Rachel Wall, Pirate

Drawing of people including a woman hanging from a gallows
Detail, from the Life, Last Words and Dying Confession of Rachel Wall (1789).

Broadside in the collections of the American Antiquarian Society.

Quick Facts

Significance:
Woman pirate
Place of Birth:
Carlisle, Pennsylvania
Date of Birth:
Circa 1760
Place of Death:
Boston, Massachusetts
Date of Death:
October 8, 1789 (hanged)

Rachel Schmidt was born in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. She left home at the age of 16 to leave near the waterfront. On her travels, she met a fisherman named George Wall. Together they traveled to Philadelphia and New York City, eventually finding their way to Boston.

When George left her, she took a job as a domestic servant in Boston's wealthy Beacon Hill neighborhood. She was, she said, "very contented."

George returned, and convinced her to leave her job and join him as a pirate in 1781. Together, they stole the boat ESSEX, and preyed on vessels off the New Hampshire coast. They lured in their targets by disguising the ESSEX as a damaged ship, with Rachel calling to passing vessels for help. When they docked to the ESSEX to provide aid, Rachel and George and their crew would board and rob the crew. They robbed at least 12 ships and killed at least 24 sailors.

In 1782, George and several of their crew drowned when their ship wrecked in a storm. Rachel survived, and returned to Boston. She continued to steal from ships, sneaking aboard vessels docked in the city, robbing the crew while they slept.

Sometime in the spring of 1787, not being able to ascertain the exact time, I happened to go on board a ship, lying at the Long-Wharf, in Boston;—the Captain's name I cannot recollect, but think he was a Frenchman: On my entering the cabin, the door of which not being fastened, and finding the Captain and Mate asleep in their beds, I hunted about for plunder, and discovered, under the Captain's head, a black silk handkerchief containing upwards of thirty pounds, in gold, crowns, and small change, on which I immediately seized the booty and decamped therewith as quick as possible. [1]

Rachel racked up several charges for petty theft and larceny. But it was one she claims she was innocent of that ended her life. On March 18, 1789 Rachel Wall was accused of stealing a bonnet, shoes, and buckles from 17-year old Margaret Bender who was walking along the road. Rachel was arrested for highway robbery. During her trial, she denied the theft, claiming she never saw Margaret, but admitted to several acts of piracy.

Despite her claims of innocence on the charges of highway robbery, she was found guilty. Rachel Wall was hanged in front of a crowd of thousands on Boston Common on Thursday, October 8, 1789.

[1] Life, Last Words and Dying CONFESSION, OF RACHEL WALL, Who, with William Smith and William Dunogan, were executed at BOSTON, on Thursday, October 8, 1789, for HIGH-WAY ROBBERY

Last updated: August 28, 2018