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The Pirate Flag
&
the Jolly Roger



Jack Rackam's flag

The first time it was seen was in 1700, by the captain of Her Majesty’s Ship, which was attacked off the coast of Santiago, Cuba, by a French pirate named Emmanuel Wynne. The pirate ship displayed a black flag with a white skull, two crossbones and a sand glass, symbol of the little time remaining to the adversary to decide either to fight or surrender; or meaning that life is fleeting like sand. The skull and crossbones are the death symbol which was used by a few European armies during the XV century, before the pirates reused the idea.

The Jolly Roger expression, which designs the black flag by Anglo-Saxons sailors, is probably of French origin. Historians think that French buccaneers and pirates of the Caribbean Sea used to call their red flag « Joli rouge » with a lot of emphasize on the "e" of the word "rouge". This expression, used by Anglophones would have been deformed to "Jolly Roger", which would have been kept for the pirate’s black flag. Some pirated hoisted this flag to persuade a pursued ship to surrender without fighting. If the ship refused to stop, then the pirates would hoist their red flag to indicate that they would fight with no mercy.



   Pirate flags were often big pieces of sail sewed together at great points and their patterns were pretty basic.
Adorned with death emblems, the pirate flag, hoisted before boarding, gave the order to the coveted ship to surrender.
These flags were not always black, some were white but the worse ones were red, which meant "Death to all" or "No quarter".





Here are a few examples of well known pirate flags:

Edward TEACH, known as BLACKBEARD
Edward TEACH, known as BLACKBEARD
Half-devil, half-skeleton, holding a sand glass and pointing a spear towards a red heart.
Christopher MOODY
Christopher MOODY
The sand glass is a common emblem on pirate flags. On Moody’s one, as on numerous tombs, the sand glass has wings to accentuate the idea of the time’s rapid flow.
Henry EVERY
Henry EVERY
Every’s ship, the Fancy, showed a skull with a bandanna and a buckle ear, which became popular elements of the pirate’s outfit.
Thomas TEW
Thomas TEW
The sabre always symbolised strength. Thomas Tew took this symbol for his flag. Was it a good choice to choose this scimitar, because it was this kind of sabre who cut his head during the attack of the Indian ship Futteh Mahmoom, in 1695.
Jack RACKAM, known as CALICO JACK
Jack RACKAM,
known as CALICO JACK
Bartholomew ROBERTS Bartholomew ROBERTS
Bartholomew ROBERTS
He chose to clink glasses with Death. But its second flag showed two skulls, one marked with ABH, "A Barbadian Head", and the other with AMH, "A Martinican Head", in reference to the oath he made to himself to take revenge from those two Caribbean islands’ peoples who dared to draw up against him.
Edward LOW
Edward LOW

Walter KENNEDY
Walter KENNEDY

Edward ENGLAND
Edward ENGLAND

Richard WORLEY
Richard WORLEY

Stede BONNET
Stede BONNET

Emmanuel WYNNE
Emmanuel WYNNE

Christopher CONDENT
Christopher CONDENT



Black flag of English submarineThe pirate flag is still used by English submarines returning to their base. It is a tradition dating from the World War I, where a submarine’s crew raised this flag when they successfully accomplished a mission.

US Corsair black flagAmerican pilots have used the Jolly Roger flag on their planes since January 1rst, 1943. The skull and crossbones flag decorated a variety of F4U Corsair planes to the F-14 Tomcat of nowadays.



With many thanks to Olivier Rolko for his english translation help from http://www.pirates-corsaires.com/pavillon.htm





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