What is the origin of this pre-industrial naval depiction

What is the origin of this pre-industrial naval depiction

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I'm neither a history buff not an artist, so I apologise in advance for my poor descriptions.

I have recently come into possession of a painting depicting some naval ships, perhaps 19th century, sailing towards a coastal settlement.

My late grandfather, through whom the painting came into our family, was a member of the German Luftwaffe, stationed in Bavaria and Italy for most of the war, until 1943. I suspect he would have acquired the painting before then, but I can't really be sure. I believe the painting was gifted to him some time in the 1930s-1940s, likely during the war.

I would like to be able to;

  1. Identify the scene being depicted
  2. Identify its painter, and
  3. Identify or guess at its origins, and return it to the decedents of its previous owners if it came into our family by unethical means.

The painting is inside a 100x70cm frame. I can't make out the signature, but have taken a photo of it:

The first word might be Rudi or Rud, but I can't identify the surname. After the name is a number that looks like XXII.

Can anyone identify this painting, or the scene or artist?

Based on your reading of the signature I did some googling and can offer the hypothesis (just a guess, really) that the artist might be Rudolf Claudus. He was a naval painter of note who was particularly active in Italy during WWII so the timeline fits well.

I am not any kind of expert on art so I cannot say with any degree of authority whether your picture matches Claudus's style but looking with layman's eyes I think it might.

Perhaps there is more information on Clauus in Italian.


Some information about Claudus

Google images search for Claudus

A tapestry sale add page which originally led me to Claudus (note that his name is misspelt there as Rudolph Clandus).

The painting is definitively from Rudolf Claudus, an Italian Navy officer and a great marine painter.

The number XXII refers to the year 22 of the Fascist Era (starting 29 October 1922), ie 1944.

Your ancestor surely got it when based in Italy, probably bought it from the painter. There are 3 books on him printed by the historical institute of the Italian navy. An article on Claudus was published by the US Naval Institute (magazine Naval history) in October 1993. It is not common to find his paintings as he painted mainly for the Italian Navy. I have a similar painting to yours (I love his paintings). The Italian Navy HQ in Rome has some amazing artworks from him. There are roughly 2200 known paintings from Claudus

A Lot of What Is Known about Pirates Is Not True, and a Lot of What Is True Is Not Known.

In 1701, in Middletown, New Jersey, Moses Butterworth languished in a jail, accused of piracy. Like many young men based in England or her colonies, he had joined a crew that sailed the Indian Ocean intent on plundering ships of the Muslim Mughal Empire. Throughout the 1690s, these pirates marauded vessels laden with gold, jewels, silk, and calico on pilgrimage toward Mecca. After achieving great success, many of these men sailed back into the Atlantic via Madagascar to the North American seaboard, where they quietly disembarked in Charleston, Philadelphia, New Jersey, New York City, Newport, and Boston, and made themselves at home.

When Butterworth was captured, he admitted to authorities that he had served under the notorious Captain William Kidd, arriving with him in Boston before making his way to New Jersey. This would seem quite damning. Governor Andrew Hamilton and his entourage rushed to Monmouth County Court to quickly try Butterworth for his crimes. But the swashbuckling Butterworth was not without supporters.

In a surprising turn of events, Samuel Willet, a local leader, sent a drummer, Thomas Johnson, to sound the alarm and gather a company of men armed with guns and clubs to attack the courthouse. One report estimated the crowd at over a hundred furious East Jersey residents. The shouts of the men, along with the “Drum beating,” made it impossible to examine Butterworth and ask him about his financial and social relationships with the local Monmouth gentry.

Armed with clubs, locals Benjamin and Richard Borden freed Butterworth from the colonial authorities. “Commanding ye Kings peace to be keept,” the judge and sheriff drew their swords and injured both Bordens in the scuffle. Soon, however, the judge and sheriff were beaten back by the crowd, which succeeded in taking Butterworth away. The mob then seized Hamilton, his followers, and the sheriff, taking them prisoner in Butterworth’s place.

A witness claimed this was not a spontaneous uprising but “a Design for some Considerable time past,” as the ringleaders had kept “a pyratt in their houses and threatened any that will offer to seize him.”

Governor Hamilton had felt that his life was in danger. Had the Bordens been killed in the melee, he said, the mob would have murdered him. As it was, he was confined for four days until Butterworth was free and clear.

Jailbreaks and riots in support of alleged pirates were common throughout the British Empire during the late seventeenth century. Local political leaders openly protected men who committed acts of piracy against powers that were nominally allied or at peace with England. In large part, these leaders were protecting their own hides: Colonists wanted to prevent depositions proving that they had harbored pirates or purchased their goods. Some of the instigators were fathers-in-law of pirates.

There were less materialist reasons, too, why otherwise upstanding members of the community rebelled in support of sea marauders. Many colonists feared that crack-downs on piracy masked darker intentions to impose royal authority, set up admiralty courts without juries of one’s peers, or even force the establishment of the Anglican Church. Openly helping a pirate escape jail was also a way of protesting policies that interfered with the trade in bullion, slaves, and luxury items such as silk and calico from the Indian Ocean.

These repeated acts of rebellion against royal authorities in support of men who had committed blatant criminal acts inspired me to spend about ten years researching pirates, work that resulted in my book, Pirate Nests and the Rise of the British Empire, 1570–1740. In it, I analyzed the rise and fall of international piracy from the perspective of colonial hinterlands, from the inception of England’s burgeoning empire to its administrative consolidation. While traditionally depicted as swashbuckling adventurers on the high seas, pirates played a crucial role on land, contributing to the commercial development and economic infrastructure of port towns in colonial America.

Pirates could be found in nearly every Atlantic port city. But only particular locations became known as “pirate nests,” a pejorative term used by royalists and customs officials. Many of the most notorious pirates began their careers in these ports. Others established even deeper ties by settling in these cities and becoming respected members of the local elite. Instead of the snarling drunken fiends that parade through children’s books, these pirates spent their booty on pigs and chickens, hoping to live a more placid and financially secure life on land.

I was wholly uninterested in piracy as a child. I never dressed as a pirate on Halloween or even read pirate books. I went to graduate school at Harvard, intending to write about fatherhood in early America. In my third year, I presented to colleagues a 30-page essay that I hoped would be a chapter of my dissertation.

The paper was about William Harris, one of the first settlers of Rhode Island, who accumulated a massive estate through shrewd business tactics and slick legal dealings. A Puritan, Harris styled himself as an Abraham of the New World who would people a New Canaan. He composed a will that went to seven generations. In 1680, however, the elderly man was sailing toward London when Algerian pirates captured his vessel.

