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flown to show that the offer had been withdrawn.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: