The Infamous Blackbeard’s Flag – Meanings and Origins

Pirates have always been an intriguing subject in history and pop culture alike. Among the most notorious buccaneers was the fearsome Blackbeard, who terrorized the Caribbean seas during the early 18th century. Besides his ruthless reputation, one of the most recognizable symbols of Blackbeard’s infamy was his black flag, adorned with a white skull and crossbones. But what was the real story behind Blackbeard’s flag? In this article, we will explore the origins, history, and meaning of this iconic emblem, uncovering both the facts and the legends that shaped the legacy of one of the most legendary pirates of all time.

Who was Blackbeard?

Who Was Blackbeard?

Edward Teach, popularly known as Blackbeard, was a notorious English pirate who operated in the West Indies and the eastern coast of the American colonies during the early 18th century. He was one of the most feared and successful pirates of his time, known for his fierce appearance and brutal tactics.

Blackbeard’s early life is shrouded in mystery, and there are conflicting accounts of his upbringing. Some sources suggest that he was born in Bristol, England, while others claim that he was a native of Jamaica or North Carolina. According to one story, he was a sailor on a British privateer during the War of the Spanish Succession before turning to piracy.

Blackbeard began his piracy career in the Caribbean in the early 1700s, where he quickly gained notoriety for his bold attacks on merchant ships and his savage treatment of captives. He soon became one of the most feared pirates in the region, known for his massive beard, which he reportedly tied with ribbons and lit on fire during battle to intimidate his enemies. Blackbeard also wore a tricorn hat with a long, colorful feather, a leather bandolier with multiple pistols and firearms, and a cutlass sword.

Blackbeard’s flagship was the Queen Anne’s Revenge, a former French slave ship that he captured and refitted for piracy purposes. The ship was armed with 40 guns and could easily overpower most merchant vessels. Blackbeard and his crew of approximately 300 pirates roamed the seas, plundering and pillaging as they went.

It is believed that Blackbeard was inspired by the flag of pirate Henry Every, which featured a skull with crossbones under a cap with three gold tassels, as well as the mythical figure of the devil or skeleton. Blackbeard created his own version of the flag, which became famous in its own right.

Blackbeard’s Jolly Roger flag had a black background with a white skeleton holding an hourglass in one hand and a spear aimed at a red heart in the other. The flag was a symbol of warning to other ships, and its meaning was clear: surrender or face a violent end.

Blackbeard was not the only pirate to use a fearsome flag to strike terror into his victims. Many other captains, such as Captain Kidd and Calico Jack, used flags of their own design to showcase their power and intimidate their victims.

In the next section, we will look more closely at the history and meaning behind Blackbeard’s famous flag.

Early life of Blackbeard

Blackbeard, also known as Edward Teach, is considered one of the most notorious pirates in history. However, not much is known about his early life. It is believed that he was born in Bristol, England, in the late 1680s, and spent most of his youth working on merchant ships. According to some legends, he joined the Royal Navy during Queen Anne’s War, but eventually turned to piracy due to his discontent with life as a sailor. Others say that he started out as a privateer before becoming a full-fledged pirate. Regardless of his beginnings, Blackbeard quickly gained a fearsome reputation as a ruthless pirate who would stop at nothing to get what he wanted. His cunning tactics, such as using his long beard to intimidate his enemies, made him a legend amongst pirates and naval officers alike.

Blackbeard’s piracy days

During , he was regarded as one of the most feared pirates in the Caribbean. Blackbeard had a reputation of being a ruthless pirate who was not afraid to use violence to get what he wanted. He would often force his victims to hand over their valuables and ships before looting them and letting them go.

Blackbeard became a pirate in 1716 after he joined the crew of Benjamin Hornigold. Hornigold was one of the most successful pirates of his time and Blackbeard quickly rose through the ranks. Together they attacked shipping lanes and ports, plundering and pillaging as they went.

In early 1717, Blackbeard took control of his own ship, a former French slave ship named Queen Anne’s Revenge. The ship was armed with 40 guns, making it one of the most powerful ships in the Caribbean.

