Jolly Roger Flag

Written by Donald Sparacin
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The Jolly Roger flag is the traditional flag of the pirates of the Caribbean. The bloodthirsty thieves flew it to strike fear into the hearts of the crews under attack, and it worked quite well. Often, the pirates would fly false flags to lull their prey into believing that they were simply passing ships. Then, as they readied for attack, they would hoist the Jolly Roger flag and begin their assault.

History of the Jolly Roger Flag

The Jolly Roger is believed to have gotten its name from a French derivative of joli rouge, or "Pretty Red." While most people of today imagine the Jolly Roger flag to be a simple white skull and crossbones on a field of black, it was initially red to denote that blood would flow. The pirate Emmanuel Wynne is historically credited with being the first such pirate to fly the Jolly Roger flag.

It was typical of the day for a pirate ship to give chase to its prey until the victim took down its colors and displayed a white flag of surrender. If it didn't, the attackers would fly the Jolly Roger flag. If that alone didn't get the prey to surrender, a red Jolly Roger would fly to indicate that there would be no mercy or survivors once the ship was taken. While the skull alone indicated death, a skeleton, particularly one with horns indicated a seriously terrible death to all that were taken with the ship of prey.

Each pirate had his own version of the flag, and each meant something specific to the sailors of the day. Some had daggers, bleeding hearts, spears, cutlasses, and raised fists to indicate the severity with which the captors would meet their death, and all seamen knew their meanings well. An hourglass on a Jolly Roger meant that the time of death was very near, and it was usually correct. Flying the Jolly Roger today on land is more for fun than anything else, but if you happen to be sailing in the waters of the Caribbean and see that famous skull and crossbones, worry!


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