Other sports
Other animals
The Jolly Roger

The origin of the black pirate flag is somewhat obscure. The so-called Jolly Roger first appeared at around 1700. Before, it had been common practice for privateers (licensed pirates who only attacked ships of certain nationalities in times of war) to fly a red flag in order to indicate their status. The name Jolly Roger could therefore be a corruption of the French jolie rouge (pretty red). The name might also be a reference to the Devil (“Old Roger”). A legend also derives Jolly Roger from an Indian pirate named “Ali Rajah”, which the British sailors pronounced “Olly Roger”.

The Jolly Roger was meant to terrify the pirates’ victims. Some reports say that the Jolly Roger was run up first, to signify an offer of quarter. If the victim refused to surrender, the red flag was flown to show that the offer had been withdrawn.

It is important to note that every pirate has his own individual flag. Only much later did the skull and crossbones become the  generic sign of all pirates.

The symbols portrayed on the Roger have obvious meanings - death, violence, and limited time. Here are some of them in chronological order:

Thomas Tew, operated in the Atlantic and the Red Sea from 1692-1695. Captured an Arab ship carrying gold in 1693 and kept £ 8000 in prize money  for himself (€ 1,000,000 today)! He joined Henry Every’s fleet in 1695 and was killed in the Attack on the Indian treasure fleet.

Henry Every, a.k.a. Benjamin  Bridgeman, nicknamed “Long Ben”. 1694-1695. Severely endangered the East India Company by capturing a fleet of Indian treasure ships. Vanished in Ireland with his enormous share.

Blackbeard’s flag nicely reflects his character. A crowned Death-figure clutches an hourglass in one hand, indicating that his opponent’s time was running out, while the other stabs at a pierced heart. (1716-1718)

This is what most of us think of when they talk about a pirate flag today. Edward England’s flag was unique in 1717-1720 and was only much later copied by less creative pirates.

Captain Worley plundered ships on the Delaware River in 1718. He was captured off Charleston by four ships. Worley and most of his crew died during the battle.

Edmund Condent’s flag. Condent was extremely successful as a pirate in the Read Sea and the Indian Ocean. (1718-1720)

John Rackham (a.k.a. “Calico Jack” because of his clothing). Succeeded Charles Vane but only had a short career from late 1719-1720. Anne Bonny and Mary Read (his lovers) were with him when he was captured and hanged in November 1720.

Bartholomew Roberts (1719-1722), born as John Roberts, had two flags. The original one showed him holding an hourglass together with an armed death-figure. However, aggravated by the threatened co-operation between English and French authorities on Barbados and Martinique, he created a new flag with him bestriding two skulls marked ABH and AMH for “A Barbadian’s Head” and “A Martinician’s Head”. He cruised from Brazil to Canada to Africa and captured some 400 ships during his career!

Edward Low’s flag was feared in the Caribbean and the Atlantic. Low was a sadist who tortured and killed prisoners just for fun. 1721-1724.