Over the next two years, Blackbeard and his crew terrorized the Caribbean. He became famous for his shaggy appearance, which was accentuated by his long black beard. He would often tie his beard into small pigtails and light them on fire during battle, creating a terrifying image for his enemies.

Blackbeard and his crew would often fly the Jolly Roger, a skull and crossbones flag that was a well-known symbol of piracy. However, when Blackbeard became a captain, he designed his own flag, which was even more fearsome than the Jolly Roger.

The flag showed a devil holding a spear aimed at a heart. Below the heart was a clock, indicating that time was running out for Blackbeard’s enemies. The flag also included an arm holding a sword, another symbol of Blackbeard’s violent nature. The flag was black with red accents, giving it a menacing appearance.

Blackbeard’s piracy days came to an end in 1718 when he was killed by British naval forces off the coast of North Carolina. However, his legacy as one of the most feared pirates in history lives on. His flag has become an iconic symbol of piracy, and is still recognized today as a symbol of lawlessness on the high seas.

What was Blackbeard’s Flag?

Blackbeard’s flag was a recognizable symbol of fear and intimidation for anyone who saw it. The flag featured a horned skeleton holding a spear that pierced a red heart, with an hourglass in one hand and a cutlass in the other. Some versions of the flag also included symbols like a darting serpent and a skull above the skeleton.

The image on Blackbeard’s flag was a clear reflection of his persona as a fierce and ruthless pirate. The horned skeleton was a common symbol in pirate flags at that time, but the combination of the red heart, hourglass, and cutlass gave it a uniquely terrifying appearance. The hourglass symbolized the inevitability of time running out for his enemies, while the red heart conveyed the message that they would meet a violent end at Blackbeard’s hand.

Although it is uncertain who designed Blackbeard’s flag, it is believed that Blackbeard himself may have had a hand in its creation. According to some historical accounts, Blackbeard would take the Spanish and French flags captured from other ships and modify them to create his own distinctive design.

The horned skeleton on Blackbeard’s flag was probably meant to symbolize the devil, as it conveyed the message that Blackbeard was not just any ordinary pirate, but someone to be feared and respected. The red heart being pierced by the spear represented the fact that his enemies would be destroyed without mercy, while the hourglass showed that their time had run out. The cutlass symbolized Blackbeard’s violent and deadly nature as a pirate, as well as his willingness to use force to achieve his goals.

Blackbeard’s flag is a powerful symbol of piracy and its history has been widely documented. While Blackbeard’s flag is very famous, there were many other pirate flags used during the Golden Age of piracy. If you are interested in learning about other pirate flags and their meanings, check out the famous female pirates flags guide, as well as the flag of Calico Jack and the pirate code flag meaning.

Appearance of the Flag

Blackbeard’s flag, also known as the “Jolly Roger,” was among the most iconic symbols of piracy in the 18th century. The flag was a black banner with a white skull and crossbones emblem in the center. The skull wore a bandana and had an eye-patch while the bones beneath it were crossed. Some variations of the flag had an hourglass beneath the skull, symbolizing the fleeting nature of life. The flag was designed to instill fear in the hearts of anyone who saw it, both at sea and on land. The black color of the flag represented death and mourning, while the skull and crossbones were universally recognized as a symbol of danger. The flag was a clear message that Blackbeard was not to be trifled with, and anyone who opposed him would meet a swift and brutal end.

The History of the Flag

The history of Blackbeard’s flag is shrouded in mystery and uncertainty. There are several theories about when it was first used and by whom. Some historians believe that the flag was originally flown by the French pirate Jean Thomas Dulaien, while others argue that it was designed by Blackbeard himself.

Despite the lack of concrete evidence, there are several historical accounts of Blackbeard’s flag being used during his piracy days. The earliest known mention of the flag comes from a report filed by Alexander Spotswood, the Governor of Virginia, in 1718. He describes encountering Blackbeard’s ship and seeing a flag that displayed “a skeleton holding an hourglass in one hand and a spear in the other.”

