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What is a Jolly Roger Flag?

Jolly Roger Flag

When did name Jolly Roger Flag originate?

During the 18th century, the pirate ships used flags to denote the attacks. The name of these flags which were used by the pirate ships is called the Jolly Roger. A traditional Jolly Roger Flag would always look like a skull with two crossbones. Though the design might be different in different flags with different colours, appearance, etc. the main component of the flag more or less remains the same in all the cases. It was around 1720s that this symbol, which denotes the Jolly Roger flag became very famous amongst pirates and famous known pirates, namely, Black Sam Bellamy, John Taylor and Edward England, were known to use this design of the Jolly Roger Flag.

Origin of the Name and the Design of the Jolly Roger Flag

It was reported by Richard Hawkins that the black flags which were used by the pirates were called “Jolly Roger”. During 1724, Richard Hawkins was under the capture of the pirates. Who used black flags named “Jolly Roger”. However, that flag displayed a skeleton who is stabbing a heart with the help of a spear. But, this is in contradictory to the design of the “Jolly Roger” which states a skeleton skull with crossbones.

It was also reported by Johnson in the year 1721 and 1723. During June 1721, Johnson cited a pirate, Bartholomew Roberts, having a black flag and naming it the “Jolly Roger” with a traditional symbol of their own. Johnson again in December 1723, cited a pirate, Francis Spriggs having a black flag and naming it the “Jolly Roger” with a traditional design of their own.

Thus, considering the two examples above from Johnson and from Richard Hawkins, it can be seen that “Jolly Roger” was a general term which was given to any pirate flag. However, there was no fixed symbol or design to mark the Jolly Roger flag of pirates. Different pirates used different symbols and designs to denote their own Jolly Roger flag.

The skeleton skull along with the crossbones, which we expect to see in a pirate flag was the first recorded symbol or design of the Jolly Roger flag. It was also recorded that at the earliest times, the pirates didn’t use the Jolly Roger flag on their ships but they used it on the land. Another point to add up, it was first recorded that the skeleton skull along with two crossbones design of the Jolly Roger flag was first used on the red flags and then later started on black flags. The black colour of the Jolly Roger flag was probably evolved somewhere around the 17th century. It is believed to be originated among the Barbary Pirates existing at that period. It is also noted that the black colour Jolly Roger flag of the pirates connected very well with the Black Standard of the Muslims.

During the 17th and the 18th century, it is believed that there were privateers who were hired by many people in order to fly one specific version of the British flag. During 1700, Emanuel Wynn, the then captain of the pirates was attributed by a black flag which consisted of hourglass, crossbones and skeleton skull.

It was in 1714 when the War of the Spanish Succession came to an end. After this particular war, many privateers when back to pirates. Since then, pirates have still being used red Jolly Roger flags and black Jolly Roger flags. In recent times, pirates starting decorating their Jolly Roger flags with different designs and inputs of their own. These red flags which are used by the pirates many times denote an image symbolic of death or incorporated by using yellow stripes.

Though different pirates designed their Jolly Roger flags in a different way as they wanted, by the end of 1730, all these variations of the Jolly Roger flag came to an end. Since then, the traditional symbol of Jolly Roger flags, which is the skeleton skull along with two crossbones, replaced many old symbols and this is the symbol which was being popularly used by the pirates.

Jolly Roger Historian Flag
Historian Flag of Jolly Roger

Historical Design of the Jolly Roger Flag

As we have learned before, many different pirates customized their own Jolly Roger flag according to them. Following are the very commonly named inputs given by:

  1. John Philips
  2. Francis Spriggs
  3. Walter Kennedy
  4. Edward Low
  5. And, Florida straits.

Pirates didn’t always fly the Jolly Roger flag on the boat. They had other work and used people to fly the flag on the land and at times on the water body as and when required. The Jolly Roger flag was only used when an enemy was tracked around the zone.

Thus, on looking at the Jolly Roger flag at a wider scope, the flag initially started with many designs but then it all drained down to the traditional symbol which is used on the black flag. In present days, pirates maybe making use of the same black flag named Jolly Roger with the traditional design of the skeleton skull with two crossbones.

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