortunate comrades. The lots were drawn, when it fell upon the husband of our heroine! So great was her affection for him, he having proved to her a most faithful and tender companion, that she was in a state of distraction, and offered her own body to the crew, rather than her husband should fall a sacrifice.

In this dilemma, one of the black slaves, who had accompanied Charlotte’s husband on his elopement from home, struck with her unexampled generosity, and being himself enthusiasticly fond of his young master, exclaimed, “Hold, massa ! neb er shall it be’ said dot poor massa or misses die, while Sambo hob the courage to take him place !”, and, before any one could rush forward to prevent the generous slave, had plunged a knife into his own heart, and fell a corpse upon the deck. His body was instantly cut up, and greedily devoured by the unfortunate crew; thus was Charlotte’s husband preserved for the first time, from a horrid fate.

The body of poor Samba lasted them only two days, and then they were in the same dreadful state of suffering as formerly, without any prospect of relief. The horrid casting of lots, for the sacrifice of one of their comrades, was again proposed, and agreed to when, by a strange fatality, the lot fell again upon Charlotte’s husband. Charlotte once more offered herself instead of her husband, but was obstinately refused by the crew. This time was our heroine’s husband preserved by the magninimity of a negro, who slew himself in the same manner as poor Sambo, and was as quickly cut up and devoured by the starving crew. The body of the second victim was gone, and yet no help had arrived to the pirates in their miserable condition and for the third time was the horrid proposal made, to cast lots for the sacrifice of one of the unfortunate crew; and, as though an infernal spell rested on him, again the lot fell upon the husband of the female pirate! Being now entirely hopeless, he prepared to meet his dreadful fate but Charlotte implored them to let him live, if it was only for two hours, to see if any succour arrived; and then, if Providence did not interfere in his behalf, she promised that be should be sacrificed to the crew’s voracious appetites. They all consented, and sat watching, with greedy eyes, their unfortunate victim du ring the two hours. But no succour came, when one of the pirates, in the name of his comrades, demanded the life of the unfortunate man. Again their female captain interfered in behalf of her husband, and begged of them to allow him but another two hours reprieve; but their famine was now raised to such an intolerable pitch, that they, one and all, declared they could hold out no longer, and advanced to seize, him. Charlotte, with tears in her eyes begged them to desist, but they were deaf to her cries. She next implored them to be satisfied with the calves of his legs for the present, and then, if they did not meet any help by the evening, she promised them that she would no longer oppose their will. To this they agreed, and the miserable man actually submitted, and that with great fortitude, to the dreadful torture of having his calves cut off(12), which the half starved wretches greedily devoured. Night soon arrived, and yet they were in the same horrible situation; the pirates now declared that if their victim was not given up to them, they would have both Charlotte and him likewise. Finding, therefore, it was useless to resist, she took an affectionate leave of her unfortunate husband, who begged that he might be shot,, and that they would not feast upon his body until they were convinced that his life was quite extinct. To this the pirates promised obedience, and Charlotte having tied a handkerchief across his eyes, be knelt down, and the next moment was stretched a lifeless corpse upon the deck.

The pirates did not attend to the injunctions of the dying man; for no sooner had he fallen, than they stripped off his clothes, and commenced cutting up the body, and devouring it while yet the vital warmth remained in it. One of the monsters had even the cruelty to offer Charlotte a portion of the dreadful meat, but she turned from him with disgust, and hastened down below to give vent to the poignant grief which afflicted her. She had not long been there, when she heard a great confusion upon deck, and cries of “A sail! a sail!” In an instant she rushed upon deck, as well as her strength would permit her, and there indeed beheld a vessel making full sail to wards them, which proved to be an English ship; on seeing their signals of distress, she immediately manned a couple of boats.. and sent them, with all possible dispatch, to the pirate ship. The boats soon reached them, when the pirates imposed upon the seamen by a false tale about their being French sailors, and that they had been attacked by pirates, who after stripping their vessel of every thing valuable, throwing their provisions overboard, and murdering the greater portion of their crew, had left them to their fates. The boats instantly returned to their ship, and the English captain, being a very kind hearted honest Englishman, did not doubt, for a moment, the truth of their story, and was very much affected at the sufferings of the crew. He therefore sent them enough provisions and grog(13) to last them till they reached a port, from which, he said, they were no considerable distance. The men aboard the pirate ship now made a hearty meal, but Charlotte was too much affected at the horrible fate of her husband to eat much.