Another account of the flag was given by Captain Charles Johnson in his book “A General History of the Pyrates” which was published in 1724. According to Johnson, Blackbeard’s flag featured a “man standing with a flaming sword in his hand, and an hour-glass before him”. This description differs slightly from Spotswood’s account, as it identifies the figure on the flag as a man rather than a skeleton.

Interestingly, there are also descriptions of Blackbeard using different flags depending on the situation. One account from 1717 describes him flying a French flag to avoid suspicion from a British ship, before raising his own flag once he was in range to attack. This suggests that Blackbeard was not necessarily wedded to one particular flag, but rather used different flags as part of his piratical strategy.

Despite the lack of definitive evidence about the flag’s origins, it remains an enduring symbol of Blackbeard’s legacy. The Jolly Roger, as it is commonly known, is one of the most recognizable flags in history and is still used as a symbol of piracy today. Its use by Blackbeard has cemented its place in popular culture and ensured that it will continue to be remembered for centuries to come.

Meaning of the Symbols on the Flag

The symbols on Blackbeard’s flag were intended to strike fear into his enemies. The most prominent symbol on the flag was a skull with crossed bones, which was commonly associated with death and danger. This image was meant to send a clear message to any ship that saw it – that Blackbeard and his crew were not to be trifled with.

In addition to the skull and crossbones, the flag also featured a heart with a spear through it. This symbol was often interpreted as a more specific threat to any ship that might be captured by Blackbeard. It was meant to suggest that Blackbeard and his crew were not only capable of violence, but that they were also willing to show no mercy to their enemies.

Another symbol on the flag was a horned devil holding a spear. This image was also meant to be intimidating, as it linked Blackbeard and his crew to evil and darkness. It also suggested that Blackbeard saw himself as a powerful and fearsome leader, able to command even the forces of hell.

Finally, the flag also featured an hourglass with wings. This symbol was likely intended to represent the fleeting nature of life, and the importance of making the most of the time that one has. It could also be interpreted as a warning to Blackbeard’s enemies that time was running out for them, and that their fate was sealed.

While the exact meaning of each symbol on Blackbeard’s flag is open to interpretation, it is clear that they were all chosen to convey a sense of power, danger, and intimidation. Blackbeard wanted his enemies to know that he was not to be trifled with, and that he was willing to go to any lengths to get what he wanted. As a result, the flag became an enduring symbol of piracy and adventure, and continues to be popular in popular culture to this day.

The Real Story behind Blackbeard’s Flag

Blackbeard’s flag, also known as the “Jolly Roger,” contained a number of symbols that are believed to have held special meaning for Blackbeard and his crew. However, despite the many theories that exist about the origins and significance of the flag, the true story behind it remains something of a mystery.

One theory about the origin of Blackbeard’s flag is that it was inspired by the red version of the French tricolor flag that was used during the French Revolution. Another theory suggests that the flag was inspired by the skull and crossbones symbol that was used by the Knights Templar during their battles in the Holy Land.

However, there is little concrete evidence to support either of these theories, leaving the true origin of the Jolly Roger open to debate.

Despite these uncertainties, there are a few pieces of historical evidence that shed light on the use of the Jolly Roger flag by Blackbeard and other pirates. For example, it is known that pirate flags were used primarily as a means of intimidating other ships and coastal communities.

Other historical accounts suggest that the symbols on the Jolly Roger may have held specific meanings for members of Blackbeard’s crew. For example, the skeleton that appears on the flag may have represented “Death,” while the hourglass symbol could have symbolized the fleeting nature of time.

Despite its uncertain origins and meaning, Blackbeard’s flag has come to hold a prominent place in the history and folklore surrounding piracy. The image of the Jolly Roger has been used in countless movies, books, and other media to depict the golden age of piracy.

