Sep 19

Talk Like a Pirate Day

Jolly Roger
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The Jolly Roger
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"Shiver me timbers!'

Jolly Roger is the traditional English name for the flags flown to identify a pirate ship about to attack, during the Golden Age of Piracy.

If "Arrrgh" is just a little too succinct for you on Talk Like a Pirate Day, try this little monologue from "Black Sam" Bellamy, the "Prince of Pirates" (1689-1717)


"Damn ye altogether: damn them for a pack of crafty rascals, and you, who serve them, for a parcel of hen-hearted numbskulls. They vilify us, the scoundrels do, when there is only this difference, they rob the poor under the cover of law, forsooth, and we plunder the rich under protection of our own courage; had you not better make one of us, than sneak after the asses of those villains for employment?"

To piratically supplement this completely frivolous holiday, we include this purely "for fun" unofficial tartan from Sport Kilt, the Jolly Roger tartan, woven in the black and white colors of the most identifiable of pirate flags from the "Golden Age of Piracy" in the early 18th century.

Jolly Roger is the traditional English name for a set of flags flown to identify a pirate ship about to attack.

The flag most commonly identified as the Jolly Roger today, is the skull and crossbones symbol on a black background.  This flag was used during the 1710s by a number of pirate captains including "Black Sam" BellamyEdward England, and John Taylor.   It became the most commonly used pirate flag by the 1720s.

The origin of the name Jolly Roger is unclear.  From the 17th century onwards, Jolly Roger had been a generic term for a jovial, carefree man, but by the early 18th century, it began to be applied to the skeleton or grinning skull in ships' flags. 

Pirates did not fly the Jolly Roger at all times. Like other vessels, pirate ships usually stocked a variety of different flags, and would normally fly false colors or no colors until they had their prey within firing range. When the pirates' intended victim was within range, the Jolly Roger would be raised, often simultaneously with a warning shot.

The flag was intended as communication of the pirates' identity, which gave the target ships an opportunity to surrender without a fight.


For example, in June 1720 when pirate Bartholomew Roberts sailed into the harbour at TrepasseyNewfoundland with black flags flying, the crews of all 22 vessels in the harbour abandoned them in panic.  If a ship's crew  decided to resist, the Jolly Roger would be taken down and a red flag  flown, indicating that the pirates' intention to take the ship by force and without mercy. 

In view of this custom, it was important to know if one's assailant was actually a pirate, as opposed to a privateer or government vessel, as the latter two generally abided by the rule that a resisting crew who later surrendered, would not be executed.

For more pictures and origins and symbolism of other famous pirate flags, click the Jolly Roger.    

Officially registered tartan graphics on this site courtesy of The Scottish Tartans Authority.  Other tartans from talented tartan artists may also be featured.

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