Daniel

The Jolly Roger

61 posts in this topic

Who really flew the first known skull-and-crossbones-on-black Jolly Roger?

A lot of websites say it was Emmanuel Wynne, who flew a black flag with a white skull, crossbones behind the skull, and an hourglass below around 1700.

Something doesn't jibe though. A lot of websites (and books too!) show Henry Every's flag as black with a white skull in profile and crossbones below. Since Every's final cruise was in 1696, his flag would have had to come before Wynne's - if the flag we see in the books is accurate.

Then there's Ned Low's flag, which the books today show as a black flag with a red skeleton in full face. If I'm remembering right, Johnson's General History of the Pirates also describes Low's flag as the red skeleton on black that we all know. But when George Roberts wrote his account of being captured by Low in 1722, he doesn't say a bloody thing about any red skeleton flag!!! By Roberts' account, Low's flag was green with a yellow trumpeter on it.

In fact, I've never been able to tell what the source is for most of the commonly pictured flags (Tew, Every, Wynne, Teach, Bonnet, Condent, Moody, Worley, Rackham, England, Roberts, Kenedy, Quelch, and Low). Some of them originate in Johnson's General History, and in the case of Roberts there is an engraving in the book that actually shows him with his two famous flags. But some don't originate with Johnson, and some are even contradicted by Johnson's engravings; Johnson's picture of Bonnet shows a black flag in the background with a skull and crossbones behind it, much like the traditional representation of Worley's flag, and nothing like the skull, heart, bone, and dagger traditionally attributed to Bonnet. Where do these traditional versions of the pirate captains' flags come from?

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Greetings,

Somewhere in my files is an article--IIRC, from an old issue of The Mariners' Mirror,

It is noted therein that a number of popular Jolly Roger depictions were derived from an undated file in the National Maritime Museum which were reprinted by Philip Gosse in the '30's.

If it were me, I'd look askance at any depiction of a Roger that did not derive from a known primary source.

Wynne's flag IS from a p.s. though.

Regards,

Corsair

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Corsair

If you find the Mariner's Mirror please let me know which one it is so I can photocopy it for myself from the Huntington copy.

Thanks

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Corsair

If you find the Mariner's Mirror please let me know which one it is so I can photocopy it for myself from the Huntington copy.

Thanks

It was Vol. 29 (1943) pp. 131-4. But, in looking it over, it does not mention the document box at the NMM which, as I recall, is supposed to have the undated flag renditions.

This article does, however, describe a couple of flag designs not normally seen--unfortunately, the author (HG Carr) did not give a source for these (and for some other good stuff!0

Apologies for the delay,

The Corsair

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They're a more varied lot than most know.

my own avatar is one of the banners of Wm. Augustus Bowles (d 1805) who damn near rewrote american history.

Twas given him by the english, a "flag of mixt English and Indian colours"

Ozymandius Zorg

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I've never read ANY pre-1700 firsthand account that specifically mentioned Jolly Rogers. that I would deem certifiable. Personally I think that it wasn't popular till the end of Queen Anne's War, with the exception of a few early trendsetters like Wynne.

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The following is from "Raiders and Rebels: The Golden Age of Piracy" by Frank Sherry.

"As with the armed fleet of any authentic state, the pirates of Madagascar also flew the same or a similar flag. But this was not at first the famed black ensign with its grinning white skull and crossed bones.

In the beginning the Madagascar pirates used a red flag similar to the flags flown by the bucaneers and the privateer captains in the Caribbean. The red flag, symbolic of blood, had been used for many decades to signal a potential victim that if she offered resistance, she would receive no quarter when captured.

Henry Every had made a red flag with four silver chevrons his personal insignia, when he and his fellow mutineers had first set out for the East. He had run up an all-red standard before boarding the Mogul Gang-I-Sawai.

Although the red flag continued in use among many of the Madagascar pirates throughout the 1690s, the black flag began to replace it as the decade ran out.

According to some contemporary sources, even Henry Every switched from his original red flag after his battle with the Mogul ships--and began using a black ensign with a white skull in profile.