This legacy has helped to solidify Blackbeard’s reputation as one of the most infamous pirates to ever sail the seas. Even today, more than three hundred years after his death, Blackbeard remains a legendary figure in popular culture.


While many mysteries remain surrounding Blackbeard’s flag, its power as a symbol of piracy and the golden age of seafaring adventure can hardly be overstated. Whether or not the symbols on the Jolly Roger held specific meaning for Blackbeard and his crew, the image of the skull and crossbones has become an enduring symbol of adventure, rebellion, and freedom on the high seas.

Theories about the Origin of the Flag

There are several theories regarding the origin of Blackbeard’s flag. Some historians believe that the skeleton on the flag was inspired by the pirate Calico Jack’s Jolly Roger, which featured a skull and crossed swords. Others argue that the flag was a reference to the biblical figure of Samson, who used a jawbone as a weapon. Another theory suggests that the flag represented the devil, as Blackbeard was often associated with the occult. Despite these speculations, the true origin of the flag remains a mystery, as no concrete evidence has been found to support any particular theory.

Historical Evidence about the Flag

When it comes to historical evidence about Blackbeard’s flag, there is unfortunately very little to work with. However, what we do know is fascinating. The first and most obvious piece of evidence is the description of the flag that was recorded in a witness account from 1717. The witness described the flag as having “a figure of Death having an Hour-glass in one hand and a Dart in the other, striking through a Heart. And on the Top of the Skeleton, a Cap of Maintenance, and underneath, the Number of the Captain’s Men, on a white ground.” This description gives us a clear picture of what the flag looked like and the symbols that were on it.

Additionally, there is a contemporary description of Blackbeard’s flag in Charles Johnson’s book “A General History of the Pyrates” that was published in 1724. According to Johnson, the flag had a “figure representing the devil, with a dart in his hand, and on one shoulder a trumpet; he is pictured as having large wings, with flames and smoke issuing out of the mouth and ears.” Interestingly, this description differs slightly from the earlier witness account, which may suggest that there were multiple versions of the flag.

Aside from these written descriptions, there are also a few pieces of physical evidence that hint at what Blackbeard’s flag may have looked like. In 2018, a team of archaeologists discovered a small lead weight in the shape of a skull and crossbones on the sunken wreck of Blackbeard’s flagship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge. While this object may not have been part of a flag, it does suggest that the skull and crossbones symbol was prevalent among Blackbeard’s crew.

Finally, it’s worth noting that while there may not be a lot of direct historical evidence about Blackbeard’s flag, the fact that the symbol of a skull and crossbones was so widely associated with piracy in the 18th century suggests that the flag was likely a real and important part of Blackbeard’s identity as a pirate captain.

The Flag’s Impact on Blackbeard’s Legacy and Fame

The flag used by legendary pirate Blackbeard has had a lasting impact on his legacy and fame.

1. Symbol of Fear

Blackbeard’s flag was designed to intimidate and strike fear in the hearts of his enemies. The sight of the flag with a skull and crossed swords signaled imminent danger for those who crossed his path. The fear generated by the flag helped Blackbeard more easily commandeer ships and loot treasure.

2. Enduring Cultural Icon

Blackbeard’s flag has become an enduring cultural icon, symbolizing rebellion and pirate culture. It is frequently seen in popular culture representations of pirates, from movies to video games and merchandise. This has played a significant role in cementing Blackbeard’s fame and making him an almost legendary figure in popular culture.

3. Historical Significance

Blackbeard’s flag also carries historical significance. It is a physical object that has survived through the years and can be examined and studied to learn more about the pirate’s life and legacy. It also serves as evidence of the piracy and violence that existed during the Golden Age of Piracy in the 18th century.

4. Part of a Larger Legacy

The flag is just one part of Blackbeard’s larger legacy as a pirate. His notorious reputation as a vicious and merciless pirate has made him a deeply fascinating figure, inspiring countless books, documentaries, and movies. Blackbeard’s flag plays an important role in this legacy as a powerful symbol of his feared and infamous reputation.

