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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.

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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

 

To make matters worse, Rovers often deliberately flew the flag of another nation. By flying false colors, a rover could lure unsuspecting prey, or avoid a pursuing ship. Because of this practice, even if a vessel's colors were spotted and accurately identified they were never fully trusted.

 
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 Black Spades' Flag Edward Low's Flag Thomas Tew's Flag
Bartholomew Roberts Flown by the Black Spades
Pirate Society
Edward Low Thomas Tew

 


The following flags have not yet been researched and may simply be creations of popular culture

Henery Every's Flag Stede Bonnet's Flag John Quelch's Flag Christopher Condent's Flag

John Avery

Stede Bonnet John Quelch Christopher Condent
Emanuel Wynne's Flag Bartholomew Roberts' Flag BlackBeard's Flag Richard Worley's Flag
Emanuel Wynne Bartholomew Roberts BlackBeard (Edward Teach) Richard Worley
Christopher Moody's Flag Dulaien's Flag Edward England's Flag Jack Rackham's Flag
Christopher Moody Dulaien Edward England Jack Rackham
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