First American female pirate? Female serial killer? Common thief? Runaway? Ultimate bad boy lover? There’s nothing chill about this edition of What The History?!
It’s not decided which historical box Ms. Rachel Wall should be permanently placed in. But then again, what woman wants to be placed in just one box? And in 1789, things were still a little hectic, ya know, we’d just fought and won a war for our independence from Britain. Although, you wouldn’t know it today, based on how obsessed we are with British Royalty, this author included. And we Mexited Britain’s asses long before Meghan and Harry got that idea. Editorial: I fully support their decision to walk away from toxic shit. Family and tradition be damned. Been there, done that. Go M&H! But it’s 2020 ya’ll, and us women are way more than one life event, even if they’re all life of crime events.
Rachel Wall was a Jane of All Criminal Trades: She is largely considered first American female pirate. Rachel used her feminine wiles and beauty to trick dumb ass men so she could plunder all the shiny expensive shit from their ships. In her spare time, she was petty thief and pick-pocketer. She even got caught targeting one of John Adams’ friends. Whoops! She was a runaway, accomplice to murder, maid, and, her ultimate downfall, being a fan of fashion.
You’ll Never Change a Bad Boy: Rachel ran away from home around the age of 16. Docs like this are a little murky. But she was enticed by the sea. And to be fair, who hasn’t been enticed by the ocean a time or two? Then, like so many of us young dumb girls have done, she met a real bad boy, fell in love, married him, and turned to a life of crime. Okay so, maybe all of us haven’t done exactly that, but we have fallen for some angsty bad boy that we think we can change. (Heads up: We can’t. He won’t change, dear. Move on. Find a stable smart funny kind dude, who will be a good dad, if you’re into the whole parenthood thing. Trust me.) George Wall was a fisherman for a time. Until hatching a plan with Rachel and some sailor buddies to take up piracy. This was of course, after the Golden Age of Piracy had faded to a close. Nothing quite like jumping on a trend too late.
OG Bonnie and Clyde?: Rachel and George seemed to be the OG Bonnie and Clyde in their day, committing petty crimes and both being arrested numerous times for various offenses. It seems that bad boy George was an all around horrible influence on Rachel’s life. There are several anecdotes I could share about their crime spree, but my favorite is when George was in jail and Rachel broke his ass out by baking. Our girl Rachel stated, “…a brick-loaf baked, in which I contrived to enclose a number of tools, such as a saw, file, &c. in order to assist him to make his escape, which was handed to him by the goaler in person, who little suspected such a trick was playing with him…” Rachel and George had a real B&C vibe going on.
Pirate Adventures: Rachel and her motley crew of dudes, hubby G included, procured a boat, the Essex. It’s unclear if they stole or borrowed it, but we’ve learned a lot about Georgie and Rach here, so let’s be honest, that was probably stolen too. During storms they would go out on the boat and disguise it to appear badly damaged during the stormy chaos (no, this is not the name of a Kardashian child, I don’t think at least…). Rachel was easy on the eyes. And she used this to her advantage. She would cry and scream and wave for help from passing boats. Good samaritans would stop to assist her and the damaged Essex. The unsuspecting sailors were robbed and murdered. In just a year, Rachel and crew were estimated to have taken over 12 boats, killed some 24 men, and collected a loot upwards of $6,000. All in a year’s work…I guess. During one of these damsel-in-distress set ups, Rachel’s pirate crew unknowingly put themselves in a particularly violent storm. It ended with them actually being shipwrecked. George perished at sea and Rachel was on her own. Karma? Between George’s death in 1782 and Rachel’s execution in 1789, she largely worked as a maid and petty thief. I wonder how much she quietly stole from the homes she served? We’ll never know.
That’s a Pretty Bonnet, Lass: So there was Rach, on her own, cleaning other people’s stuff and robbing ships without George around. Until her final arrest and conviction of literal highway robbery. I’m not talking paying too much for snacks at an isolated gas station, no Rach robbed someone on a road. Let’s welcome Miss Margaret Bender, or as I like to call her, Madge. 17 year-old Madge was walking down a road when she happened to cross paths with Rachel. The story goes this way: Rachel saw that dope ass bonnet on Madge’s head and her thievery instincts kicked right in. She just had to have it! The story goes: Rach put a cloth over Madge’s mouth, may have tried to rip her tongue out (this is unclear, but Madge’s fam is firm that this happened), and snatched the bonnet off Madge’s head, knocked her down, and stole her shoes and silver buckles. Two sailors came to Madge’s rescue, one staying with her and one chasing after the assailant. Eventually the in-pursuit sailor found Rachel. She was arrested, tried, and convicted of highway robbery and sentenced to death by hanging. Her execution was signed off by…wait for it…THE JOHN HANCOCK. Yes, of extra large signature on the Declaration of Independence fame. And Rach was executed within four days of George freaking Washington, first president of these United States of America, visiting Boston. Girl was on the periphery of some pretty historical stuff.
I’m Innocent….Of Just THIS Crime: In the statement she gave before swinging from the gallows, she fessed up to many of the petty thievery crimes she’d been accused of. However, she denied ever robbing Madge or ever killing anyone. She claimed she stole items from men aboard ships while they slept, creeping on and snatching what she could. There was no mention of piracy or her and George’s deceitful Essex scheme. But the baddest feminist thing to come out of this whole situation are some of Rachel’s last words: “I hope my awful and untimely fate will be a solemn warning and caution to every one, but more particularly to the youth, especially those of my own sex.”
Moral of the story: Don’t fall in love with a bad boy and run away from home to live by the sea. It won’t end well, hun.