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Pirate Flags

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The Jolly Roger is the name given any flag that was meant to identify a ship as a pirate ship. The most common design for a Jolly Roger was the famous skull and crossbones or skull and swords. The flag was meant to intimidate captains into surrendering their ships. The first known use of the skull and bones design was employed by the pirate Emanuel Wynne sometime around 1700. The name Jolly Roger was thought to have originated from joli rouge (pretty red), a French description of the bloody banner once flown by early privateers.

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Pirates did not continuosly fly the Jolly Roger. Pirate ships usually had many other flags and either flew false colors or no colors at all until an enemy vessel was within striking distance. At that point the Jolly Roger would be raised and a warning shot fired. In recent history, the Jolly Roger design was used extensively in the both World Wars and is still in use in the United States and other militaries.