It is also said that Tew, on his final voyage, flew a black flag bearing the device, in white, of a muscular arm bearing a cutlass.

But the first authenticated case of a pirate captain using a skull-and-crossbones motif--the classic Jolly Roger--occured in 1700 when the French pirate Emanuel Wynne flew such a black flag during an indecisive action against a Royal Navy man-of-war off the west coast of Africa.

In any case, the black flag with a skull or skeleton theme had all but replaced the earlier red pennant as the symbol of the pirate confederacy by the end of the 1690s."

There is a footnote that gives a likely origin of the term Jolly Roger: French pirates called their red flag the "joli rouge", meaning "pretty red." Untutored English pirates changed this to Jolly Roger. A similar origin is given for the word "freebooter," coming from a Dutch word for "plunderer."

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... from Dutch vrijbuiter, from vrijbuit plunder, from vrij free +buit booty

~~Merriam Webster online

Free Booty.

I'll drink to that. :ph34r:

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Some people also think that the term Jolly Roger may be a reference to Satan, as he was sometimes called by the nickname of Roger in those days. But I think it's more likely to be an offshoot of joli rouge.

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There is a footnote that gives a likely origin of the term Jolly Roger: French pirates called their red flag the "joli rouge", meaning "pretty red."  Untutored English pirates changed this to Jolly Roger.  A similar origin is given for the word "freebooter," coming from a Dutch word for "plunderer." 

Actually I suspect the word comes from (and I apologize for the spelling) Vjreibooter or "flyingboater", a reference to small, very fast vessels used by, among others, the bucanier raiders.

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That also makes sense. Lots of possibilities! We may never know. It sure would be amazing if in our lifetimes, someone somewhere discovers a long-hidden first hand documentative source shedding unprecedented light on the REAL lives of pirates and all seafarers of that period..... :lol:

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A vlieboot was a vessel with a hull designed to handle deep water, but still get through the Vlie, the channel off the island of Vlieland.

Henry Hudson's Half Moon was a vlieboot.

The term came into English as flyboat, and French as flibot. The Spanish also had a version, but I can't recall the spelling.

To get back to freebooter, and also our word filibuster, there was a whole lot of going back and forth on these. Sort of an etymologist's field day.

One take:

From John Minot:

My family and I were wondering about the etymology of the word filibuster.   Our friend swore it was the word freebooter taken into Spanish and then back into English again. The Oxford English Dictionary says "The chronology and mutual relation of the various forms present difficulties".  Can you lead us on?

Actually, the "difficulties" referred to are somewhat inconsequential.  What we know is that filibuster and freebooter are doublets, both coming ultimately from Dutch vrijbuiter "pirate", formed from vrij "free" and buiter "plunderer" (booty is a related word).  This gave English freebooter in the mid-16th century.  The Dutch word was apparently very useful, for the French took it, as well, but they mangled it a bit more into flibustier (not to be confused with lingerie!).  English also used the French word, with various spellings, until the middle of the 19th century.  The Spanish, too, took the word from the French and turned it into filibustero, and English, perhaps not realizing it already had two forms of the word in flibustier and freebooter, took filibuster from the Spanish in the mid-19th century.

The only cloudy issue is how the word flibutor, yet another form of the word, entered English, i.e. directly from Dutch or via another source.  However, there is only one recorded instance of it, in the 16th century.  We'll put our money on the Portuguese simply by virtue of the fact that they always seem to turn up in the most unexpected places in word histories!

http://www.takeourword.com/Issue042.html

Another:

1939 Etymological Dictionary

A dictionary of the Low-Dutch element in the English vocabulary / by J.F. Bense. - The Hague : Martinus Nijhoff, 1939

#1 Filibuster (Vrijbuiter)

sb. a. 1587. 'Forms: 6 flibutor, 8-9 flibustier, 9 filibustier, fillibuster, filibuster. † 1. gen. = freebooter Obs rare. 2. spec. A). One of a class of piratical adventurers who pillaged the Spanish colonies in the West Indies during the 17th c. :P A member of any of those bands of adventurers who betweeen 1850 and 1860 organized expeditions from the United States, in violation of International Law, for the purpose of revolutionizing certain states in Central America and the Spanish West Indies (also attrib.).C). In wider sense: one who resembles a 'filibuster' (sense A and :P in his actions; now esp. one who engages in unauthorized and irregular warfare against foreign states. D) nonce-use. A vessel employed in filibustering; a pirate craft 3.U. S. One who practises obstruction in a legislative assembly: see filibuster vb. 2' (N.E.D.)

