Pirate life has been romanticized, and it’s easy to see why—it was a danger-filled life built around crime and roguish behavior. Countless stories and legends have been inspired by this life, and one common thread throughout every pirate story is the pirate flag. These ominous flags signaled death and caused terror in those who saw them.
Pirate flags held this power because they took on the story of those who flew under them. As the pirate crew committed more crimes and became more infamous, so did the flag.
Here are four pirate flags, and a brief history of each one—learn about the pirates who flew them and the stories behind them.
Edward Teach—commonly known as Blackbeard—is likely the most well-known pirate of all time, and his flag matched his flair and infamy. Blackbeard’s sinister flag featured a skeleton spearing a heart while toasting the devil. Like most pirate flags, the only colors found on this flag are white, black, and red.
Teach’s fearsome appearance led to notoriety, and was also likely a major factor in his success as a pirate. He was known to cultivate this image by lighting fuses and placing them under his hat, and growing an extremely thick and bushy beard—spawning the moniker “Blackbeard” in the process. Instead of relying on brute force, he used his menacing reputation and ominous flag to fight much of the battle for him.
Blackbeard operated as a pirate until pardoned. After being pardoned, he settled down on the coast and became a privateer. This did not last long, as the call of piracy was irresistible. He soon returned to his old ways, but it didn't last long: he was killed in a fierce battle merely months after his return.
Superstitions about Blackbeard’s ghost abound. Unexplained lights at sea are often called “Teach’s light”, and it’s said that the Blackbeard haunts the afterlife searching for his lost head, afraid that his friends and the devil may not recognize him without it.
Flags represent the people who fly beneath them, so it’s no wonder that this one is particularly spooky.
Head to the custom-orders page if you’re interested in a wooden replica of Blackbeard’s flag—we’d love to bring it to life. (With any luck, only the flag—Blackbeard should probably remain dead.)
Bartholomew Roberts, also known as Black Bart (although only after his death), took more ships than any other pirate during the Golden Age of Piracy. During his four-year tenure as a pirate, he captured more than 470 ships. His abilities as a navigator and outspoken personality led to his nomination as captain of the same pirate ship that took him captive while sailing on slave ship.
He was a brave and cunning leader, and his many successes inspired loyalty in his men. Black Bart also gained his crew's trust by creating a pirate code. This code provided his crew with clear rules: no gambling, a specific lights-out time on the ship, the guarantee of a share of loot and fair treatment, and more. Roberts and his crew originally flew under a flag that displayed himself and a depiction of death holding an hourglass together.
Why did Roberts make a second flag?
In 1720, he suffering a particularly violent defeat at the hands of two ships sent by the inhabitants of Barbados. Martinique had also sent two ships to hunt him down at the same time. 20 of his crew were killed in this encounter, prompting Black Bart to swear vengeance. He began flying a flag that showed him standing on two skulls, representing a Barbadian and a Martiniquian. Below the skulls were the letters ABH (A Barbadian’s Head) and AMH (A Martiniquians Head).
Roberts eventually caught the governor of Martinique in a surprise attack. After winning the battle, he hung the governor from his ship's mast.
He continued his career of piracy until he was attacked while his crew was drunk from celebrating a victory. During an attempted escape, Roberts was struck and killed by a grapeshot. Per his request, his body was weighted down and thrown overboard, never to be found.
His death is considered by many to mark the end of the Golden Age of Piracy.
Perhaps the most recognizable pirate flag is the skull and crossbones. This flag is typically associated with pirates Samuel “Black Sam” Bellamy and Edward England. Both of these pirates were known for their good natures: Bellamy was known to shown exceptional generosity and mercy to those he captured, and England was eventually marooned by his crew for his good nature (he believed in torture only as a last resort, and showed unusual kindness—two traits that didn’t sit well with his crew). This provides a strange juxtaposition with their preferred flag’s gruesome visage—a stark, white skull set against a black background.
In a testament to this pirate flag’s popularity, “skull and crossbones” has become interchangeable with “pirate flag” and “jolly roger”.
If you’d like to learn more about the skull-and-crossbones flag, check out this Patriot Wood feature. You can also see the Patriot Wood replica of this infamous flag.
Avast! Strike fear into your houseguests (or at least start a conversation) with a wooden pirate-flag replica from Patriot Wood. Pirate flags have interesting backgrounds and stories, and you could have a handmade, wooden replica of your favorite in no time at all.
Whether it’s Blackbeard’s flag, Black Bart’s flag, or one we didn’t even list here, just let us know what you’re looking for on our custom-orders page.