In the central market of the great walled city of Algiers, Harris was sold into slavery to a wealthy merchant. The once powerful man sent pitiful letters to Rhode Island, begging friends to ransom him and asking his wife to sell parts of his estate. He pleaded, “If you fail me of the said sum and said time it is most like to be the loss of my life, he [my captor] is so Cruel and Covetous. I live on bread and water.” After nearly two years of abject slavery, Harris became one of the lucky few to be ransomed. He made his way back to London, where, after a few weeks on Christian land, the exhausted patriarch died.

After Duel With Hamilton, Burr Sets Sights on Louisiana

Burr was never arrested or tried for Hamilton’s murder, but it effectively ended Burr’s political career. With no prospects in Washington, D.C. or New York, Burr set his sights on the West, namely the newly acquired Louisiana Territory and Mexican-owned lands in the Southwest.

The details of Burr’s plot were never clear, but it involved mustering an army to invade Mexico under the pretense of a war with Spain, and then keeping the conquered land for himself. Burr thought he had an ally in General James Wilkenson, commander of the U.S. Army and first governor of the Louisiana Territory, but when rumors of Burr’s plot leaked into the newspapers, Wilkenson turned on his co-conspirator.

In a letter sent on October 21, 1806, Wilkenson spilled the details of the plot to Jefferson without mentioning Burr by name. But Jefferson had already grown concerned enough about Burr’s strange activities that Jefferson had sent his own letter to Secretary of State James Madison asking if the Constitution granted him authority to deploy the army to stop a rebellion.

In his reply, Madison said no. “It does not appear that regular Troops can be employed, under any legal provision agst. insurrections,” wrote Madison, 𠇋ut only agst. expeditions having foreign Countries for the object.”

Both Jefferson and Madison were strict interpreters of the Constitution and wouldn’t dare exercise authority that wasn’t explicitly written in the founding document, so they needed to convince Congress to give Jefferson that power. And to do that, they first needed proof of Burr’s conspiracy. That’s where Wilkenson’s letter comes in.

“Jefferson was looking for a legitimate source of authority on Burr’s plot and he was willing to believe Wilkenson, even though historians suggest that Jefferson knew darn well that Wilkenson was a liar with his own suspect reputation,” says John Fea, a history professor at Messiah College. 𠇋ut Jefferson needed a source to move the gears to try to stop Burr, who was his biggest fear.”

Different Stories of Davy Jones’ Locker – Who’s Davy Jones?

The first reference to Davy Jones’s Locker dates back to the 18th century during which it was popularised as a nautical superstition among sailors and pirates.

In the earlier times, the name-Davy Jones- was referred to as the sailors’ devil and sometimes, the evil god of the seas. However, unsuccessful in tracing the origin of the term, historians argue that its root goes back centuries ago and the stories were transferred to generations by word of mouth.

Though the origin of the name or phrase remains unclear, there have been a number of attempts to explain the truth behind it in the past.

The prominent among these tales, those appeared in movies and writings, is the story of Jones as the captain of the mysterious ghost ship ‘Flying Dutchman.” The Flying Dutchman, a mainstay of maritime lore, is a legendary ghost ship that is doomed to sail the oceans forever since it can’t make port due the rough waters.

In one of the other stories, Davy Jones refers to David Jones, a pirate captain who sailed his ship across the Indian Ocean in the 1630s.

But many historians reject its possibility by arguing that the person mentioning in this story was not popular enough to become a legend as is Davy Jones.

Davy Jones was a publican who had run a British pub, tells another story. This avatar of Davy Jones used to make his customers drunk and imprison them in his locker only to sell them off to ship owners as slaves.

The pub owner later becomes a pirate after his pub-going bankrupt. Stealing a ship, he went on to sail across the Atlantic Ocean and capture other ships and the crew abroad. While he decapitates most of the crew members, the remaining would be locked abroad before sinking the vessel.

For some, Davy Jones represents an infamously myopic sailor named Duffer Jones, who often fell into the sea from his ship. Another such interpretation points to the 19th-century dictionary that refers the name to a “ghost of Jonah” the biblical seaman whose name meant bad luck on to sailors.

According to the Bible, God punished Jonah for his disobedience and he became the “devil of the seas,” after which the crew abroad his vessel killed him.

Another version of the Jonah story refers to the prophet who happened to spent a few days inside the whale and connects his days in the tract of a whale with the Davy Jones’ Locker.

Among the Welsh seafaring community, Davy Jones refers to their patron saint – St. Davis, whom they believe is saving them from the harsh nature of the ocean.

According to this legend, St. Davis will only protect the good sailors, while the immoral seafarers would be sent to Davy Jones’ Locker.

Some theories also suggest that “Davy Jones” comes from the name of Duppy, the West Indian malevolent ghost. According to the lore that did rounds among the people in the islands, Duppy comes out in the night to haunt people.

Nonetheless, these stories are not supported by any credible evidence, these remain just stories told by. Thus, for some sailors, Davy Jones is no one, but another name for Satan.

What is the meaning of this Navy insignia?

My reason for asking:  I am trying to build a shadow box for my dad with his decorations and his accurate Navy rate badges.

My father was a Fire Controlman 2c (T) during WW2.  This was the highest rating he achieved.  I have this information from his actual Navy personnel file I obtained from the St. Louis archives.

We have in the family files some other rate badges that I don't know how they fit into his story.  I have attached some photos of the items I'm trying to understand.

1.     I've been told that the 3 chevrons with the arc across the top means a Chief Petty Officer.  I've also been told that the square-knot rate might have been a rate he was 'awarded' during training at Great Lakes Naval Station in Illinois.  I've been told that these rates didn't really mean anything once he left training and was assigned to his ship (USS Arctic).

2.     Anchor with 2 stars, with USN across the front - is this an actual Navy badge/insignia?  What does it mean, and when would it have been awarded to him?

3.     This is an example of a Fire Controlman rate this is the rate I KNOW he achieved.  Can you confirm that this is his 1st class rate his second class rate would have added a second red chevron.

Can anybody shed any light on the 'rope' rate badge, and the anchor pin?

Re: What is the meaning of this Navy insignia?
Alan Walker 01.02.2018 9:40 (в ответ на Cindy Koehn)

The center image is of a standard collar or cap device it looks to be on the large side,

so it would be a cap device.

The last image is the Fire Controlman, third class insignia. You are correct in that two stripes would denote second class.

Re: What is the meaning of this Navy insignia?

Thank you, Alan.  Regarding the anchor device - is this an award of some type, or just a part of a standard uniform?  Did everybody wear these?  If not, for what reason would my dad possibly been awarded it?  And when - during active service, or during training?

Re: What is the meaning of this Navy insignia?
Alan Walker 01.02.2018 12:40 (в ответ на Cindy Koehn)

No, this was the standard service insignia for enlisted personnel. They may not have been

used during training, though it might depend on the time period.

