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Jolly Roger: A Symbol of Terror and Pride
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Though they could be commissioned, if caught by an opposing party, they faced death. The literally needed to hang together, or could find themselves hanging separately, which bred a sense of fraternity that spread among pirates and manifested in cooperative tendencies at sea and in port. In this context, flags emerged as identifiers:.
Though conflict between pirate bands was not unheard of, the groups were largely cooperative, even across national boundaries. And they would defend each other.
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For example, when survivors of the wrecked Whidah were jailed in , pirates "acquired" a ship captain, whom they told "if the Prisoners Suffered they would Kill every Body [the pirates] took belonging to New England" 7. A version of the Jolly Roger was widely adopted by pirates for fraternal reasons that ultimately did lead to economic boons as discussed by the Times—some 2, men sailed under a version of a black flag bearing the insignia of a white skeleton striking a bleeding heart with one hand and holding a hour glass.
The flag was certainly meant to announce their presence, and the pirates, enterprising men that they were, quickly found that they could convey their intent to ships in their path with their banners: black flags indicated that they were pirates and that they would consider providing quarter, while a red flag bearing the described insignia meant that no quarter would be given and the mates meant to fight to the end.
However, the imagery chosen for the flag is as much a reflection of the pirates and their lifestyle as it was a reflection of their terrible natures:. By rallying under this sign, the pirates created a physical symbol that could be identified as "pirate. Piracy was a business—an officially sanctioned business in many cases—but as the Cilicians were eradicated by the Empire once they became a sizable threat, so too would these men be persecuted, and by the very powers that once encouraged their numbers. Historian Douglas R.
Burgess Jr. He was distinguished as a "noble pirate," a title also bestowed upon the likes of Drake and Morgan in recognition of their courage on behalf of English maritime interests 9. This reputation, having been firmly planted in the minds of the English population, proved difficult to undo. In fact, when Every was brought to trial for the capture and mistreatment of the Ganj-i-Sawai Gunsway , he was acquitted by the jury, much to the embarrassment of the English government, which had taken the stance—somewhat necessarily to repair trade ties with India and restore the power of the East India Trading Company—that he must be punished.
On the national stage, this was a PR nightmare for England. The acquittal suggested that England was a "nation of pirates" to potential allies and trade partners, such as India, and encouraged English colonies to sympathize and support piracy in local waters because it suggested that the native England herself supported these individuals. The government retried Every and his men under charges of mutiny. He had been first-mate of the Charles II.
However, he seized the ship while at port as he had not been paid and renamed it the Fancy, and proceeded to attack the Ganj-i-Sawai. England effectively re-crafted the definition of piracy to bring him and his men to justice, and in doing so, sent the message that piracy itself would no longer be tolerated.
While this would not be the end of piracy itself, it may be a point at which multiple meanings associated with the Jolly Roger begin to take shape. The noble pirate image persisted: Every was treated as a folk hero in popular culture. For example, The Life and Adventures of Captain John Avery published in , painted Every as a "gallant swashbuckler who falls in love with an Indian princess on board the captured Ganj-i-Sawai" who then decrees that his crew should also have "dusky" brides to share in his joy Subsequently, playwright Charles Johnson would adapt the tale for stage in The Successful Pyrate, which portrayed Every as an "empire builder" and a "tough but effective monarch" Every was often subsequently depicted in military gear—the idea of the defender persisted.
The signing of the Treaty of Utretcht quieted much of the discord that had driven privateering initially, reducing the need for these seafaring brigands as well as official tolerance for their actions In this context, signs of piracy became outlawed, to fit the idea that pirates are bloodthirsty, ruthless, criminals. These ideas moved the symbols associated with piracy away from fraternal ties and self identification, and moved the pirates themselves away from nationalist ties, rendering them targets of the state. And we were left with mixed symbolism—further diluted as it is appropriated for modern day uses.
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Why did Pirates Fly the Jolly Roger?
Standards of Healthcare in Your Medicine Cabinet. The Cultural Legacy of Postage. Anderson, JL Rediker, Marcus Journal of World History, 6 2 , Rediker, M. The views expressed are those of the author s and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.