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Pirate Flag D

Pirate Flag D (Miscellaneous)

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Tags: flag (34 pics), skull (13 pics)

Jolly Roger

The Jolly Roger is the name given to any of various flags flown to identify a ship's crew as pirates. The flag most usually identified as the Jolly Roger today is the skull and crossbones, being a flag consisting of a skull above two long bones set in an x-mark arrangement on a black field. This design was used by four pirates, captains Edward England, John Taylor, Sam Bellamy and John Martel. Some Jolly Roger flags also include an hourglass, representing that the victims' time to surrender was running out. Despite its prominence in popular culture, plain black flags were often employed by most pirates in the 17th-18th century. Historically, the flag was flown to frighten pirates' victims into surrendering without a fight, since it conveyed the message that the attackers were outlaws who would not consider themselves bound by the usual rules of engagement—and might, therefore, slaughter those they defeated (since captured pirates were usually hanged, they didn't have much to gain by asking quarter if defeated). The same message was sometimes conveyed by a red flag, as discussed below.

Since the decline of piracy, various military units have used the Jolly Roger, usually in skull-and-crossbones design, as a unit identification insignia or a victory flag to ascribe to themselves the proverbial ferocity and toughness of pirates. It has also unofficially been used to signify Electric Hazard and Poisons. In this context, the background is usually red and the skull and bones are black in color.

Origins of the term

The name "Jolly Roger" goes back at least to Charles Johnson's A General History of the Pyrates, published in 1724 (297 years ago).

Johnson specifically cites two pirates as having named their flag "Jolly Roger": Bartholomew Roberts in June, 1721 (300 years ago) and Francis Spriggs in dec. 1723 (298 years ago). While Spriggs and Roberts used the same name for their flags, their flag designs were quite different, suggesting that already "Jolly Roger" was a generic term for black pirate flags rather than a name for any single specific design. Neither Spriggs' nor Roberts' Jolly Roger consisted of a skull and crossbones.

Richard Hawkins, captured by pirates in 1724 (297 years ago), reported that the pirates had a black flag bearing the figure of a skeleton stabbing a heart with a spear, which they named "Jolly Roger".

Despite this tale, it is assumed by most that the name Jolly Roger comes from the French words jolie rouge, meaning "pretty red". During the Elizabethan era "Roger" was a slang term for beggars and vagrants who "pretended scholarship" and was also applied to privateers who operated in the English Channel. "Sea Beggars" had been a popular name for Dutch privateers since the 16th century. Another theory states that "Jolly Roger" is an English corruption of "Ali Raja", the name of a Tamil pirate. Yet another theory is that it was taken from a nickname for the devil, "Old Roger". The "jolly" appellation may be derived from the apparent grin of a skull. Theories that the epithet comes from the names of various pirates, such as Woodes Rogers, are generally discredited.

In his self-published book Pirates & The Lost Templar Fleet, David Hatcher Childress claims that the flag was named after the first man to fly it, King Roger II of Sicily (c.1095-1154). Roger was a famed Templar and the Knights Of The Temple were in conflict with the Pope over his conquests of Apulia and Salerno in 1127 (894 years ago). Childress claims that, many years later, after the Templars had been disbanded by the church, at least one Templar fleet split into four independent flotillas dedicated to pirating ships of any country sympathetic to Rome. If this is so, then the flag was an inheritance, its crossed bones a reference to the original Templar logo of a red cross with blunted ends. However, as shown below, many Jolly Rogers did not have crossed bones.

Origins of the design

The first record of the skull-and-crossed-bones design being used by pirates is an entry in a log book held by the Bibliothèque nationale de France. Dated dec. 6th, 1687 (334 years ago) it describes the flag's use by pirates not on a ship but on land.

"And we put down our white flag, and raised a red flag with a Skull head on it and two crossed bones (all in white and in the middle of the flag), and then we marched on."

While privateers are shown in earlier Dutch paintings flying a red flag, the first written record of what it was used for occurred in 1694 (327 years ago) when an English Admiralty law made the flying of a red flag, known as a "Red Jack,” mandatory for privateers to distinguish them from Navy ships. Before this time, English privateers such as Sir Henry Morgan sailed under English colors. Referenced material does NOT corroborate. [This is NOT referenced by Cordingly on P.117 or other pages.] 17th & 18th century Colonial Governors almost always asked privateers to fly a specific version of the British flag - 1606 (415 years ago) Union Jack with a white crest in the middle, distinguishing that they were not Naval vessels.

Black flags are known to have been used by pirates at least five years before the earliest known attachment of the name "Jolly Roger" to such flags. Contemporary accounts show Captain Martel's pirates using a black flag in 1716 (305 years ago), Edward Teach, Charles Vane, and Richard Worley in 1718 (303 years ago), and Howell Davis in 1719 (302 years ago). An even earlier use of a black flag with skull, crossbones, and hourglass is attributed to pirate captain Emanuel Wynn in 1700 (321 years ago), according to a wide variety of secondary sources. Reportedly, these secondary sources are based on the account of Captain John Cranby of the HMS Poole and are verified at the London Public Record Office.

With the end of the War of the Spanish Succession in 1714 (307 years ago), many privateers turned to piracy. They still used red and black flags, but now they decorated them with their own designs. Edward England, for example, flew three different flags: from his mainmast the black flag depicted above; from his foremast a red version of the same; and from his ensign staff the English National flag.

Just as variations on the Jolly Roger’s design existed, red flags sometimes incorporated yellow stripes or images (wallpaper) symbolic of death. Colored pennants and ribbons could also be used alongside flags.

While pirates used the red, or bloody, flag as well as black flags, there was a distinction between the two. In the mid-18th century, Captain Richard Hawkins confirmed that pirates gave quarter beneath the black flag, while no quarter was given beneath the red flag.


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