Re: What is the meaning of this Navy insignia?
Christian Belena 01.02.2018 12:46 (в ответ на Cindy Koehn)

Cindy: I am a Navy Vet and have done a great deal of research regarding US Navy uniform traditions. Collar devices and/or cap devices (as they are called) come with the rank. So as a Chief Petty Officer, along with his crow (what we call the arm patch although it is specifically what we call the eagle at the top of the rank), he was given one set of shoulder devices upon his promotion. He would have had to purchased additional devices to cover the amount of uniforms he had (and one or two extras as backups.) These are not an "award" in the way of getting a letter of commendation or campaign medal. It is strictly a rank identifier.

However, what you show in the center picture is actually the device (i can't tell what size it is by the photo) for a Master Chief Petty Officer which is one rank above CPO. A CPO would not have any stars.

Petty Officers 1, 2, and 3 class also had them. They are silver and worn on only certain uniforms. Uniforms have changed a great deal over the years (for good and for bad.) As Martha states, a good set of information is All Hands magazine which has its complete archives available online as downloadable PDFs. You can also contact me if you have any Navy uniform-related questions. I'd be more than happy to help you.

Re: What is the meaning of this Navy insignia?

He was only a CPO during his training (the 1st picture).  As I understand

it, recruits may be given a rank (I know, that's a landlubber's term)

during their training time.  When Dad 'graduated' and joined his ship, the

rank he had during training becomes meaningless.  Is this correct?   If it

IS correct, then does it follow that he could no longer wear the anchor

device (the 2nd picture) once he left training?

Also, nobody has been able to tell me what the square knot means on the CPO

I do know for certain (based on his separation document) that while in

active duty, his final rate was "Fire Controlman 2nd class (technical)".

In the family files, we have his 3rd class rate badge (the 3rd picture).

Re: What is the meaning of this Navy insignia?
Alex Daverede 01.02.2018 13:38 (в ответ на Cindy Koehn)

That last bit of information may have solved the mystery.  The knotted insignia (actually a reef knot) was an old Navy sleeve insignia for an ex-apprentice.  Once the sailor became a rated seaman, he could wear the reef knot as an acknowledgement of his former apprentice status.  I was puzzled by the combination of the reef knot and petty officer insignia however, with your last post it makes sense to see the badge as a training school insignia, temporarily denoting the leadership status of the wearer. 

As the schools were hard-pressed to keep instructors on staff during wartime, "real" sailors could hardly be spared to lead the formations of students present at all the Navy schools.  So select students were appointed (there may have been a formal process) to various leadership positions to supervise the many mundane duties performed at the Navy schools. 

Re: What is the meaning of this Navy insignia?
Christian Belena 01.02.2018 13:43 (в ответ на Cindy Koehn)

Without reviewing your father's service records, it is somewhat confusing. I have never come across a situation where a person was given the rank of Chief Petty Officer in a boot camp or other training instance, and then demoted to a Second Class Petty Officer. I have an 1942 edition of the BlueJackets Manual at home and will have to look into it. I know that company commanders would give assignments to recruits in order to mimic real-world, real-navy situations. So, maybe your father was an acting "CPO" only at that time. He would then have been sent to the fleet as either an apprentice or undesignated.

This explanation of the square-know rating badge is from a military forum website:

That is an Apprentice Petty Officer First Class, (pre 1948 version). Worn by recruits while in training who were filling the duities of a termporay P.O. The original reg (March 1918), describes as "Rating Badges For The Use Of Enlisted Men Under Training At Training Stations". (Reference "United States Navy Rating Badges And Marks 1833 to 2008", pages 48 & 49, by John Stacey.)

As I stated in my earlier response the device doesn't go with the CPO badge (the CPO badge would have had to have two stars on it as well.)

Do you have your father's complete service jacket? (AKA service records)

Re: What is the meaning of this Navy insignia?

Yes, I have his complete jacket - well, as complete as what the National

Archives in St. Louis could provide.  I don't see anything in it regarding

being a CPO.   Would the jacket also include his training activities?

Re: What is the meaning of this Navy insignia?
Christian Belena 01.02.2018 14:07 (в ответ на Cindy Koehn)

I am unsure. My did but I was in from 1987 to 1993 and then from 2000 to

2004. Things have changed over these many years. However, it is apparently

something that was done only during training/boot camp at that particular

time and not something he took with him to the Fleet.

Christian Belena

Archives Technician

Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library

National Archives and Records Administration

Re: What is the meaning of this Navy insignia?
Christian Belena 01.02.2018 10:59 (в ответ на Cindy Koehn)

Here is another great resource for WWII-era Naval Ratings > USN WW2 Enlisted Ratings

Re: What is the meaning of this Navy insignia?

One item to note is how often during WWII items of uniform changed, as did things like definitions of medals. Christian Belena's post is an excellent example as it is for 2 time periods.There are many resources to be found, just be careful on the date. This is a link to a WWII and beyond Navy periodical.

Browse to May 1943. Download the PDF. An article starts on page 29 (not screen #, but printed page #) that is fairly comprehensive, although it does not mention the rope icon in your first photo.

Re: What is the meaning of this Navy insignia?

I believe that is the old RCPO "Recruit Chief Petty Officer"insignia. Within any given Recruit Training Company there are "Recruit Leaders" who are chosen by the Company Commanders.  There are usually three or four chosen from the ranks of the recruit company to include one RCPO, one MA "Master At Arms" and two other designates who's names I forget. This is only for Bootcamp and does not carry into active duty.   Hope this helps.

Re: What is the meaning of this Navy insignia?

Thank you, Derek - you have confirmed what several other folks have said

(on the History Hub and off), and you explained it SO clearly and

Now, the next question.  I've attached a picture of an insignia that I'm

trying to identify.  First off, my dad's rate was "Fire Controlman".  When

he left the Navy in 1946, his final rating was 2nd class.  In the family

archives, we have his uniform jacket, and the badge on the shoulder is

indeed a fire controlman 2nd class.  He kept his 1st class patch as a

souvenir when he got promoted it's the same as on his uniform except it

has 1 red chevron instead of 2.

Now, some folks on some sites have said that the anchor pin would have been

worn by a CPO.  That implied to me that he only would have worn it during

training at Great Lakes.  BUT, that also implies to me that, since he left

the CPO designation behind when he left to join his ship, he would have

left behind the anchor pin as well.

The reason for the question - I'm building a display case with his medals,

rate badge, tags, and other stuff from his active service aboard his vessel

(USS Arctic).  I need to know if this anchor pin belongs to that part of

the story, or does it belong only with his recruit/training phase.

I am grateful for your help, Derek - indeed, I'm grateful for the help of

ANYBODY who chimes in on this.

Re: What is the meaning of this Navy insignia?

