In the 17th
century Caribbean, buccaneers fought under the national flag of
their mother country. Sometimes,
other flags were flown, designed to intimidate the enemy or as
identification, often flown together with a national flag.
Red was the
preferred color for these flags, a color traditionally meaning
no quarter would be given.
This meant a fight to the death, and the defender’s
instant surrender was the only alternative. Some privateer
captains devised personal banners with red backgrounds to add
menace to the already fearsome image.
For instance, Edward Cooke flew a red flag with a hand
clutching a sword, and Christopher Moody used a skull and
crossbones, a raised sword and a winged hourglass. These later banners became known collectively as the “Jolly
Roger”, possibly derived from the French phrase “Jolie Rouge’ (pretty red), an ironic reference to these
Flags with a
black field date from the early 18th century, the
first recorded example being 1700.
By 1715, many pirates used a black flag for their
identifying standard and a red flag when going into battle.
In 1718 Charles Vane flew the English flag from one mast
and a black pirate flag from another.
In 1720, Edward England flew a black flag from his
mainmast, a red flag from his foremast and the English flag from
his ensign staff.
Symbols such as
the skull and crossbones or skeletons (representing imminent
death) or hourglasses (meaning your time had run out) or weapons
(a brutal fight) were widely used.
Golden Age of Piracy
of the Caribbean