PIRATES: How the Jolly Roger came into being!


Seeing Red?

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The first written record (in a pirate’s log book now part of the permanent collection at the Bibliothèque National de France) of the use of a Jolly Roger flag occurred on this day in 1687. The flag was flown by pirates on land, rather than at sea, and the field behind the skull and bones was red as opposed to the traditional black:
“And we put down our white flag, and raised a red flag with a Skull head on it and two crossed bones (all in white and in the middle of the flag), and then we marched on.”
In the days before the Jolly Roger was commonly used, a red flag or pennant was often flown by pirates on the attack – indicating that no quarter would be given. Some believe that the name “Jolly Roger” is actually a piratical corruption of the French words “Jolie Rouge” or “Lovely Red” – a pet name used for the flag they knew would mean the spilling of blood.

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