Glad I could verify the other answers you have received.  As far as the "Anchor Collar Device" it is emblematic of the enlisted rank of "Master Chief" in the fleet. The "Anchor" without the "Stars" represents "Chief Petty Officer" the two "Stars" represents "Master Chief" (E-9) . It is also used as the "Collar Device" of the RCPO "Recruit Chief Petty Officer" in bootcamp, so it could be from his Recruit Training Company as well. It wouldn't surprise me if he kept both as reminders when he he transferred to the Fleet.

As far as the last "Rating / Rank Badge", here's the explanation of the emblems. The Eagle is called a "CROW" and represents "Petty Officer", the rating insignia below it is "FT, Fire Control Technician", the single stripe, called a "ROCKER" represents 3rd Class Petty Officer (E-4), If his Service Record says he was discharged as a "2nd Class PO" there is a possibility that he was "Recommended for Advancement" upon discharge which is common. You should have a page in his "Service Record" titled "Enlisted Performance Record" that will have a listing of all of his "Performance Evaluations, Advancement Recommendations and Advancement Effective Dates".  I am guessing that he was "Recommended for Advancement" upon his discharge and never purchased the 2nd Class Crow (E-5) to put on a uniform that he would never wear again.

Hope this gives you a bit more info to go on. DG

Re: What is the meaning of this Navy insignia?

Re the anchor pin.  If I'm understanding you correctly, the anchor 'pin' would have been something that he wore during his time as a recruit at Great Lakes, when he also wore the CPO patch with the square knot on it.  The pin does have 2 stars on it, so that makes him a 'Master Chief'.

This is the most important question: after he left Great Lakes, he would no longer have worn the anchor pin, just like he would not have worn the CPO patch with the square knots.  Is this correct?

I've attached a pic of my dad in his white uniform we have his blue tunic in our family archives.  His FC 2nd class badge is clearly visible, but no anchor pin.  The blue tunic has the same badge.

Also, do you know what the square knot on the training CPO badge means?  I have been unable to find it on the web.  A retired admiral friend of mine says it might mean bosun's mate, but he wasn't sure (he served in the Vietnam era, so wasn't sure about WW2).

Re: What is the meaning of this Navy insignia?

You are correct, it is the "Master Chief Collar Device" and would have only been worn while he was RCPO "Recruit Chief Petty Officer" in Bootcamp and not authorized for him to wear in the fleet. Also, the photo you posted of your father, he is wearing the white summer "Cracker Jacks" which are the designated uniform for E-6 (1st Class) and below. The Chief's Uniform is a collared shirt, tie, slacks, much like the Officer's Uniform.

This photo gives me a clue as to why you have that loose FT3 Rating / Rank badge (3rd Class FT) the red rocker on Navy Blue. I'll bet the badge that you have came off of his winter uniform (Navy Blue Cracker Jacks). When he was promoted to FT2 (2nd Class) he would have had the ship's tailor remove his old 3rd Class stripes and sew on the new 2nd Class FT2 stripes. I'll bet that one patch you have is his old insignia before he was promoted to FT2 and the stripes in the picture FT2 are still on his old uniform.

I think you need to get a FT2 Rating / Rank Insignia to build his shadow box with his correct rate / rank.  You can purchase them online for summer white, or winter blue uniform here US NAVY RATING BADGES

Bear in mind, the Petty Officer insignia only comes pre-made with 1st Class (3 stripes). You have to cut the lower stripe off and hem the edge of the Insignia with just the remaining 2 rockers (2nd Class). That's why the FT3 Insignia you have has been cut at the bottom edge because they all start-off with 3 stripes and are cut accordingly before they are sewn to the uniform.

Re: What is the meaning of this Navy insignia?
Christian Belena 08.02.2018 10:53 (в ответ на Derek Grover)

Your father would not have been authorized to wear the CPO device (pin.) As a 2nd Class PO, if he had worn the CPO device, he would have been either considered out of uniform or impersonating a Chief Petty Officer. Depending on if he was sent up to Captain's Mast and how the Master-At-Arms presented the information to the CO. I am sure he would have been allowed to keep it though, as he did with the arm insignia.

Re: What is the meaning of this Navy insignia?

Thank you, Christian.  You've helped to definitively answer my question.  I'm grateful for your help - indeed, the help of ALL contributors on my question.

Re: What is the meaning of this Navy insignia?

Thank you VERY much, Derek.  You've confirmed and explained a LOT of information I received, both on the HH and elsewhere.  I now know how to proceed with my dad's display box.

Re: What is the meaning of this Navy insignia?
Douglas Bicknese 15.02.2018 10:45 (в ответ на Cindy Koehn)

For more information about what practices may have taken place during boot camp, you may want to reach out to the Museum of the American Sailor at Great Lakes Naval Training Center . . .

Re: What is the meaning of this Navy insignia?

I would probably disregard the Master Chief pin, the navy didnt even have that rank until later in the 1950s. good question where and why he picked that up.

Re: What is the meaning of this Navy insignia?

Your father would not have been eligible for the MCPO insignia. The rates of MCPO (E9) and SCPO (E8) were not enacted into law until 1958 with insignia authorized in the 1959 USN Uniform Regulations.

The Birth of SEAL Team Six

After more than 3,000 Marines were killed in the Battle of Tarawa (November 1943), it became clear that the U.S. military was in need of better pre-invasion intelligence. Enter the Naval Combat Demolition Units and Underwater Demolition Teams (UDTs), the forerunners of today’s SEALs. After World War II, however, these special operations forces largely disbanded. But beginning in 1950, with the outbreak of the Korean War the Navy called on the UDT 𠇏rogmen” again, and quickly expanded their operation.

In 1962, as conflict in Vietnam began ramping up, President John F. Kennedy established the first two Navy SEAL teams out of the existing UDTs. The SEAL acronym comes from Sea, Air and Land, the three environments where the Navy’s special operations forces are trained to operate. At the height of the conflict in Vietnam, eight SEAL platoons were deployed there on a rotating and continuous basis, and close to 50 SEALs were killed in Vietnam from 1965 to 1972.

Squad of SEALs in the water, c. 1986. (Credit: U.S. Department of Defense)

In late 1980, after the humiliating failure of Operation Eagle Claw, the aborted mission to rescue 53 American hostages seized at the American embassy in Tehran, the Navy asked Commander Richard Marcinko to build a SEAL unit that could respond quickly and fiercely to terrorist crises. Marcinko was a seasoned veteran, having enlisted in the Navy in 1958. He served two tours in Vietnam, where he commanded a much-feared SEAL platoon, and earned the Silver Star, four Bronze Stars with combat “V” (denoting heroism), two Navy Commendation Medals and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Silver Star. He was reportedly given six months to get the new counterterrorism operation up and running, or the entire project would be scrapped.

