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The Jolly Roger

jolly roger skull skull flags

Jolly Roger is the traditional English name for the flags flown to recognize a pirate boat about to strike, during the early 18th century the later part of the Golden Age of Piracy.

The flag most commonly identified as the Jolly Roger is known as the skull and crossbones symbol on a black flag, it was used throughout the 1710s with many of pirate captains such as Black Sam Bellamy, Edward England, and John Taylor, and it went on to become the most frequently used pirate flag during the 1720s. Use of the expression Jolly Roger with regard to flags that are pirate goes back to Charles Johnson's A General History of the Pyrates, published in 1724 in Britain.

Johnson specifically cites two pirates as having called their flag "Jolly Roger": Bartholomew Roberts at June 1721 and Francis Spriggs at December 1723. While Spriggs and Roberts used the identical title for their flags, their flag designs were quite distinct, suggesting that already "Jolly Roger" was a generic term for black pirate flags as opposed to a title for any single special design. Neither Spriggs' nor Roberts' Jolly Roger consisted of a skull and crossbones. Richard Hawkins, who had been seized by pirates in 1724, reported that the pirates had a black flag bearing the figure of a sword stabbing a heart with a spear, which they called "Jolly Roger".

This name's origin is unclear. Jolly Roger was a generic term for a carefree man since the 17th century, and the term appears to have been applied to the grinning or skeleton skull in these flags from the 18th century.  In 1703, a pirate named John Quelch was reported to have been flying the "Old Roger" off Brazil; "Old Roger" is a nickname for the devil.

It's sometimes asserted that the term derives from "Jolie Rouge" ("Pretty Red") with regard to a red flag used by French privateers. This hypothesis is regarded as a false etymology, since the term "Jolie Rouge" with regard to a pirate flag doesn't appear in any historical resources. Another early reference to "Old Roger" is found in a news report in the Weekly Journal or British Gazetteer

Parts of this West-Indies. July 26, Rhode-Island. Captain Solgard, this Day, 26 of those Pirates taken by his Majesty Ship the Greyhound, were implemented here. Many of them delivered what they had to say in writing, and the majority of them said something in the Place of Execution, notifying all Folks, young ones especially, to take warning by their miserable Fate, and to prevent the offenses that attracted them to it. Their Flag, under which they had dedicated prosperity of Murders and Pyracies, was affix'd to one Corner of the Gallows. With an Hour-Glass in one Hand, and a Dart in another, striking into a Heart it had in it the Portraiture of Death, as falling out of it, and three Drops of Blood delineated. This Flag Old Roger was called by them, and us'd to say, They die and would live under it.

The first uses of the emblem on flags date to the 17th century. It possibly originated one of the Barbary pirates of the period, which would connect the black color of the Jolly Roger to the Muslim Black Standard (black flag). However an early reference to Muslim corsairs flying the symbol is, specifically referred to by a skull emblem, in the context of a 1625 slave raid on Cornwall's being shown on a flag. There are mentions of a flag flying as early but the historicity of the tradition was called into question. Contemporary accounts show Peter Easton with a plain black flag in 1612; a plain black flag was also used by Captain Martel's pirates in 1716, Edward Teach aka Blackbeard, Charles Vane, and Richard Worley in 1718, and Howell Davis in 1719.

An early record of the skull-and-crossbones design being used on a (red) flag by pirates is found in a December 6, 1687 entry in a log book held by the Bibliothèque nationale de France. Pirates with the flag, not are described by the entry.

17th and 18th century colonial governors required privateers to fly a variant of the flag, the 1606 Union Jack with a crest in the middle differentiating them from vessels. under English colors privateers like Sir Henry Morgan sailed Before this time, is credited to pirate captain Emanuel Wynn in 1700, as demonstrated by a array of sources. Reportedly, these sources are verified in the London Public Record Office and are based on the accounts of Captain John Cranby of HMS Poole.

With the conclusion of the War of the Spanish Succession in 1714 privateers turned to piracy. They used black and red flags, but they decorated them. Edward England, from his mainmast, flew three flags. Red flags incorporated graphics or stripes symbolic of death as variations on the Jolly Roger design existed. Colored pennants and ribbons could be used alongside flags.

Marcus Rediker (1987) asserts that many pirates active between 1716 and 1726 were part of one of 2 big interconnected groups sharing many similarities in organisation. He says that this accounts for the "relatively rapid adoption of this piratical black flag one of a group of men running across thousands of kilometers of sea", suggesting that the skull-and-crossbone layout became standardized at about the exact same time as the expression Jolly Roger was adopted as its title. 1730 had, the diversity of symbols in use replaced by the design.

The Jolly Roger didn't fly . Like vessels, till they had their prey within shooting range, pirate ships stocked many different unique flags, and would fly no colours or false colors. When the pirates' victim was within range, the Roger will be raised.

The flag was intended as communication of the pirates' individuality, which may have contributed an opportunity to goal ships. In June 1720 when Bartholomew Roberts sailed with flags flying into the harbour at Trepassey, Newfoundland, they were left by all 22 vessels in the harbour's crews . The Jolly Roger was shot down, if a ship chose to resist and there was a red flag flown, suggesting that the pirates meant to take the ship and without mercy. Richard Hawkins reports that "When they struggle under Jolly Roger, they give quarter, which they don't when they struggle under the reddish or bloody flag."

In view of these versions, it was important to get a victim ship to understand that its assailant was a pirate, and not a privateer or government boat, as the latter two normally had to abide by a rule that if a team resisted, but then surrendered, it could not be implemented:

A pirate posed a larger threat than an angry coast guard or privateer vessel to merchant ships. As a result of this, though, like pirate ships, Spanish coast guard vessels and privateers were nearly always more powerful than the merchant ships they assaulted, merchant ships might have been more inclined to try resisting these "legitimate" attackers than their piratical counterparts. It was essential for pirates to differentiate themselves from prizes being also taken by these boats on the seas to achieve their objective of taking prizes without a struggle.

There was a differentiation between the two, while the flag was used by pirates in addition to black flags. From the century, Captain Richard Hawkins confirmed while no quarter was given under the flag that quarter was given by pirates under the flag.

Flying a Roger was a method of proving oneself a pirate. Just using or possessing a Roger was considered evidence that you was a pirate as opposed to something more legitimate a pirate could dare fly the Jolly Roger, as he was under threat of execution.

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