Top 10 Famous Pirate Flags and What They Mean

A “Pirate” meant a lot during the 17th and 18th centuries, a time where there was no technology to find ships with radar. A time during which the world saw the largest plague of pirates – “The Golden Age of Piracy”. During this time, pirates were more feared than sea storms because of how terrifying their actions were! They were ruthless sea lords who’d spare no lives and weren’t hesitant to kill women or children. Pirates have now faded from feared criminals of the sea to a matter of folklore, but their legacy lives on through their gruesome stories and their iconic flags.

Here are the top 10 Famous Pirate Flags and their meanings.

10. Thomas Tew

Pirate Thomas Tew

Thomas Tew was one of the earliest and most well known pirates who launched the the fear of pirates in the minds of people. He was a 17th century pirate from England whose flag instilled the fear of his presence on any ship that sailed near him. His flag bore an arm holding a cutlass with a black background. This denoted that he wouldn’t hesitate to kill anyone posing a threat to him and that his enemies should simply surrender without any rebuttal. While the cutlass symbolized death, the black background meant that bloodshed wasn’t necessary if his enemies surrendered peacefully.

9. “The Gentleman Pirate”

Pirate Stede Bonnet

The Gentleman Pirate was the infamous moniker of Pirate Stede Bonnet. He was called so because he was formerly a reputed landowner in Barbados and a high ranking member of society. He then went on to become one of the most well known pirates of the 18th century. His flag bore a skull with a bone underneath it, of whose either side had a dagger and a heart. The skull symbolized the terror associated with him, the bone symbolized the scale of justice. It was up to his judgement whether his enemies were to be given the dagger (death) or the heart (life). This would symbolize that he’s a reasonable and just man unlike his contemporaries.

8. Edward Low

Pirate Edward Low

Edward Low was one of the most feared pirates of all time. He was known to be so violent and bloodthirsty that even other pirates wouldn’t dare to steer around the seas he was known to sail. They’d call him a mad barbaric sea monster for how cruel he was. His flag simply had a skeleton painted red in front of a black background. The red skeleton bore two meanings – first that anyone who comes across his ship would be eventually slayed in the most gruesome manner, for he’d spare no life; the second meaning of the red skeleton would alert his enemies that he was a cruel and angry person and that his lust for bloodshed was deep within his body.

7. Emmanuel Wynn

Emmanuel Wynn was a French pirate who sailed the seas in the 18th century and raided Spanish and English ships around the Caribbean Sea. He was one of the first pirates to introduce the skull and bones design associated with pirates, popularly known as the “Jolly Roger”. His flag bore a skull in the middle with two bones crossed behind it along with an hourglass beneath the skull. The skull and bones signaled the danger and pain associated with Wynn. The hourglass would symbolize that time was running away for his enemies.

6. John Quelch

John Quelch was yet another well known pirate from the Golden Age of Piracy. While his exploits were well known, his pirate career only stood for a year. His flag bore a naked figure with a spear pierced heart on one had and an hourglass in the other. The naked figure symbolized Quelch’s shamelessness. The hourglass, like other similar flags, generally stood for time running out for his enemies. The Spear with the heart denoted eventual bloodshed and death.

5. John “Calico Jack” Rackham

John Rackham, popularly known as Pirate Calico Jack was an English pirate. He terrorized the Caribbean Seas during the end of Golden Age of Piracy. While his career as a pirate was short lived and unimpressive – his iconic flag launched him to fame and recognition. Furthermore, his flag went on to become the most well known designs of all time. His Jolly Roger design had a skull but replaced the crossed bones with two crossed swords. This was to symbolize that that he and his crew were willing to fight and slaughter any person who wouldn’t surrender.

4. Walter Kennedy

Walter Kennedy was a member of Bartholomew’s crew before he left and eventually became a pirate himself. He was feared for his shamelessness and his willingness to kill. His flag had two symbols – one was a Jolly Roger while the other was a naked figure holding a sword and an hourglass. The Jolly Roger denoted the fear and terror associated with him. The naked figure symbolized Kennedy’s lack of shame. The sword meant that he would kill anyone on sight while the hourglass meant that time was ticking for his enemies.

3. Christopher Moody

Christopher Moody was one of the most well known and feared pirates around North and South Carolina. He was formerly a crew member of Bartholomew ship before he left to become a pirate himself. C Moody had a gruesome “no quarter” policy which meant that he’d spare no lives he came across. He had the most distinctive and unique flag of all the most well known pirates of the world. His flag bore three symbols – an hourglass with wings, an arm with a dagger and a ‘Jolly Roger’ along with a red setting. The red background denoted eventual bloodshed and torture he’d unleash upon his enemies. The hourglass with wings would mean that time was flying away for his enemies, the dagger denoted his will to kill while the skull & bones symbolized the fear associated with him.

2. Bartholomew “Black Bart” Roberts

Bartholomew is one of the most well remembered pirates of all time and was commonly referred to as Pirate Black Bart. Over the span of his career, he used many flags to adorn his ships. He managed to capture over 400 ships along with the Americas and West Africa. Consequently he went on to become the most feared pirate along with Blackbeard. Among his several flags, the most iconic was the one above. A flag which bore a figure of himself standing on two skulls, with the letters ABH and AMH beneath the skulls. This flag denoted the animosity he had toward the islands of Barbados and Martinique. ABH stood for ‘A Barbadian’s Head’ while AMH stood for ‘A Martinician’s Head’

1.  Edward “Blackbeard” Thatch

Blackbeard is arguably the most well known pirate and was the most feared one during his time. He equipped theatrics to instill fear in his enemies. He used to put fuses in his beard and light them up to have smoke coming out, giving him a demonic look. His flag bore a skeleton with horns holding an hourglass and a spear pointed toward a bleeding heart. The skeleton with horns symbolized Blackbeard and signaled that he was a demonic and ruthless man. The hourglass had the generic meaning of time ticking away while the spear meant that eventually a bloody death was upon those who did not surrender to him.

While pirates may just be a matter of film and literary sensation during the modern era, these 10 pirate flags and their meanings suggest they were anything but sensational!