Though only two SEAL teams existed at that time, Marcinko called the new group SEAL Team Six, supposedly because he hoped Soviet analysts would overestimate the size of the U.S. force. Two assault groups, named after the Navy colors of blue and gold, formed the core of the group. The Blue Squadron, with the Jolly Roger pirate flag as its insignia, soon earned a reputation for recklessness, while the Gold Squadron identified more with knights or crusaders. Marcinko left after several years (he formed another anti-terrorist unit, Red Cell, in 1984, but in 1990 was convicted of military contract fraud and served 15 months in prison) and in the early 1990s the Navy reportedly stepped in to revamp Team Six’s leadership and operations, turning it into the professional and effective—yet still boundary-pushing𠅏orce it is today.

Matthew G. Axelson, Daniel R. Healy, James Suh, Marcus Luttrell, Eric S. Patton and Michael P. Murphy pose in Afghanistan on June 18, 2005. Ten days later, all but Luttrell would be killed by enemy forces while supporting Operating Red Wings, which also claimed the lives of Danny Dietz and 13 other Navy Seals. (Credit: U.S. Navy via Getty Images)

Officially, SEAL Team Six doesn’t even exist. As Dick Couch and William Doyle write in their 2014 book “Navy SEALS: Their Untold Story,” the U.S. Department of Defense almost never publicly acknowledges the existence of the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, or DevGru, the cover name for Team Six. Its official mission is developing new equipment and tactics for the general Navy SEAL organization, which also includes nine unclassified teams. Unofficially, however, SEAL Team Six carries out some of the military’s riskiest missions, the ones considered too dangerous for conventional troops.

Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Team Six and the rest of the Navy SEALs have found themselves playing a more active role than ever, ranging from the remote, mountainous regions of Afghanistan to war-torn cities such as Baghdad. The SEALs, including Team Six, carry out clandestine, high-impact operations that would be impossible for larger, conventional forces. They also perform on-the-ground reconnaissance and intelligence gathering before planned attacks by those larger forces. Though traditionally SEALs were associated most with (at least partially) water-based missions, they are equally likely to carry out missions on land and in the air.

Three successful operations in recent years pulled the SEALS, and Team Six in particular, out of the shadows and squarely into the global spotlight. In April 2009, Somali pirates captured Captain Richard Phillips of the merchant ship MV Maersk Alabama and held him hostage inside a small, enclosed lifeboat. The American destroyer USS Bainbridge was towing the boat to calmer waters in the Indian Ocean when ransom negotiations stalled, and the three SEAL Team Six snipers on the warship shot and killed the three pirates holding Phillips. Details of the rescue made international news, and formed the basis for a major Hollywood film, �ptain Phillips,” starring Tom Hanks. In January 2012, Team Six operators skydived into Somalia to save two hostages, American aid worker Jessica Buchanan and her Danish colleague Poul Thisted.

Squad of SEALs performing woodland operation. (Credit: U.S. Department of Defense)

By far the highest-profile Team Six operation𠅊nd the most famous special ops raid in history—was Operation Neptune Spear, which ended in the killing of Al Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan in May 2011. The culmination of a 10-year manhunt directed by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the raid on bin Laden’s compound was carried out by 23 or 24 SEALs (according to varying accounts), accompanied by a Pashto translator and a combat dog. It took less than 40 minutes.

As the role and importance of SEAL Team Six has expanded greatly since 9/11, so has the danger. As the New York Times reported in 2015: “More members of the unit have died over the past 14 years than in all its previous history. Repeated assaults, parachute jumps, rugged climbs and blasts from explosives have left many battered, physically and mentally.”

Today, the top-secret headquarters of SEAL Team Six are located at the Dam Neck Annex of the Oceana Naval Air Station, just south of Virginia Beach. Elite operators from regular SEAL teams are chosen to join Team Six in a competitive process known as “Green Team.” Two more assault groups, Red Squadron and Silver Squadron, have joined the Blue and Gold, for a total of some 300 operators in all. Members of the Grey Squadron, known as the vikings, are trained specifically to drive the high-speed boats and other vehicles used by Team Six, while the Black Squadron, which began as Team Six’s sniper unit, has taken the lead in gathering intelligence since the 9/11 attacks. Women—who are excluded from the rest of Team Six�n serve in the Black Squadron, which is estimated to have some 100 members stationed throughout the world.

Records Origin

During the American Civil War, every few weeks to every few months depending on the unit, usually at the company level, soldiers' names were recorded on muster rolls. Beginning in the 1880s General Ainsworth's staff in the Department of the Army indexed these records originally to determine who was eligible for a pension. His staff wrote a card for every time a soldier's name appeared on a muster roll. When Ainsworth's staff finished the Compiled Military Service records, each soldier's file usually had many cards representing each time the soldier's name appeared on a muster roll.

One type of card, the General Index Card listed the soldier's name, the soldier's rank at the time of enlistment from the first card and the date the soldier left the service with the soldier's final rank from the last card. These General Index cards form the basis for the Soldier names in the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System.

When Ainsworth's staff completed the project, there were 6.3 million General Index Cards for the soldiers - both Union and Confederate - who had served during the American Civil War. Historians have determined that approximately 3.5 million soldiers actually fought in the War. A soldier serving in more than one regiment, serving under two names, or spelling variations resulted in the fact that there are 6.3 million General Index Cards for 3.5 million soldiers. Data from all 6.3 million cards is in the CWSS.


The fundamental source for all the names entered into this phase of the CWSS is the General Index Cards of the Compiled Military Service Records, which were derived from muster rolls of the Union and Confederate Armies. The Union Army muster roles were already in the possession of the War Department when General Ainsworth's staff began their work. The Confederate Army muster rolls were sent to Washington for this purpose with the permission and assistance of the Governors of the eleven states formerly in the Confederate States of America (CSA). The War Department clerks transposed the information by hand to an estimated 140 million, 3x8-inch cards. These cards, known collectively as the "Compiled Military Service Records," are located in the National Archives, as are the original muster roles from which the data were taken. The muster rolls are extremely fragile and rarely used individuals seeking information on Civil War soldiers from the Archives either use the cards or microfilm copies of some of the cards.

Recording Sequence (How Soldier Names Progressed from Original Historical Documents to a Posting on the Internet)

I. Muster Rolls (1861-1864)

These were the routine official records kept by the Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War. They are today stored in the National Archives, but are too fragile to be readily available to the public.

II. Compiled Military Service Records
The approximately 140 million cards include 5.4 million General Index Cards, each containing a soldier's name. It is important to understand that the first phase of the CWSS, known as the Names Index phase, is limited to less than ten pieces of information on each of the 5.4 million General Index Cards. The most important pieces of information are the name of the individual, rank in and out, and the name of the organizational unit (such as regiment and sometimes the company).

