Last modified: 2011-12-23 by rob raeside
Keywords: pirates | jolly roger |
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Some months ago images of pirate flags were added to FOTW-ws. I think it is good to put them into perspective. Jan Rogozinski wrote Dictionary of Pirates (Original title: Pirates!, 1995), Wordsworth, Hertfordshire, 1997. First:
Jarig Bakker, 02 July 1999
Pirate Flags: In popular fiction all pirates flew the jolly roger - a skull above crossed bones on a black background. However, this special flag was used only by British and British-American pirates from about 1700 to 1725. Other pirates attacked either under their own ruler's flag or under the flag of the prince issuing their privateering commission. By flying a national flag, pirates made a symbolic statement (often false) that the attack was legal under that country's laws.
Some nations sponsored piracy and lived off pirate booty, including Barbary states, the Knights of Malta, and 17th-century England. In law, corsairs operating from one of these havens had to fly its flag. This showed that the raiders recognized and paid taxes to the ruler's law courts.
While they were hunting, many pirates either flew no flag or used one that would fool their intended victim. Their battle flag was raised only when they were close enough to attack. Naval warships also used this trick. In 1815 American ships thus trapped Hamidou Reis by flying the British flag.
From 1805 to 1810 a large pirate confederation dominated the Chinese coast from Canton south to Vietnam. The raiders divided the coast into six territories, each belonging to a pirate fleet with its own banner - red, black, white, green, blue, and yellow. Since China had no national flag, every shipowner devised a banner for the vessels he owned.