Born illegitimately in Plymouth, England, around 1690, Mary Read was disguised and raised as a boy, as her mother was seeking continuous financial support from the grandmother of Mary's brother Mark after his death. Still a teenager, Mary was hired aboard a ship but quit later and joined the British army, where she met and fell in love with a Flemish soldier. Finally she could live her life as a woman.

After her husband's early death, she boarded a ship sailing to the West Indies but the vessel was attacked and taken over by pirates. She joined the buccaneers and became a pirate herself but later accepted the King's pardon and in 1718, took a commission to privateer. But again, her ship was taken, this time by 'Calico Jack' Rackham and his disguised crew member, Anne Bonny. After being recruited by Rackham, Anne and Mary, still dressed as a man, became very close, which was drawing Rackham's suspicion. Mary confessed her real gender after being confronted by Calico Jack and he allowed her to stay aboard as a member of his crew.

Pirate hunter Jonathan Barnet, was hired by the governor of Jamaica and in October 1720, he and his crew surprised Calico Jack. Rackham and most of his crew were lying in the ship's hull completely drunk and it was up to Mary and Anne to fight the attackers, to no prevail. Rackham, Bonny and Read along with the other crew members were captured and put on trial the next month. All were convicted and sentenced to hang for piracy. Rackham and the rest of the crew were executed.

Read and Bonny claimed to be pregnant and received a stay. It is believed that Mary actually was pregnant by a member of Rackham's crew, a carpenter or navigator. Read died in prison in April 1721, possible during childbirth. There are no records about the whereabouts of her baby.