It must have appeared to the reader, that our heroine was a woman of strong feelings; and the shocking death of her husband made such an indelible impression upon her mind, that she became a complete idiot, and the command of the vessel was therefore committed to the lieutenant. Several of the ruffians, in spite of the great service our heroic heroine had formerly rendered, actually had the cruelty to propose throwing her overboard; but this the majority of the pirates would not listen to, and Charlotte was suffered to wander about the ship in undisturbed enjoyment of her wild ravings. Soon after this, the pirates attacked a Dutch trading ship of large size and force, upon which the maniac Charlotte insisted upon being attired in her usual apparel, and with a pistol in each hand, performed wonders, slaying all who ventured near her. At length, she received a blow from a cutlass, and fell overboard, exclaiming ” My husband! thy bride, Charlotte, the female pirate, comes to join thee!” The pirates fought as long as they were able, and then blew the vessel into the air; thus escaping that punishment allotted to them, if they had been taken(14).


  1. 1 It seems very odd that given the amount of detail apparently available to the author he did not seem to know Charlotte de Berry’s birthplace. Since the author clearly had a great deal of imagination we must assume some other reason for the omission.
  2. 2 Jack Jib seems an unlikely name for a mid 17th century seaman, though not an impossible one. It is however the name of a seaman character from “Odds and Ends; or, Which is the Manager?”, a play of 1819 by James R Planche. The name Jack Jibsheet is known to have been used by at least one American sailor in 1814.
  3. 3 From this point the question of date becomes an issue. If we assume that Charlotte began frequenting public houses at the age of 14 this gives us a date of 1650 at the earliest for her acquaintance with “Jack Jib”. The only major engagements of the English fleet between 1630 and 1650 were the blockade of Sallee in 1637, and the blockade of Helvoetsluys of 1648. From 1642 the civil war had been raging in England and although there were no major naval engagements until 1648 it seems odd that this is not mentioned. Although the text does not specify major engagements is would have been nigh on impossible for one man to be present at all the minor engagements involving English ships, so any attempt to place him at one or more of them would be pure speculation.
  4. 4 Again, we must question the author’s motives in not specifying which war broke out. Based on internal chronology I suspect that it was either the first or second Dutch war (1652-53 and 1664-67 respectively). Of these the first Dutch War seems the most likely as Charlotte would have been 16 rather than 28 at the outbreak.
  5. 5 Although the codes laid down for discipline during the Commonwealth made provision for harsh punishments, including whipping round the fleet, they were hardly ever put into effect except in the case of the most heinous crimes. It seems very unlikely that de Berry’s husband suffered this punishment, yet so much of the story is built on it. It seems more likely that the author invented this incident (as I believe he did the whole story) based on other recent publications, including stories by Marryat, which illustrate the brutality of naval punishment as it was seen then.
  6. 6 This whole story of mutiny, on which the rest of the tale hangs, is so unlikely as to be almost ludicrous. I have failed to find in records any mention of a Captain Wilmington sailing to Africa, or any mention of such a mutiny on an Africa vessel. We learn from this also that de Berry was most likely the name of Charlotte’s late husband which she took when she married him.
  7. 7 I have been unable to find any external evidence of any pirate named Captain Rodolph. However, in 1835 Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton published “Rienzi, The Last of the Roman Tribunes” featuring a character called Rodolf. It is possible that the author of the History of the Pirates was influenced in his choice of name by Bulwer Lytton’s work.
  8. 8 I have been unable to find any external evidence of a merchant ship called “Lizard” plying the Africa trade in the 17th century. The mention of a cargo of gold dust almost certainly dates this part of the story to the 1660s.
  9. 9 Another very serious flaw in the author’s research. While pirates are famous for flying black flags the practice did not start until half a century after de Berry’s time.
  10. 10 It is unlikely that de Berry could have put into Grenada, and even more unlikely that she would have met a hansome planter’s son there. Grenada was first colonised by the French, and they did not manage to establish any major settlement there until 1705, so for de Berry to have been welcomed there in the mid 17th century is absurd. Grenada was not ceded to Britain until the Treaty of Versailles in 1783. Much of the story seems unlikely, but it is this important detail which I think shows more than anything else that the story is a fiction
  11. 11 The drawing of lots to decide upon a victim is very reminiscent of the fate of the crew of the whaleship Essex which sank in 1820 after being rammed by a whale. The story of the voyage by first mate Owen Chase was published in 1821 and formed the basis for the novel “Moby Dick” by Herman Melville.
  12. 12 Another odd idea, possibly inspired by the old woman who lost a buttock in Voltaire’s Candide of 1759, which was still a popular work in 1836.
  13. 13 This places the events in the story definitely after 1655, in which year General Venables captured Jamaica and rum began to find its way onto English ships. The term “grog” however did not appear in the English language until the 18th century and is a diminution of “Old Grogram”, the nickname of Admiral Vernon, despised for watering down the rum.
  14. 14 Any part of the story which cannot be communicated by an outside source must be false. If the entire crew were killed then there cannot have been anyone capable of telling the story.