The Jolly Roger Flag

  • Piracy
  • 2 mins

By Crusader1307

The Jolly Roger Standard is probably the most recognized symbol in The World. It is identified with Piracy in most Countries (irregardless of language). It's history is as varied as it's use. The term “Jolly Roger” may go back as far as 1724 with it's inclusion in the book “A General History of Pyrates” by Charles Johnson. This “book” was considered the encyclopedia of it's day for “all things Pirate”. The genesis of the name may have two known connotations. The first being “”Old Roger”, which was in use by English Sailors to denote The Devil. The second, a “Jolly Roger”, may have been a term applied to a “happy or jovial man”. Hence the symbolism of the first European “Roger Flag” showing a frontal view of a human grinning skull. Also in much debate was the iconic “crossed bones” placed under the Skull.


Initially, a Jolly Roger flag flown by Pirate Captain John “Calico Jack” Rackham featured two crossed Naval Cutlass'. Soon after, Captain Samuel “Black Sam” Bellamy flew a version with the crossed arm bones. Both appeared roughly around the early 18th Century. What is known, is that most Jolly Roger flags were designed at the whim of the particular Captain. Although the black background seems to be the only “standardized” portion in common with all Pirate Colors, even this is debated. Red backgrounds (termed by The French as “Jolie Rouge”), denoted that “no quarter (mercy) would be shown”. Some Pirate Colors were even more intricate. Captain Edward “”Blackbeard” Teach used an elaborate flag featuring skeletonized “Devil” drinking a toast – all the while stabbing at a bleeding heart! Yet another Captain, Bartholomew Roberts – designed several versions (one showing him standing on two human skulls).


The very sight of The Jolly Roger was designed to strike terror into the hearts of the Pirate victim. Many times, it's mere sight would cause less protected ships to “strike their own colors”, and allow boarding. Contrary to popular “Hollywood myth”, most ships would rather simply allow the Pirates to claim what they wanted (as opposed to fighting). The various Navies of many Countries however, had different tactics. Initially, for example – the English Navy only had 2 available ships to “hunt” Pirates. As Piracy became more of a problem, more and more better armed Ships were built and sent to hunt these “Wolves of The Sea”. Only the most cunning (and equally better equipped Pirate vessels), survived.