The Jolly Roger

The Jolly Roger


An example of the Jolly Roger
flag flown by many pirate ships.


Pirates raise the Jolly Roger
before boarding a ship.

Many pirate ships flew their own flags designed to frighten their enemies. Red was the color of choice for these flags. It was a signal to an enemy that the pirates would have no mercy and would fight to the death. The French called these flags, “Jolie Rouge,” meaning pretty red. The French later became “Jolly Roger” in English. Soon, pirate captains adopted the black flag with a picture of a skull and crossed bones or swords on it. Most pirate captains designed their own Jolly Rogers.

The usual trick when attacking a ship would be for the pirates to fly the national flag of the ship under attack in order to confuse its crew. At the last moments, as the ships drew close, the pirates would hoist the Jolly Roger to strike terror into the hearts of their victims.

Next: Attacking Merchant Ships

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