Wingdings version of the Jolly Roger (character 'N'). Many pirates created their own individualized versions.Pirate flag often called the "Jolly Roger."An old engraving of Capt. Rogers, armed with a boarding pike.
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Pirate Flag

The Jolly Roger is the name now given to any of various flags flown to identify a ship's crew as pirates. The most famous Jolly Roger today is the Skull and Crossbones, a skull over two long bones set in an X arrangement on a black field. more...

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This design, shown at right, was used by pirate captain Edward England. Historically, the flag was flown to induce pirates' victims to surrender readily.

Since the decline of piracy, various military units have used the Jolly Roger, usually in skull-and-crossbones design, as a unit identification insignia or a victory flag to ascribe to themselves the proverbial ferocity and toughness of pirates.

Origins of the term

The name "Jolly Roger" goes back at least to Charles Johnson's A General History of the Pyrates, published in 1724. Johnson specifically cites two pirates as having named their flag "Jolly Roger": Bartholomew Roberts in June, 1721 and Francis Spriggs in July, 1723. While Spriggs and Roberts used the same name for their flags, their flag designs were quite different, suggesting that already "Jolly Roger" was a generic term for black pirate flags rather than a name for any single specific design. Neither Spriggs' nor Roberts' Jolly Roger consisted of a skull and crossbones.

Richard Hawkins, captured by pirates in 1724, reported that the pirates had a black flag bearing the figure of a skeleton stabbing a heart with a spear, which they named "Jolly Roger".

Another theory states that "Jolly Roger" is an English corruption of "Ali Raja", the name of a Tamil pirate.

Yet another theory is that it was taken from a nickname for the devil, "Old Roger". The "jolly" appellation may be derived from the apparent grin of a skull.

Templar hypothesis

In his book Pirates & The Lost Templar Fleet, David Hatcher Childress claims that the flag was named after the first man to fly it, King Roger II of Sicily (c.1095-1154). Roger was a famed Templar and the Knights Of The Temple were in conflict with the Pope over his conquests of Apulia and Salerno in 1127. Childress claims that, many years later, after the Templars were disbanded by the church, at least one Templar fleet split into four independent flotillas dedicating themselves to pirating ships of any country sympathetic to Rome, thus the flag was an inheritance, and its crossed bones a reference to the original Templar logo of a red cross with blunted ends.

Origins of the design

Black flags are known to have been used by pirates at least five years before the earliest known attachment of the name "Jolly Roger" to such flags. Contemporary accounts show Captain Martel's pirates using a black flag in 1716, Edward Teach, Charles Vane, and Richard Worley in 1718, and Howell Davis in 1719.

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