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A vessel's flag is typically referred to as its Colors. Much like today, colors were originally intended to be used as a means of national identification. Unfortunately, the act of flying and identifying one's colors while at sea, during the 17th and 18th centuries, was all but impossible.

Dutch East India Company Flag

Being made of natural dyes and fibers (usually hemp, cotton canvas, or wool) flags were relatively expensive and highly susceptible to wear.

In fact, flags of the time deteriorated very quickly when exposed to sun, wind and salt, all of which were unavoidable while being flown at sea. Because of this, Naval Commanders were typically prohibited from flying their colors during bad weather.

To make matters worse, flying a flag drastically decreased a vessel's speed and maneuverability. As a result, most captains only flew their colors while another vessel was nearby.

 


Even when colors were displayed, and a sharp lookout was kept, it was often very difficult to identify a vessel by its flag.

Flags were very hard to distinguish while at sea; Thier size and color, in addition to waves and wind direction often made even seeing a flag complicated. Even when a flag was spotted, it was often difficult to decipher which nation it actually belonged to, as many flags of the time were incredibly similar in both color and design.


Flags

Black Flag



A red flag (often referred to as the Bloody Flag) was flown by all Rovers during the golden age as a symbol that no quarter would be given to those who resisted.

Starting in the early 18th century, pirates began using a black flag in place of a red one.
This black flag (often emblazoned with a skull)  became a symbol of piratical terror.

 

Many pirates designed and used their own colors as a way to distinguish themselves,
and to intimidate their prey.

 

 

These designs typically included depictions of weapons (swords, daggers, and cannons) and death, (skeletons, bones, skulls, and the devil).

The flags of those most notorious pirates quickly became the subject of legend, as they were a symbol of those fearsome, black-hearted men who roamed the sea.

Pirate Flag

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The following are artist depictions taken from textual descriptions of some of the flags that were flown by the most notorious of pirates.

 
Bartholomew Roberts' Flag Bartholomew Roberts' Flag Edward Low's Flag BlackBeard's Flag
Bartholomew Roberts Bartholomew Roberts Edward Low Edward Teach (Black Beard)
Black Spades' Flag Thomas Tew's Flag    
Black Spades Pirate Society Thomas Tew    

 

 

The following flags have not been fully researched & may simply be creations of popular culture.

John Avery's Flag John Quelch's Flag Christopher Condent's Flag Emanuel Wynne's Flag
John Avery John Quelch Christopher Condent Emanuel Wynne
Richard Worley's Flag Christopher Moody's Flag Dulaien's Flag Edward England's Flag
Richard Worley Christopher Moody Dulaien Edward England
Jack Rackham's Flag      
Jack Rackham      
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