An Appeal to Heaven Flag
In the fall of the year 1775 the colonists created a fleet of six ships know as “Washington’s Cruisers.” These brave little vessels sailed forth to capture British stores and ammunition bound for America’s shores.
The ships were the “Lynch,” the “Franklin,” the “Lee,” the “Harrison,” the “Warren” and the “Lady Washington.” The Lee was the only one of this first American Fleet to meet with success upon the high seas, capturing the British brig Nancy, caring arms, ammunition and provisions to the British Army in America.
These “Washington Cruisers” flew the first national flag know as “An Appeal to Heaven Flag” also known as the “Pine Tree flag” and “Washington Cruisers flag”. It was a white flag bearing a pale green pine tree with the motto “An Appeal to Heaven.”
During Sept., I775, two strong floating batteries were launched on the Charles river, and opened a fire toward the last of October upon Boston that produced great alarm and damaged several houses. They appear to have been made of strong planks pierced near the water line, for oars; and along the sides, higher up for light and musketry. A heavy gun was placed at each end, and upon the top were four swivels. Their ensign was a pine tree flag, the six schooners first commissioned by Washington and the first vessels commissioned by the united colonies sailed under the pine tree flag. Col. Reed in a letter from Cambridge to Cols. Glover and Moylan under date Oct. 20, 1775, says:
Please fix upon some particular color for a flag, and a signal by which our vessels may know one another. What do you think of a flag with a white ground, and a tree in the middle, the motto ‘AN APPEAL TO HEAVEN,’ this is the flag of our floating batteries.”….
 Lossing’s Field Book of the Revolution.
 Capt. John Selman and Nicholas Broughton were commissioned by Gen. Washington (according to the statement of Selman to Elbridge Gerry), in the fall of 1775 both living at Marblehead.
The latter as commodore of two small schooners, one the Lynch mounting six four pounders and ten swivels, and manned by seventy seamen and the other the Franklin of less force having sixty-five. The commodore hoisted his broad pendant on board the Lynch, and Selman commanded the latter.
These vessels were ordered to the river St. Lawrence to intercept an ammunition vessel bound to Quebec, but missing her, they took ten other vessels and Governor Wright of St. Johns, all of which were released, as we had waged a ministerial war and not one against our most gracious sovereign.” — Letter of E. Gerry to John Adams, dated Feb. 9, 1813.
The form of commission issued by General Washington to the officers of the vessels fitted out by him, under authority of the continental congress, and the officers so commissioned, was as follows:
By his excellency George Washington, Esq., commander-in-chief of the army of the united colonies.
To William Burke, Esq.
By virtue of the powers and authorities to me given by the honorable continental congress, I do hereby constitute and appoint you captain and commander of the schooner Warren now lying at Beverly port, in the service of the united colonies of North America, to have, hold, exercise, and enjoy the said office of captain and commander of the said vessel, and to perform and execute all matters and things which to your said office do, or may of right belong or appertain, until further order shall be given herein by the honorable continental congress, myself, or any future commander-in-chief of said army, willing and commanding all officers, soldiers, and persons whatsoever, any way concerned, to be obedient and assisting to you in the due execution of this commission.
Given under my hand and seal, at Cambridge, this 1st day of February , Annoque Domini, 1776.
By his excellency’s command.
To Captain William Burke, of the Warren.
Officers of the armed vessels, fitted out by order of General Washington, on the 1st day of February, 1776.
Lady Liberty ‘aka’ Hancock,…. John Manley,…. Captain and Com…. 1 January, 1776.
Richard Stiles,……………1st Lieutenant,…. 1 January, 1776.
Nicholas Ogilby,……… 2d Lieutenant,…. 1 January, 1776.
Lee,…. Daniel Waters,…….. Captain,…………….. 20 January, 1777.
William Kissick,……….. 1st Lieutenant,…. 20 January, 1776.
John Gill,………………….. 2d Lieutenant,….. 20 January, 1776.
John Desmond,………. Master,………………. 20 January, 1776.
Franklin,…. Samuel Tucker,…. Captain,…….. 20 January, 1776.
Edward Phittiplace,… 1st Lieutenant,…. 20 January, 1776.
Francis Salter,….. 2d Lieutenant,…………. 20 January, 1776.
Harrison,…. Charles Dyar,… Captain,………… 20 January, 1776.
Thomas Dote,…….. 1st Lieutenant,……… 23 January, 1776.
John Wigglesworth,.. 2d Lieutenant,…. 20 January, 1776.
Lynch,…. John Ayres,.. Captain,………………….. 20 January, 1776.
John Roche,……… 1st Lieutenant,……….. 20 January, 1776.
John Tiley,……… 2d Lieutenant,…………… 20 January, 1776.
Warren,….. William Burke,….. Captain,…….. 1 February, 1776.
American Archives, 4th series, vol. iv, pp. 909, 910.
…. Colonels Moylan and Glover replied the next day that as Broughton and Selman who sailed that morning had none but their old colors (probably the old English union ensign) they had appointed as the signal by which they could be known to their friends the ensign at the main topping lift.
The suggestion of Col. Reed seems, however, to have been soon adopted. The London Chronicle for January, 1776, describing the flag of a captured cruiser says:
There is in the admiralty office the flag of a provincial privateer. The field is white bunting. On the middle is a green pine tree, and upon the opposite side is the motto, ‘An appeal to Heaven.‘”
April, 1776, the Massachusetts council passed a series of resolutions providing for the regulation of the sea service, among which was the following:
Resolved, That the uniform of the officers be green and white, and that they furnish themselves accordingly, and that the colors be a white flag with a green pine tree and the inscription ‘An Appeal to Heaven.'”
According to the English newspapers, privateers throughout this year wearing a flag of this description were captured and arrived into British ports. “Jan. 6, 1776, the Tartar, Capt. Meadows, arrived at Portsmouth, England, from Boston with over seventy men, the crew of an American privateer that mounted 10 guns taken by the Fowry man-of-war. Capt. Meadows likewise brought her colors, which are a pale green palm tree upon a white field with this motto: ‘We Appeal to Heaven.'” She was taken on the Massachusetts coast, cruising for transports and was sent out by the council of that province.
Commodore Samuel Tucker, in a letter addressed to the Hon. John Holmes, dated March 6, 1818,  says:
The first cruise I made was in Jan., 1776, in the schooner Franklin of 70 tons, equipped by order of Gen. Washington, and I had to purchase the small arms to encounter the enemy, with money from my own pocket or go without; and my wife made the banner I fought under, the field of which was white, and the union green made therein in the figure of a pine tree, made of cloth of her own purchasing, at her own expense.”
Under these colors he captured the ship George and brig Arabella transports, having on board about two hundred and eighty Highland troops of Gen. Eraser’s corps.
“Halifax, Nova Scotia, June 10, 1776, on Sunday, arrived from off Boston, a privateer brig, called the Yankee Hero, Capt. Tracy. She was taken by the Milford frigate 28 guns, Capt. Burr, after an obstinate engagement, in which the captain of the privateer received a ball through his thigh, soon after which she struck. She is a fine vessel and mounts twelve carriage guns and six swivels. Her colors were a pine tree on a white field.”
Instances of the use of this pine tree flag from Oct., 1775, to July, 1776, could be multiplied.
 Shepard’s Life of Commodore Tucker.
Byron McCandless, Gilbert Hovey Grosvenor, Flags of the World. Available online.
Our Navy, the Standard Publication of the U.S. Navy. Available online.