Rachel Schmidt Wall is believed to be the first American born pirate. She was born and raised on a small farm in 1760 in the town of Carlisle in the state of Pennsylvania. Some sources have said that her maiden name was Schmidt, but there has been no definite proof found.
Not much is known of Rachel’s early life, but she did state in later years that she did have a good education and that her parents, who were devout Presbyterians, did raise her in the fundamental principles of a Christian Religion. She was taught the fear of God and the need to follow her parents good advice to live a good life, however, she did not heed their advice!!
Evidently Rachel was bored with her life on the farm and longed for more. What is known is that at 16 she met and married her husband, George Wall, however, the story behind how she met him is not as clear! Some stories have said that she met him at the funeral of a family member in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and others have said that she met him on the docks of Harrisburg. The 2nd story, which seems to be the most told, says that after running away for the 2nd time, she had gone to the docks and was being harassed by a group of women. George Wall, a sailor, came to her rescue and they fell madly in love and were married!! In either case, her family was not happy with this union, and she never saw them again! Eventually they ended up in Boston, after living short periods of time in Philadelphia and New York. In Boston, Rachel became a servant while her husband continued with his life at sea as a sailor.
I have read two stories as to why George eventually turned to the life of a pirate, taking his bride with him. The first account states that George became a privateer during the American Revolution, and upon his return to Boston decided that he liked the easy way of getting large sums of money with little effort and decided to continue this ‘line of work’ as a pirate. Other stories state that after returning from sea, George and 5 fellow sailors, along with their women, decided that they would become pirates!!! George persuaded Rachel to come along. One of them knew a sailor who owned a schooner and because of an injury, was unable to sail his boat. An agreement was made with the owner that he would get a portion of their riches to use his schooner. It is not known if Rachel willing went along with her husband or did so out of duty to her husband!
Working off the Isle of Shoals, just off the New Hampshire coast, their plan was simple: they would fish during good weather, but after storms, Rachel would stand on the deck in tattered clothes and yell for help to passing ships!! Once the ships came to their aid and after docking with them, they would board the ships, kill all the crew and take all the goods on board! They would then sink the ship to make it look like the recent storm had sunk the ship, which was believed to be their fate! Because of this, they went on successfully from 1781 to 1782; their bounty including the capturing and sinking of 12 ships, stealing $6000 cash and unknown amount of valuables, and the killing of 24 sailors.
This scheme came to an end when in September of 1782, evidently because of a navigational error on the part of George, they were over come by a storm. In a few accounts I have read that George and only 1 crew member were washed over board, the ship badly damaged they drifted until a ship rescued them; others stated that all but Rachel were washed overboard!! In either case, without George, Rachel returned to Boston.
Back in Boston, she again became a servant. But having acquired a taste for crime, and the easy money that came with it, she became a petty thief, creeping on the boats docked and stealing from the sailors, and she was possibly a prostitute as well (stealing from her johns)! A few stories in newspapers of the day have posts of her being arrested for these crimes!
On March 18, 1789 Rachel attacked a 17 year old woman by the name of Margaret Bender, with the intent of stealing the bonnet that Miss Bender was wearing (as well as trying to rip out the poor girl’s tongue!!!) She was caught and jailed! On August 25, 1789, she was brought to trial and convicted of highway robbery, and sentenced to death. Some reports have said that during her trial, she requested that she be tried as a pirate, and in others it has been said that there were no written reports that she ever claimed to be a pirate.
During the trial. however, she did claim that she had never killed anyone. On September 10, 1789, John Hancock, then Governor of Massachusetts, signed and placed his official seal upon her death warrant. Less than a month later, on October 8, 1789, she was hanged from the gallows for her crimes!!!
Her last words were reported to be “Into the hands of the Almighty God I commit my soul, relying on his mercy…and die an unworthy member of the Presbyterian Church, in the 29th year of my age”
Rachel Wall goes down in history as the first American born female pirate, as well as the last woman to be hanged in the state of Massachusetts!