III. Microfilm Copies of General Index Cards
The National Archives produced microfilm records of the General Index Cards for public use at the Archives in Washington and in regional offices copies were also made by the Genealogical Society in Utah.

IV. Paper Copies of Microfilm Records (c. 1992)
Paper copies of the microfilm ("blowback" records) were made by NPS and GSU for use by volunteers entering data for the CWSS.

V. Data Entry into UDE (Universal Data Entry) Software by FGS and UDC volunteers (1993-99)
As of the year 2000, volunteers in over 36 states had completed initial data entry for all of the 6.3 million soldier names. All of this work was done on home computers using the Mormon Church's universal data entry (UDE) software, from paper copies of the microfilm records.

VI. Editing by GSU, FGS, and The Utah Army Corps
The data from the FGS and UDC volunteers around the country was received by the GSU and was edited for accuracy, consistency, etc. Also, Unit Codes were derived from the original data. The Utah Army Corps provided invaluable support during this final editing process.

VII. Converting Data into the CWSS
NPS staff converted the data into an Oracle database for use in the CWSS on the Internet. Data was made available on the CWSS as it was completed by the GSU and FGS.

The Sailors Database

The information in the Sailors Database is derived from enlistment records and the quarterly muster rolls of Navy vessels. Approximately half of the sailors entered the service at the Navy's established points of enlistment. For these men and women, enlistment records serve as the primary sources of information. The Howard University research team used muster rolls to fill in missing data or to correct apparent misinformation recorded at the time of enlistment. Information about the remainder of the enlistees was derived directly from these muster rolls. When research uncovered inconsistencies in the data (such as conflicting reports of an individual's age at the time of enlistment) the most frequently recorded response was used.

The work of the team from Howard University makes previously inaccessible information available to people interested in the Civil War. Descendants of Civil War sailors will find biographical details regarding age, place of birth, and occupation that may help supplement or clarify details from such other sources of genealogical information as birth, death, and census records. Moreover, information about any individual sailor's enlistment and service is necessary for determining the presence or absence of their pension records at the National Archives.

People with more general interest in African American history or the African diaspora will likewise find the list of names informative. Searching by city or state of nativity, for instance, provides a fascinating profile of the individuals from those places who served. Particularly noteworthy is the fact that more than 5,000 of the men were born in the two slave states bordering Chesapeake Bay, Maryland and Virginia, the former of which remained in the Union and the latter of which joined the Confederacy. No other two states north or south of the Mason and Dixon Line came close to accounting for such large numbers of men.

Finally, people interested in the history of the United States Navy will be able to search the names of vessels for the list of black men who served on board at various times during the Civil War. One such search reveals that three black men were aboard the U.S.S. Monitor when she sank in December 1862. Another indicates that forty-four black sailors were on board the U.S.S. Hartford at the Battle of Mobile Bay in August 1864, when Admiral David Farragut uttered the immortal words "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead."

In a few hard facts uncovered by a simple search, the beginnings of full and compelling stories are revealed.

For additional information, contact Joseph P. Reidy at:
Department of History
Howard University
2400 Sixth St. NW
Washington, DC 20059
E-mail: [email protected]

Records Consulted

The database consists of the names of every person whose personal description indicates the possibility of African descent. The researchers combed the surviving enlistment records and the muster rolls of vessels for this information. These records are part of Record Group 24, Records of the Bureau of Naval Personnel, at the National Archives, Washington, D.C. The enlistment records are Weekly Returns of Enlistments at Naval Rendezvous ("Enlistment Rendezvous"), volumes 7-44 (Jan. 1858 - July 1865), inclusive. The muster rolls may be found among Muster Rolls of Ships the accompanying list provides the name of each vessel and the date(s) of muster examined.

In most cases, the description of an individual as "Negro," "Colored," or "Mulatto" suggested African ancestry such that the person's name and other descriptive information was entered into the database. Other cases are less straightforward. Person's whose complexion is listed as "Yellow," for instance, are also included in the database on the grounds that this designation was used commonly in the nineteenth century to describe persons of mixed European and African ancestry. It was also used commonly to describe Asians. In some instances, persons were characterized as "Black" or "Colored" even though they may not have been of African descent. To err on the side of inclusion rather than exclusion, the names of such persons whose ancestry is ambiguous are included in the database. So too are the names of African Americans whose names were entered onto the enlistment rolls but who did not subsequently serve in the navy. In most cases, these men were found to have a disease or disability when they reported to the receiving ship and were rejected from further duty.

Regiment Histories Sources

In one Connecticut regiment during the American Civil War a young drummer boy witnessed first hand the intensity of war. Several decades later in 1903, this drummer boy now a grown man, devoted himself to writing the histories of all the Union regiments. This man was Frederick Dyer. After the war, the Department of the Army assembled some of its vast information on the War and published the multi-volume work entitled the "Official Records of the War of the Rebellion." However, the Official Records were not fully indexed and were therefore not easily usable. Dyer used information from this source and from Union veterans to complete his work. After five years of almost solitary confinement, Dyer completed his task which was published under the name of the "Compendium of the War of the Rebellion."

Over seventy years later, the Civil War Soldiers System' Historian's Steering Committee, which consisted of National Park Rangers and Historians, recommended Dyer's Compendium as the most complete and reliable source for Union regimental histories. Dyer's Compendium had withstood the test of time and became the CWSS source for Union regimental histories.

Popular Grove National Cemetery

Located twenty-five miles south of Richmond,Va., Petersburg National Battlefield contains 2,460 acres and is made up of six major units. These units contain battlefields, earthen forts, trenches and Poplar Grove National Cemetery. Collectively, they reveal the story of the longest siege in American warfare and the experiences of the nearly 150,000 soldiers from both sides of the trenches.
During the Civil War a gothic-style church called Poplar Grove was constructed by the 50th NY Engineers and a cemetery was chosen on its grounds. A year after the War ended work began to move approximately 5,000 Union Soldiers from nearly 100 separate burial sites around Petersburg.

Medals of Honor Records Source

The bulk of the Medals of Honor records available in this section of the CWSS were originally taken from the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs Report, Medal of Honor Recipients: 1863-1978 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1979).

A few records have been added to represent awardees who received the medal after 1978.

A good website for correlation purposes is the one maintained by the U.S. Army Center for Military History in Carlisle, PA. (

Prisoners Records Source

Prisoners records come from Andersonville Prison and Fort McHenry.

The National Park Service wishes to thank the staff and volunteers at Fort McHenry National Monument and Shrine, especially Scott Sheads and Ana Von Lunz, for providing the history of the prison and records for our database.