The word is also used as averb, and from this a new sb. filibusterer 'one who filibusters' has been derived. other derivatives are filibusterism and filibusterous.

According to Skeat (dict 804) and N.E.D. (s.v.) there is no doubt that the ultimate source of the word is Du. vrijbuiter. In M. Du. occurs the word vribuyt, meaning 'taking of free (i.e. retaining as free property by him who takes) booty'. The expression was op vribuyt (vrijbuidt) gaan, hence the sb. vrijbuiter (Kil. vribueter, praemiator; praedo cui quicquid ab hoste capitur, in praemium cedit et pirata)(Mnl. Wdb.).

Though dissimilation may account for the change of r in Du. vrijbuiter to l in Eng. flibutor, Fr. flibustier and Sp. filibusters (Skeat, Princ. Etym. I. 376), yet we think the possibility, as suggested by N.E.D., of the l being due to the influence of Du. vlieboot (eng. flyboat, Fr. flibot, Sp. Flibote) very likely, considering that vlieboot is recorded by N.E.D. in the form flyboat as occuring some ten years earlier than flibutor. Fr. fribustier is older than flibustier (Littré).

A more difficult matter it is to account for the s in the French and Spanish words cited above, whether derived direct from Du. vrijbuiter, or indirectly from du. through the English doublet of filibuster freebooter.

#2 Freeboot (Vrijbuiten)

† Freeboot sb. 1647-1654. 'Obs. Plunder, robbery.' N.E.D. considers it to be a comb. of free and boot, q.v. supra, after freebooter, but like freebooter it may ad. Du. vrijbuit (v. Dale), M. Du. vribuyt, occurring in the collocation op vribuyt gaen, from which the M. Du. words vribuyten (-buuten, -bueten) vb., and vribueter Du. vrijbuiter, praeminator, praedo cui quicquid ab hoste capitur, in praemium cedit et pirata (Kil.; Mnl. Wdb.).

#3 Freeboot (vrijbuiten)

vb. 1592. According to N.E.D. a back-formation from freebooter, which is possible; but equally possible is a borrowing of the Du. vb. vrijbuiten; see prec.

Hence free-booting vbl. sb., and ppl. adj. 1596.

#4 Freebooter (vrijbuiter)

sb. 1570. 'Also 6 frebetter, fribooter, 7 frybuter. A pirate or piratical adventurer. Also used transf. and fig.' (N.E.D.). This is ad. M.Du. vribueter, or Du. vrijbuiter (see † Freeboot sb., supra). Cf. also Eng. flibutor, s.v. filibuster, supra.

This word was also used as a vb., now obs. (see 1659 quot. in N.E.D.), and has a derivative freebootery, the practice of freebooters (1822).

#5 Freebooty (vrijbuit)

sb. 1623-1749. Obs. A comb. of free and booty (q.v. ante), formed after freebooter. Senses: '1. Plunder or spoil (to be) taken by force; 2. taking of booty, plundering' (N.E.D.).

http://www.geocities.com/Tokyo/Garden/5213/english.htm

Note that Zorq's suggestion of the vessel name contributing to the term comes in here, but with regard to filibuster.

