Did you know there are only three remaining original Jolly Roger flags in existence?
The first is the Curry flag which is now on display in the National Museum of the Royal Navy in England, the second is in the Aland Maritime Museum in Finland and the third is in the St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum in Florida in the United States.
Jolly Roger flags were flown by pirates to frighten ships into surrendering without a fight. The skull and cross bones symbol on the flag came from the symbol used in ships’ logs to represent a death on board.
Pirates often used their own designs on their Jolly Roger flags which usually featured skulls, cross bones, crossed swords, bleeding hearts, cutlasses or a complete skeleton.
Here’s an overview of the history of the three rare surviving Jolly Roger flags:
The Curry Flag is a crudely stitched red wool flag that was captured in battle by Lieutenant Richard Curry, a naval captain, on the Barbary Coast of North Africa in 1780.
The flag features a painted cotton fabric skull and crossbones roughly stitched onto a red wool flag.
The flag has remained in the possession of Curry family ever since it was captured.
In 2007, the flag’s current owner, Pamela Curry, a descendant of Lt. Curry, asked the Winchester School of Art’s Textile Conservation Centre to restore the flag so it could be framed and displayed at her hotel.
During the restoration, gunpowder and small holes with charred edges were found on the flag. It took Masters student Bonnijo Chervenock six weeks to complete the restoration.
Chervenock also discovered that the flag had been cut out of another piece of fabric because a buttonhole was found on the underside and the flag is not cut in a square.
In 2011, Pamela Curry loaned the flag to the National Museum of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth, UK where it is still on display.
Jolly Roger flags that are red in color such as this one are rare and they signaled that the pirates on board intended to spare no life in a ship’s capture.
Aland Maritime Museum Flag:
The Jolly Roger flag at the Aland Maritime Museum is a skull-and-crossbones flag that flew on a pirate ship off the Barbary Coast in the late 1700s or early 1800s.
The flag is the oldest known surviving pirate flag and is a faded black flag made of cotton with a white skull and cross bone that has been stitched on.
According to the museum, the flag was acquired by an unknown Alandic sailor from a North African Mediterranean port and was brought to Finland sometime in the late 1800s or 1900s.
St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum Flag:
The Jolly Roger flag at the St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum is a black flag with a white skull and cross bone stitched onto it. The flag dates back to 1850 but not much is known about its history.
The museum has many other authentic pirate artifacts as well including Thomas Tew’s treasure chest, which is the only surviving authentic pirate chest in the world, and an original wanted poster for a notorious pirate.
If you would like to visit the St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum to see the flag yourself and want to save money on tickets, check out this article on St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum discount tickets.
If you would like to see more pirate artifacts at similar museums, check out this article on the best pirate museums in the U.S.
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Little, Benerson. The Golden Age of Piracy: The Truth Behind Pirate Myths. Skyhorse Publishing, 2016.
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“Red is for ruthless: Rare jolly roger pirate flag captured in North Africa battle 230 years ago goes on show for first time.” Daily Mail, 16 Dec. 2011, dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2074868/Rare-red-Jolly-Roger-pirate-flag-captured-battle-north-Africa-230-years-ago-goes-display-time.html
“Student restores rare Jolly Roger pirate flag to former glory.” Daily Mail, 20 June. 2007, dailymail.co.uk/news/article-463318/Student-restores-rare-Jolly-Roger-pirate-flag-glory.html
“1850 jolly Roger Flag.” Trip Advisor, tripadvisor.com/LocationPhotoDirectLink-g34599-d15358441-i418073951-Skip_the_Line_St_Augustine_Pirate_Treasure_Museum_Ticket-St_Augustine_Fl.html