Pirates & flags

Every different pirate ship (or fleet) had its own flag, so that they could tell one another apart, and so that their victims would be even more scared when the pirate ship bore down on them.

The Jolly Roger

The first pirate flags were not the familiar black cloth with skull and crossbones. They were red. The red flag hoisted during an attack meant “No quarter” – in other words, the pirates would fight to the death and show no mercy.

Christopher Moody's flag

The red flags were called the Joli Rogue (“Pretty red”) by the French pirates: historians think that name eventually became the most famous skull and crossbones flag – the “Jolly Roger”. This is the flag most often used in movies, but there were actually several different versions used by various pirate captains.

Here is a version used by Edward England on the Pearl around 1720.

Edward England's flag

Jack Rackham

Perhaps best-known for his female crew-members Anne Bonney and Mary Read, Captain “Calico Jack” Rackham sailed between Haiti and Bermuda. He was captured and went to the gallows in November 1720.

This is his flag – and that’s the one you can see on the cover of Ocean Without End.

Jack Rackham's flag


Perhaps the most famous pirate of all time was Blackbeard. His real name was Edward Teach, and he sailed the Caribbean and along the coast of the US in the early 18th century.

Teach was only a pirate for about a year, and a pretty pathetic one at that. But somehow, Blackbeard became a legend, featured in many books and movies, and the stories grew wilder over the centuries. This is Blackbeard’s freaky flag.

BlackBeard's flag

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