Flag Attributed to Quelch

Captain John Quelch

    In July 1703, Governor Joseph Dudley of Boston sent out Captain Daniel Plowman of the 'Charles' (She was an eighty-ton vessel recently built in Boston, and was owned by some of the most prominent people their.) with a privateering license to attack French and Spanish ships off the coast of Newfoundland and Arcadia. John Quelch was Plowman's lieutenant. Before leaving Marblehead, Massachusetts, the Charles's crew under Quartermaster Anthony Holding mutinied and locked the ailing Plowman in his cabin. The crew elected Quelch the captain, who turned the Charles southward. Plowman was later thrown overboard, although it was never established whether he was dead or alive at that moment. The crew would go on to plunder nine Portuguese ships off the coast of Brazil, accumulating a large sum of money, even though England and Portugal were at peace at the time. The Charles contained large amounts of Brazilian sugar, hides, cloth, guns, gold dust and coins. The loot's total value was estimated to be over £10,000 sterling.

    When the Charles returned to Marblehead ten months later, the crew quickly scattered with their plunder, most never to be caught by the authorities. Some of the crew sailed on with pirate and former privateer Thomas Larimore, who was also captured shortly afterward. Within a week, Quelch was in jail, because the Portuguese were not in his letter of marque and more importantly, Queen Anne and the King of Portugal had just become allies. He and about ten of his crew were taken to Boston to be tried. This was the first admiralty trial outside England. On Friday, June 30th, 1704, six of the pirates were marched through Boston to Scarlet's Wharf accompanied by a guard of musketeers, while in front was carried a silver oar, the emblem of the Lord High Admiral. Upon reaching the gallows, a minister gave the pirates a long sermon. All of the pirates showed repentance on their faces except Captain Quelch. Before he was hanged, Quelch stepped up while holding his hat and bowed to the spectators. He also gave a short address and warned them, "They should take care how they bring money into New England to be hanged for it." Their bodies were later buried in between the tide marks.

    Quelch's true historical significance is that he was the first person to be tried for piracy outside England under Admiralty Law and thus without a jury. These Admiralty courts had been instituted to tackle the rise of piracy in colonial ports, where civil and criminal courts had proven to be ineffective. Popular myth is that Quelch flew a pirate flag referred to as Old Roger by his crew. It is sometimes considered to be the origin of the name Jolly Roger. It is alleged that his theme was later borrowed by Blackbeard and also Bartholomew "Black Bart" Roberts. There is no evidence whatsoever that Quelch flew any flag other than the Flag of St. George or possibly a privateer's flag of St. George quartered on a red background similar to today's British merchant colors. Courtroom testimony from the crew maintained that the flag of England had been flown at all times. The origin of this myth of Quelch's flag being described as having "in the middle of it an anatomy with an hourglass in one hand and a dart in the heart with three drops of blood proceeding from it in the other." most likely stems from the poetic license of Ralph D. Paine, a popular writer at the turn of the 20th century. None of the court records from his trial, ever mention such a flag being used by Quelch. Like many of the flags associated with the famous pirates of that era, there true authenticity is questionable at best.