5. Influence on Other Flags

Blackbeard’s flag has also influenced other pirate flags and symbols used throughout history. Many other pirates used similar symbols of skulls, crossbones, and swords to intimidate their enemies and signal their violent intentions. Blackbeard’s flag helped establish these symbols as part of the larger pirate culture and legacy.

Blackbeard’s flag has had a significant impact on his legacy and fame. It has served both as a symbol of his feared reputation as a pirate and as an enduring cultural icon of the pirate culture. The flag continues to captivate researchers and historical enthusiasts alike, shedding light on the brutal and violent world of piracy during the Golden Age of Piracy.


In conclusion, the story behind Blackbeard’s Flag continues to be a mystery, with many theories and hypotheses surrounding its origins and meanings. While some believe that the flag represents death and danger, others argue that the symbols on the flag are meant to be a symbol of rebellion and freedom.

Despite the lack of concrete evidence about the Flag’s true meaning, its impact on Blackbeard’s legacy and fame is undeniable. The Flag has become an iconic symbol of piracy, often appearing in modern-day media and popular culture. Blackbeard himself has been romanticized and mythologized, cementing his place in history as one of the most famous pirates of all time.

In the end, the story of Blackbeard and his Flag remind us of the power of symbols and their ability to capture the imagination of people for generations to come. Whether the Flag was meant to intimidate or inspire, its impact on history cannot be denied.

As the investigation into the real story behind Blackbeard’s Flag continues, we can only imagine the secrets and mysteries it holds. Its significance may remain a puzzle, but one thing is for sure – Blackbeard’s Flag will continue to capture the imagination and inspire curiosity in people for years to come.

Frequently Asked Questions

What was the significance of Blackbeard’s flag?

Blackbeard’s flag was a symbol of his power and reputation. It struck fear into the hearts of his enemies and served as a warning to those who dared to cross his path.

Did Blackbeard design his own flag?

The origins of Blackbeard’s flag are unclear, and it’s unknown whether he designed it himself or adopted it from another pirate. However, the symbols and imagery on the flag were certainly chosen for their powerful and intimidating effect.

What do the symbols on Blackbeard’s flag represent?

The horned skeleton holding an hourglass represents death and the fleeting nature of time. The heart dripping with blood represents passion and the willingness to spill blood for the cause. The crossed swords represent the fight to the death that awaited Blackbeard’s enemies.

What was Blackbeard’s reputation as a pirate?

Blackbeard was known for his fierce reputation and brutal tactics. He was not only a skilled sailor and navigator, but also a master of psychological warfare, using his appearance and reputation to strike fear into his enemies.

Did Blackbeard lose any battles during his piracy days?

Blackbeard’s piracy days were filled with many battles, but there is no record of him ever losing one. His tactics were so effective that he often scared off other ships before any fighting began.

How did Blackbeard die?

Blackbeard was killed in a battle with British soldiers off the coast of North Carolina in 1718. He was reportedly shot five times and stabbed more than 20 times before finally succumbing to his injuries.

What happened to Blackbeard’s crew after his death?

Most of Blackbeard’s crew were captured and executed by the British authorities. A few managed to escape, but many were killed in subsequent battles with other pirate crews.

What is the legacy of Blackbeard and his flag?

Blackbeard is remembered as one of the most notorious pirates in history, and his flag has become an iconic symbol of piracy. It is often used in popular media to represent the idea of a pirate flag, and has inspired countless stories and legends.

How does Blackbeard’s flag compare to other pirate flags?

Blackbeard’s flag is unique in its symbolism and imagery, and sets it apart from other pirate flags of the time. While many pirate flags featured skulls and crossbones, Blackbeard’s flag was more complex and sophisticated.

What can we learn from Blackbeard’s story and his flag?

Blackbeard’s story and his flag serve as a reminder of the power of symbolism and reputation. They show us how a simple image or idea can be used to strike fear into the hearts of our enemies, and help us understand the role that fear and intimidation can play in shaping our world.


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