Andersonville National Historic Site maintains a database of prisoners held at Andersonville Prison. Because record keeping at the prison was inconsistent and incomplete, many of the entries in this database have been developed with assistance from descendants and volunteer researchers. For up to date information from this database or for assistance with researching prisoners of war held at Andersonville please visit Andersonville_POWs or contact e-mail us . Thanks to Joan P. Stibitz, Susan Fuller and Eric Leonard for developing and maintaining this database.

Baltimore During the Civil War by Scott S. Sheads and Daniel C. Toomey (Toomey Press, 1997). Selected Records of the War Department Relating to Confederate Prisoners of War, 1861-1865, Microfilm No. 598, Roll 96, National Archives.
Andersonville: The Last Depot, by William Marvel, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 1994.
Captives Immortal: "The Story of Six Hundred Confederate Officers and the United States Prisoner of War Policy", by Mauriel Phillips Joslyn, White Mane Publishing Co., Inc., Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, 1996.


In medieval shipbuilding, a ship of war was usually equipped with a tall, multi-deck castle-like structure in the bow of the ship. It served as a platform for archers to shoot down on enemy ships, or as a defensive stronghold if the ship were boarded. A similar but usually much larger structure, called the aftcastle, was at the aft end of the ship, often stretching all the way from the main mast to the stern.

Having such tall upper works on the ship was detrimental to sailing performance. As cannons were introduced and gunfire replaced boarding as the primary means of naval combat during the 16th century, the medieval forecastle was no longer needed, and later ships such as the galleon had only a low, one-deck high forecastle. Sailors stationed on the forecastle, or "forecastle men", were responsible for handling the headsails and the anchors. In the Royal Navy of the 17th and 18th centuries, these roles were reserved for older seamen who lacked the agility to go aloft or take other more strenuous duties aboard. [3]

By the end of the 19th century, a raised forecastle had become a typical feature on warships again, in an attempt to keep forward gun positions from getting unacceptably wet on heavy seas. In addition the forecastle may provide additional crew's quarters as in the past, and may contain essential machinery such as the anchor windlass. A disadvantage of such a design is the structural weakness at the forecastle 'break' (the rear end of the forecastle with the main deck behind and below) relative to a flush deck structure.

Some sailing ships and many modern non-sail ships have no forecastle as such at all but the name is still used to indicate the foremost part of the upper deck – although often called the foredeck – and for any crew's quarters in the bow of the ship, even if below the main deck.

This Spooky Wine At Trader Joe’s Is Based On Stories From Actual Infamous Convicts

Two of my absolute favorite things in the world are wine and spooky things, so you’d better believe that when I was alerted to 19 Crimes wine’s existence, I sat straight up and took notice. With labels that highlight the stories of real life, historical people who were sent to prison colonies in Australia in the 19th century, 19 Crimes’ wines — which are mostly red (another bonus in my book) — do a lot more than just give you something nice to sip on as the weather turns colder and the leaves start to change they also bring history to life.

I mean that literally, by the way. There’s an augmented reality app that goes along with the wine called Living Wine Labels — and when you examine 19 Crimes’ bottles through it, the people depicted on them actually start talking to you. Heck, and yes.

Founded in 2012, 19 Crimes is nestled under the massive wine company known as Treasury Wine Estates. (Treasury Wine Estates is also the parent company of brands like Beringer, Rosemount Estate, Sterling, and Stag’s Leap, so when I say “massive,” I really mean it.) They’re widely available you can get ‘em at Trader Joe’s, various grocery store chains, and a huge number of liquor and wine stores, as well as from 19 Crimes’ online store.

But as good as the wine is — and word on the street is that it’s good! — what really sets it apart is the storytelling inherent in each bottle. The augmented reality aspect of the labels allows each of the prisoners featured on the labels to speak about their own history — a move which has been hailed as “an amazing example of adult-targeted augmented reality,” as Forbes put it. Here’s what it looks like in action.

The history is brutal. Penal transportation — the practice of removing convicts from society and sending them far, far away, often to penal colonies established specifically for that purpose — was the punishment of choice for particular sets of crimes in a number of countries for many centuries. In England, though, it was undoubtedly at its height for the 80 years between 1788 and 1868. During this period, petty criminals and political prisoners alike were transported sometimes to America, but more frequently to Australia — where, it should be noted, the folks who set up the penal colonies conveniently ignored the fact that there were, y’know, already indigenous people living there — in order to alleviate overcrowding in British prisons and ease up on the court issuing so many death sentences. More than 160,000 convicts ultimately ended up in Australia as a result of penal transportation.

19 Crimes takes its name from the list of crimes for which people could be sentenced to transportation — offences which ranged from “grand larceny” to “stealing a shroud out of a grave.” Accordingly, each of the labels features one of those thousands of convicts who were transported halfway across the world as their sentence.

Many of these featured people were connected were connected with what’s known as the Catalpa rescue, which broke out six members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (often referred to as the Fenians) from the penal colony of Western Australia in 1876. On the regular red blend, for example, is John Boyle O’Reilly, an Irishman who joined the Fenians in 1864 to rebel against British rule in Ireland along with a large group of Fenians, O’Reilly was arrested in February of 1866, tried for treason, and sentenced to death. His sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, and in 1867, he was transported to Western Australia — but he escaped in 1869. He settled in Boston and became a writer, poet, and activist he also helped mastermind the Catalpa rescue. On the dark red blend called the “Banished” is James Wilson, another Fenian who was arrested in 1866 and tried for desertion and mutinous conduct his death sentence was commuted to servitude for life, and in 1867, he was transported to Australia. He broke out during the Catalpa rescue. The shiraz features James Kiely, a Fenian who was actually left behind during the Catalpa rescue, but later pardoned in 1905.

Others, however, highlight others who were transported and imprisoned. The “Uprising,” a blend of shiraz, cabernet sauvignon, and grenache aged in rum barrels, is a tribute to the Rum Rebellion of 1808 on its label is Cornelius Dwyer Kane, a law clerk from County Cork who was transported on Oct. 10, 1867 and arrived in Western Australia on Jan. 9, 1868. He was pardoned in 1871 — but, barred from returning to Ireland, he remained in Australia, settling in Queensland. And the Hard Chard — a chardonnay, 19 Crimes’ first and only white — features Jane Castings, who was tried on Mach 2, 1846 and sentenced to seven years for “receiving cheese and bacon knowing the same to have been stolen” she was transported from London aboard the Sea Queen.

It’s worth noting that the “19 crimes” themselves might be — at least in part — a marketing gimmick even if they are, though, they do have their basis in the actual history. A few years ago, someone posed the question of what the “19 crimes” actually were to the r/AskAHistorian subreddit, and one Redditor, u/Brassafrax, turned out a terrific response. (I know, I know — anonymous people online aren’t always who they say they are, don’t trust everything you read on the internet, and so on and so forth. For what it’s worth, though, u/Brassafrax has been incredibly active in the r/AskAHistorian subreddit their area of expertise is legal history — and I was able to verify most of what they wrote independently, so I feel OK taking them at their word here in terms of their credentials.)