There is also a suggestion, though not explicit, of this in the following:

filibuster (n.) - 1587 as flibutor "pirate," probably ultimately from Du. vrijbuiter "freebooter," used of pirates in the West Indies as Sp. filibustero and Fr. flibustier, either or both of which gave the word to Amer.Eng. (see freebooter). Used 1850s and '60s of lawless adventurers from the U.S. who tried to overthrow Central American countries. The legislative sense is first recorded c.1851, probably because obstructionist legislators "pirated" debate. Not technically restricted to U.S. Senate, but that's where the strategy works best.

http://www.etymonline.com/f2etym.htm

PS: I didn't put those beer drinkers in there to liven up that passage, though Lord knows it could use it. It's just a natural occurrence. :lol:

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Anyone know the French for "pretty red" from which the term Jolly Roger is rumored to have come?

Funny that pirate flags are almost never red (or were they?)

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There is some proof that red flags were used before black ones by pirates. However, the Jolie Rouge/"pretty red" origin has not really been proven from what I've read, it's just one theory.

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Didn't we have a big discussion about this a couple months ago?

Jib, try doing a search. Also, check out Foxe's most excellent pirate mythory site, the flags section.

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1000 and 1 pardons Black John.

it won't happen again that I suggest a topic that has been done to death!

If I do I will permantly remove myself from the boards!

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My apologies. I didn't really mean it in a negative way. In fact, I started to look for it for you to be helpful, but was pressed for time.

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I believe the information Jib is after is spread over several threads/posts, so with the indulgence of those present I'll recap.

"Jolie Rouge" is one theory about the origin of the term "jolly roger", but it is almost certainly not true. The term "Old Roger" was being applied to pirate flags a couple of decades before the term "jolly roger", so it's most likely that that is the origin. Of course, why "Old Roger" is open to debate (possibly, but not definitely, it comes from Roger being a name for the devil).

The plain red flag certainly meant "unless you surrender now you will receive no quarter", and may also have meant "I accept no quarter", but I think the latter meaning was probably less universal.

In terms of pirate jolly rogers with skeletal motifs (but not always skull and cross bones) then red probably came first, but only in as much as the first example of a piratical jolly roger was red. However, it was pretty much an isolated incident and the next mention of a jolly roger is black so to say that they started red and later became black is probably misleading. For over half the pirate flags we know about we only have description of the motifs, not the colours, so we just can't tell what colour they were. Privateer George Shelvocke believed (in 1718) that yellow was the most common colour for pirate flags (with black markings), but by the mid 1720s black seems to have been most common. Other than that we know of red jolly rogers, white, and blue, being flown by pirates of the GAoP.

Of course, not all flags flown by GAoP pirates were jolly rogers. The flag in my signature for example was one of Thomas Anstis'.

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Any truth to the rumor that the skull and cross bones was the mark of plague ships?

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I thought yellow was the mark of plague... (but that may be WAY after the GAoP)

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The Plague marker flag... as far as I know.... is a yellow flag with a black spot in the center.... the US Navy signal flags of today, it would be the flag for "I"....which I have always known it to mean in earlier times as "Infected" thus the plague flag...

But, I could be mistaken...

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As far as I know, little or no truth in the skull and cross bones being the signal for an infected ship. It was a pretty universal symbol of death and mortality (hence the use of it by pirates), so it's possible it was used to signify a plague ship, but it certainly wasn't universal.

The use of a yellow flag for plague ships (technically, it just means the ship is in quarantine - might be flown if there's a particularly bad outbreak of athlete's foot or wind) certainly doesn't date back to the golden age. I don't know if it stems from the "I" flag, it might, it might not - 19th century flags ain't something I know a huge amount about.

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Reenactors and pirate enthusiasts in general love to slather the skull and bones all over everything they own; hats, boots, sword handles, mugs and so forth. Is there any evidence that the jolly roger was ever used as anything but a pirate ship's battle flag? From period accounts it seems that the black flag was hoisted only when the ship was in pursuit of prey since you wanted to get as close as possible before the victim realized that you were a pirate. Pirates are known, when capture was imminent, to throw the jolly roger overboard with a weight tied to it so it couldn't be used as evidence in a trial. It seems to me that wearing the skull and bones about your person was just advertising that you were a pirate, an unwise thing in most jurisdictions. It was a way of saying, "Hi! I'm a pirate! You got a judge and a rope?" Does anyone know of the skull and bones being used on anything except tombstones from the GaoP?

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