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Pirates: Libertalia

Last modified: 2017-04-17 by rob raeside
Keywords: libertalia | pirates | letters on flags | captain mission |
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[Libertalia flag] image by Olivier Touzeau, 12 April 2017

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Description of the flag

There's no information on the flag, but in Pirates: Terror on the High Seas from the Caribbean to the South China Sea (consulting editor David Cordingly, Turner Publishing 1996 ISBN1570362858), Chapter 6 is on 'Libertalia: The Pirate's Utopia'. It suggests that Libertalia was a myth (thus the flag probably never existed) but looks at the reasons for its legend.
David Cohen, 22 June 1998

In "Raiders and Rebels: The Golden Age of Piracy", by Frank Sherry, ISBN:0688046843, it is asserted that it existed. Sherry even describes the flag, as shown in my drawing. He claims that Captain Misson was, perhaps, a myth, but that Libertatia did exist.

Sherry claims that this was, in a perverse way, the first democracy. He quotes "articles" by which the pirates lived. They are strangely egalitarian.

By the way, Sherry discusses pirate flags...that they were red, and rarely black. He illustrates several, some with chevrons.

Are there any other sources available?
Edward Mooney, Jr., 21 June 1998

There are, but I doubt how reliable they are. Children's' books especially conflict greatly on what pirate used what flag and what it looked like. This is also true of some books for adult readership. I have a Wordsworth Reference book (which I can't put my hands on at the moment) which is a reprint of an old account of pirates which has flag info - but the information conflicts with what's in the standard encyclopedias etc. My favourite quote on pirate flags comes from Flags at Sea by Timothy Wilson (National Maritime Museum, Greenwich - HMSO, London) ISBN 0112903894:

'The few fragments of authentic information about the flags used by pirates in the Golden Age of piracy in the 17th and 18th centuries tend to get lost in the romantic image of the ubiquitous 'Jolly Roger'. Very often it must have suited pirates not to be recognised as such and they no doubt made much use of false colours to gain surprise...'

He goes on to mention a couple of reported pirate flags - that of Bartholomew Roberts and the Barbary corsairs.
David Cohen, 22 June 1998

Libertalia was supposedly begun by Captain Misson. Misson appears in Defoe's General History of the Pyrates: Volume II. Misson was a fiction character invented by Defoe to attack the social standards of the time, including religion and greed. Misson began a war against all nations, demanding a freedom from what he sees as the evil lawmakers who wanted to oppress those they were in charge of. Libertalia was the utopian settlement Misson began, running it in the fashion of his beliefs, that all man were equal, there should be no slaves, no revenge, no unnecessary violence, no greed, no oppression by money, power or religion. Hence the flag, For God and Freedom...
Nathaniel Buchanan, 13 September 1999

from the book "L'Etat c'est moi" by Bruno Fuligni:

  • Misson is only a name for war, a pseudo, which appears in Johnson's Histoire des Pyrates, vol II (and not Defoe's?). But the details of the story are so precise that it should be true, if we follow a French Historian, Hubert Deschamps (quoted by Fuligni, but I don't know who he is and when he lived)
  • Misson met Carracioli in Roma. He joined Misson on the boat called Victoire. They fought against Britain in the Channel, and in the Caribbean Sea too, near la Martinique. There was a fight between the Victoire and the Winchelsea. The Winchelsea with its 40 canons exploded, but every french officer on the Victoire was dead. Misson and Carracioli decided to be the new officers onboard. Everyone among the 235 sailors agreed. They elected the ones who would help Misson and Carracioli. One of them proposed to use a black flag. Caracioli answered : "We are not pirats, but men who want to live for the Freedom that God and Nature gave us, without surrendering before anybody". That is why they adopted *a white flag, ornate with an allegory of Freedom, and the motto "A Deo libertate" which means : by God and Freedom.
  • Then, they went to the Golf of Guinea, and then to Comoros Islands, where they were allied with the Queen of Anjouan. Anjouan and Mohili have frequent wars, and they fight twice against the enemies of the Queen of Anjouan.
  • Misson then decides to settle in the Bay of Diego-Suarez, and establish the Republic of Libertalia, whose inhabitants are the sailors (French, English,  Dutch, Portuguese, Africans...), and some people from Madagascar. They attacked a ship of Pilgrims to Mecca and take their daughters to have wives. They put up a democratic government council. But other people of Madagascar one day attack Libertalia : Carracioli is killed; Misson dies in a shipwreck when trying to go back to France. His story, written by himself, was found thanks to one of its aides, later, in La Rochelle.

Conclusion :

  • I still don't know if the story is true, false, or fifty-fifty. But
  • The flag of Libertalia, if the Republic ever existed, bore an Allegory of Freedom, and a motto in Latin : "A Deo libertate".
Olivier Touzeau, 12 December 2000

Jan Rogozinski, in Pirates! (1995), reprinted as 'The Wordsworth Dictionary of Pirates', 1997, calls this story entirely fictitious. And I guess he's right - the punch-line being the flag! A pirate going into battle with a white flag?
Jarig Bakker, 12 December 2000

As stated above, according to Bruno Fuligni in L'Etat c'est moi, quoting Hubert Deschamps, they wanted to adopt a white flag, adorned with an allegory of Freedom, and the motto "A Deo libertate".

NB : Hubert Deschamps (1900-1979), historian, is the author of /Les pirates à Madagascar aux XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles/, Paris, ed. Berger-Levrault, 1949, 244 p.

Giving credit to this only description, even if it is obviously hard to be accurate with the drawing of the supposed flag of an entity which has probably never existed, the drawing we show currently should be replaced since it has the motto in French and besides in Comic Sans MS font, which of course was not in use in the XVIIth century ;)
I made the drawing for the book by Bruno Fuligni /Royaumes d'aventure/, bearing the motto in Latin in a hand-written style font, and the allegory of Freedom (I drew it after a representation of Freedom from the XVIIth century).
Olivier Touzeau, 12 April 2017