According to u/Brassafax, they’d never encountered the specific list used by 19 Crimes in their marketing materials before however, they did note, “It is true that throughout 1760-1820, a variety of lists were published dubbed ‘Crimes denominated single felonies punishable by transportation, whipping, imprisonment, the pillory, and hard labour in houses of corrections, according to the nature of the offence.” What’s more, these lists did generally include roughly 20 offences, give or take a few depending on the list it’s therefore possible that one does exist somewhere with the version 19 Crimes uses for their brand identity.

However, it's worth noting that the image seen in this tweet, which is usually passed around as evidence of the 19 crimes’ existence, might actually just be taken from the label of a bottle of 19 Crimes wine (specifically the "Warden," a red blend):

If you perform a reverse image search on it, Google’s “best guesses” for it are all related to the wine:

So, uh, do with that what you will.

For the curious, the closest match I’ve found to the so-called 19 crimes is documented in a book written by Patrick Colquhoun, founder of the Thames River Police and early proponent of preventive policing, and originally published in 1796. Titled A Treatise on the Police of the Metropolis, it’s one of many treatises Colquhoun wrote on various social issues. Project Gutenberg has the sixth edition of the book, which was published in 1800, available to read online in this edition, the list of “Crimes denominated Single Felonies punishable by Transportation, Whipping, Imprisonment, the Pillory, and Hard Labour in Houses of Correction, according to the Nature of the offence” is 22 items long. It reads as follows:

Anyway, you can find out more about 19 Crimes at their website head here to see where you can get it.

What is the origin of this pre-industrial naval depiction - History

Today I found out the origins of the Jolly Roger flags.

Ships throughout history typically stocked a variety of different flags used for sending a message, signaling other ships, and for identifying themselves. For instance, in the 17th and 18th centuries, English privateers were to fly a specific version of the Union Jack, distinguishing themselves from English naval vessels which flew a different version of the Union Jack. Pirate ships were no different, excepting perhaps that they often carried flags for more nefarious reasons like fooling nearby ships into think they were allies until they got close enough that the other ship couldn’t escape.

The most famous flags flown by pirates to indicate they were such were all called the “Jolly Roger” and were adorned with a variety of artwork or often no art work at all. Most of these flags were simply black or red with nothing on them. Historical accounts indicate that, should a pirate ship raise a black flag, it indicated that so long as the ship they were attacking surrendered with no resistance, they would be given quarter. Should anyone aboard the ship resist or should the ship try to flee once the black flag was raised, the black flag would be lowered and the red flag would be raised. This flag indicated that no mercy would be shown to anyone aboard the ship that was about to be attacked.

Pirate ships were much more feared than other types of enemy vessels because, in resisting other enemy vessels, at any point you could surrender and be offered quarter by the traditional rules of engagement so you could fight until losing was inevitable, then surrender. With pirate ships though, flying the black flag, you had to surrender immediately if you didn’t think you could win. As pirate ships rarely attacked unless they were in a good position to win, this pretty much meant that, if you encountered a pirate ship, you should probably just surrender right away.

As such, flying of any form of the Jolly Roger tended to instill the necessary fear in whatever ship was being attacked that they would surrender immediately. In one extreme example, in 1720, famed pirate Bartholomew Roberts sailed into a harbor at Trepassey, Newfoundland with a black flag flying. This resulted in the crews of all 22 vessels in port panicking and abandoning their ships. Combined, Roberts would have been no match for them, but the necessary fear was invoked from seeing the black flag that they all fled without a fight.

Records of pirate ships flying flags that signified they were pirates go back just about as far as history is recorded. Of the Jolly Roger line though, the earliest reference is probably of the skull and crossbones flag used by the Knights Templar, who had the world’s biggest naval fleet in the 13 century and were well known for their pirate-like acts on the sea. When the Knights Templar dissolved, with many members forming the Knights of Malta who were equally known for their piracy, they also were known to fly the skull and crossbones.

The origin of the skull and crossbone flag within the Templar tradition stems from variations of this legend: “A great lady of Maraclea was loved by a Templar, A Lord of Sidon but she died in her youth, and on the night of her burial, this wicked lover crept to the grave, dug up her body and violated it. Then a voice from the void bade him return in nine months time for he would find a son. He obeyed the injunction and at the appointed time he opened the grave again and found a head on the leg bones of the skeleton (skull and crossbones). The same voice bade him guard it Well, for it would be the giver of all good things, and so he carried it away with him. It became his protecting genius, and he was able to defeat his enemies by merely showing them the magic head. In due course, it passed to the possession of the order.”

What’s interesting about this is that the port of Sidon was known historically to be a nest of pirates. Thus, the skull and crossbones, as a pirate flag, probably predates the Knights Templar.

In any event, as noted earlier, the skull and crossbones weren’t the only flag to be known as the “Jolly Roger”. Traditionally, any black flag flown, even with no design on it, simply meant the ship flying it was a pirate ship and was offering quarter if the ship about to be attacked would surrender immediately. Any red flag, whether there was a design on it or not, meant the pirate ship would attack and offer no mercy.

The earliest references to the name “Jolly Roger” goes back at least to the early 18th century, with one of the earliest documented instances appearing in Charles Johnson’s A General History of the Pyrates (1724). In it, he references that two pirates from the early 18th century, Bartholomew Roberts and Francis Spriggs, had named their individual flags “Jolly Roger”. These flags were quite different in appearance, so historians think that this generic name for pirate flags of all varieties was already well established.

The origin of the “Jolly Roger” name itself is thought to stem from one of the following three things. First, that it is simply adapted from the English word “roger”, which basically just means “wandering vagabond” indeed, another name for the Devil among the English at this time was “Old Roger” and putting a depiction of the Devil on these flags was quite common.

Another possibility comes from the 17th century French “jolie rouge”, which meant “pretty red” and, thus, was what the red flags were called. Accounts as early as the 18th century also have the black versions of these flags being called the “Jolly Roger”. So if “Jolly Roger” stems from this, sometime between the 17th and 18th centuries the meaning was expanded to mean all pirate flags, regardless of color.

An alternative theory comes from the fact that certain Asian pirates called their captains by the title “Ali Raja”, meaning “King of the Sea”. It’s possible that this term was then adapted by the English for eventual usage as the name of their pirate flags.

Personally, I think the first theory stands up to Occam’s razor the best, being the simplest solution that also, indecently, makes a lot of sense.

Watch the video: A Titan of Pre-Industry: The Ship of the Line (May 2022).


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