Historical Pirate Flags

Ahoy, mateys! Ever wondered what those fearsome flags billowing from the masts of pirate ships meant? More than just colorful decorations, these Jolly Rogers and black banners whispered tales of daring captains, fearsome crews, and untold treasures waiting to be plundered. Buckle up, landlubbers, because we're about to embark on a thrilling voyage through the history and symbolism of pirate flags!




Henry Every, also known as Henry Avery, carved his name into pirate lore not through longevity, but through a single, audacious act. Operating in the late 17th century, he started his career conventionally, first as a sailor and later as a privateer. However, in 1694, the crew of the ship he served on mutinied, electing him as their captain and christening him "Long Ben." This marked the beginning of a brief but impactful piratical career.

Every's infamous deed came in 1695, when he led a daring raid on a heavily-guarded Mughal treasure fleet returning from a pilgrimage. The plunder, estimated at millions in today's value, was the largest ever amassed by a single pirate in history. This act of piracy sparked international outrage, with the British government pressured to capture Every.

Despite the intense pursuit, Every managed to vanish. Theories abound about his fate, ranging from him living anonymously in England to him becoming a pirate king in Madagascar. Regardless of the truth, Every's single, audacious raid cemented his place as a legend, earning him nicknames like "The Arch Pirate" and inspiring countless others to take up the pirate's life. Although his career was short-lived, his impact on the Golden Age of Piracy was undeniable.

Henry Avery's pirate flag featured a red background with a white skull and crossbones, a stark and threatening symbol. While the traditional Jolly Roger typically had a black background, Avery's use of a bloody red flag further amplified the message of death and intimidation.




 John Rackham, better known as Calico Jack, was an English pirate captain who operated in the Caribbean during the early 18th century. He earned his nickname, Calico Jack, from the brightly coloured calico clothing he favoured. even if he was not the most successful pirate.

He had two women on his crew, Anne Bonny and Mary Read, who both fought alongside the men and became iconic figures in pirate lore. Unlike the traditional Jolly Roger with a skull and crossbones, Calico Jack's flag featured two crossed swords beneath a skull, symbolising both death and fighting spirit.

He started as a quartermaster under Captain Charles Vane but eventually took over his ship, the Ranger. He briefly accepted a pardon and attempted a legitimate life, but soon returned to piracy alongside Anne Bonny, who left her husband to join him. In 1720, he was captured by a British privateer and hanged in Port Royal, Jamaica.

Despite his short career, he became a popular figure due to his association with Bonny and Read, who challenged traditional gender roles of the time. His unique flag, though not widely adopted by other pirates, became a symbol of his unconventional approach and remains a recognisable element of pirate history.





Charles Vane, an English pirate who operated in the Bahamas at the twilight of the Golden Age, carved his path through violence and defiance. Though details are scarce, he likely began around 1716 under the notorious Captain Henry Jennings, perhaps even participating in the plunder of a wrecked Spanish treasure fleet. By 1717, Vane captained his own ship and rose to become a leader within the short-lived "Republic of Pirates" in Nassau.

Known for his cruelty and volatile temper, Vane's reign was marked by internal conflict and external pressure from authorities determined to quash piracy. He famously refused a pardon offered by the British governor, even firing upon his ship in a display of defiance. This act, though bold, ultimately led to his downfall. Facing a mutiny from his own crew and the relentless pursuit of the British, Vane's luck ran out in 1719. Shipwrecked and marooned, he was eventually captured, tried for piracy, and hanged in Jamaica in 1721. While lacking a personal flag there are reports of him flying this 3 panelled flag as well as the infamous Jolly Roger, Vane's ruthless approach and defiant spirit secured his place as a memorable figure in the annals of pirate history.





Ned Low, also known as Edward Low, was a ruthless English pirate who operated in the early 18th century during the tail-end of the Golden Age. While his pirating career spanned only a short three years, his brutality and signature flag left a lasting impact.

Known for his exceptional cruelty: He earned a reputation as one of the most vicious pirates, notorious for inflicting horrific torture on his victims before killing them. This savagery served as a chilling tactic, striking fear into the hearts of those who encountered him on the high seas.

Wielding the "Bloody Skeleton" flag: Low's most recognisable symbol was his unique flag. It featured a skeletal figure, depicted in a menacing red colour, against a black background. This stark image, referred to as the "Bloody Skeleton," served as both a warning and a symbol of his brutality. Unlike the traditional Jolly Roger with its skull and crossbones, Low's flag was designed to evoke a sense of pure terror, further solidifying his fearsome image.

Though his time as a pirate was brief, the combination of his cruelty and the chilling "Bloody Skeleton" flag ensured that Ned Low remained a figure of notoriety in pirate lore.





Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard, stands among the most notorious pirates of the Golden Age. His name alone struck fear into the hearts of sailors across the Atlantic. Beginning his pirate career in the Bahamas, he quickly built a reputation for both shrewdness and brutality, culminating in the daring blockade of Charleston, South Carolina in 1718.

Blackbeard's image was as iconic as his tactics. He cultivated a fearsome persona, sporting a vast, untamed beard and weaving lit fuses into it during battle to create an aura of demonic fury. His flag, often attributed to him, reinforced this terrifying image: a white horned skeleton on a black background, spearing a bleeding heart and toasting the devil.

Though his career as a pirate was short-lived, Blackbeard's impact looms large. After a fierce battle in 1718, a detachment of the Royal Navy finally caught and killed him, severing his head and displaying it as a warning to other pirates. Despite his death, Blackbeard’s legend grew, making him a lasting symbol of pirate power and the subject of countless tales and myths to this day.





Black Bart, born Bartholomew Roberts, was a Welsh pirate infamous for his ruthless tactics and extraordinary success. His career, spanning 1719 to 1722, made him the most successful pirate of the Golden Age of Piracy by the measure of ships captured. Roberts operated mainly off the coasts of Africa and the Americas, known for his daring raids and meticulous organisation.

Unlike many pirates, Roberts wasn't content with a single flag. He went through several designs symbolising his defiance and changing fortunes. His earliest flag displayed a skeleton and Roberts himself, both holding hourglasses to symbolise the relentless passage of time leading to death.

Black Bart met his end in 1722 off the coast of West Africa, when his ship was ambushed by a British warship. 




Unlike most pirates, Stede Bonnet, a wealthy Barbadian landowner, lacked experience and a fearsome reputation. Nicknamed the "Gentleman Pirate" for his refined manners and unconventional approach, he purchased a ship and embarked on a short-lived pirate career in 1717 Leaving his wife and two children behind. He is also the only recorded pirate to pay for his own ship to be built rather than the traditional method of 'commandeering' a vessel. Though historical records remain unclear, some accounts suggest he flew a simple flag depicting a heart and a dagger, symbolising his romantic aspirations for adventure and his naivety in the harsh realities of piracy. His brief association with the infamous Blackbeard, who adopted Bonnet as his ally, (or rather used) further cemented his unconventional image. Despite lacking traditional pirate success and a widely recognised flag, Bonnet's unique story, chronicled in recent media adaptations, continues to capture imaginations and challenge the archetypal image of a pirate captain.