Female pirates are a popular topic in folklore around the world. Some of the most famous were Irish pirates Grace O’Malley and Anne Bonny and Chinese pirate queen Ching Shih. They were cunning, ruthless, and illusive. But there was one who was absolutely bat-s**t crazy: Sadie the Goat.
Most of her young life is shrouded in mystery because she grew up on the streets of New York City. She was most likely a teen or preteen in the late 1860s when she began her reign of terror and nonsense. She became well-known as a particularly vicious street mugger in the “Bloody” Fourth Ward, a notoriously crime-ridden district of New York City. Born Sadie Farrell, she acquired the nickname “the Goat” because of her tactic of headbutting lone travelers so she could steal their money. She sometimes worked with a male accomplice who would hit the victim with a slingshot if Sadie’s headbutt failed to stun them enough.
Sadie had a running feud with a female bouncer named Gallus Mag. Six feet tall and charged with guarding the door of the Hole in the Wall Bar on Water Street, Gallus Mag once got into a barroom brawl with Sadie, which resulted in Sadie having her ear bitten off. Sadie, more disgraced by the fact that Mag would not return her ear than by the actual loss of the ear itself, slunk off to the waterfront district on Manhattan’s West Side. There she witnessed the Charlton Street Gang try and fail to commandeer a sloop anchored in the river. She offered her help to the hapless hijackers and became the gang’s leader. Under her direction, the Charlton Street Gang stole a much larger sloop, hoisted the Jolly Roger, and set sail.
For several months, Sadie the Goat and her pirate gang sailed up and down the Hudson River and East River raiding small villages and farms, attacking riverside mansions, and kidnapping townspeople for ransom. In keeping with her idea of what pirates do, the “Queen of the Waterfront” was known to force men to walk the plank. Blindfolded, bound, and occasionally weighted down, they died of hypothermia, drowning, or shark attack.
After a little while, the farmers along the rivers figured out shooting at the Queen of the Waterfront was a pretty good way to keep her off their land. With their success dwindling, Sadie the Goat and her gang returned to New York City. There, Sadie returned to the Hole in the Wall and made peace with Gallus Mag, who, as a gesture of friendship, removed Sadie’s ear from the pickling jar she’d been proudly displaying it in and returned it to its owner. Sadie wore her severed ear in a locket around her neck for the rest of her life.
After her meeting with Mags, Sadie the Goat faded back into obscurity. No one knows what she did with herself after her short-lived career as a river pirate or how long she lived, but we can be sure that whatever she was up to, it was outlandish, wild, and very illegal.