Five hundred years before the arrival of Columbus in the New World, Eric the Red is supposed to have guided his ships, square-sailed, decorated with curiously carved figureheads, and manned by hardy Norsemen, to the shores of Vinland (Labrador, or Nova Scotia, or the New England coast), and there planted for a brief period this […]
Historical American Flags
A BRIEF HISTORY OF OUR HISTORICAL AMERICAN FLAGS
A Banner of Old England
The Color Bearers
BEARER OF ST. GEORGE'S CROSS
I. I come before you bearing the "Cross of St. George" which was the flag flown from the masthead of the Mayflower. This banner of the Old England they so dearly loved was a sacred emblem to the Pilgrims, and served to join them in thought to their old home so far away beyond the broad ocean.
Once Endicott, the Puritan governor of Massachusetts, cut the cross out of the banner to show his hatred of Romanism. Many times the colonists tried to substitute a rose, a tree, or some other device, but at last they were compelled to adopt the flag of the mother country. It was not until tyranny of the king became unbearable that new flags were used.
The colonists failed to move the king and his ministers from their career of reckless obstinacy, and were forced to choose between abject submission to tyranny or armed resistance to their royal master.
Then the electric words of Patrick Henry flashed throughout the country,
We must fight! An appeal to arms and to the God of Hosts is all that is left us. I repeat it, sir, we must fight!"
Soon the blood of the patriots flowed freely on many a hard fought field until all hope of reconciliation with the mother country was at an end, and national independence was secured.
The Flag of Bunker Hill
The coercive measures adopted by the king produced their natural result: the glory of the British empire waned, and the sun of liberty arose.
BEARER OF THE RED FLAG
II. When the tyranny of England could be no longer borne, the colonists began to show their defiance by hoisting the red flag at many places. At Boston, in 1768, a large red flag was hoisted upon a liberty pole, and the people were urged to arise and clear the country of the oppressors.
Trumbull's celebrated picture of the Battle of Bunker Hill has Colonel Prescott's troops marshaled under a red flag in which the upper inner square was white and contained a green pine-tree. The best authorities agree that the first flag flung to the breeze at Bunker Hill was red.
This was the symbol of defiance; and when Prescott's men marched forth that starlit night from Boston toward the dark heights of Bunker Hill to defy the British legions, they chose the red flag, and that meant war. The question regarding the flag used at Bunker Hill is unsettled, since contemporary writers are silent on the subject.
The Pine Tree Flag
Some have claimed that the field was blue as in the New England flag. A flag unfurled by Putnam July 18, 1775, had on one side the words, "An Appeal to Heaven," and on the other "Qui transtulit, sustinet”—“He who planted will sustain."
BEARER OF THE PINE TREE FLAG
III. The famous Pine Tree flag was in use during 1775 as an ensign. The flag was white, with a green pine tree in the middle, and the motto: "An Appeal to Heaven”.
The pine tree was a fitting type of the sturdy people of New England. This was the first ensign shown by a regular American man-of-war, (Fig. 27), and was raised on board the Alfred, in the Delaware, in December, 1775, by John Paul Jones, a lieutenant under Commodore Hopkins.
In a letter written by Colonel Reed October 20, 1775, these words occur,
Please to fix 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, a tree in the middle, the motto ‘An Appeal to Heaven'?"
Sergeant Jasper and the Crescent Flag
BEARER OF THE FORT MOULTRIE FLAG
IV. The first Republican flag unfurled in the southern states was blue, with a white crescent in the upper corner next to the staff. It was designed by Colonel William Moultrie, and was raised on the fortifications of Charleston in September, 1775.
At the time there was no national flag; and the design was taken from the blue of the soldiers' uniforms and the silver crescents on the front of their caps. (Fig. 28)
The flag displayed on one of the bastions of Fort Sullivan (Moultrie) on June 28, 1776, was the same, with the word "Liberty" added. At the commencement of the action, the Crescent flag of South Carolina, that waved opposite the Grand Union flag upon the western bastion, fell outside upon the beach.
Sergeant William Jasper leaped the parapet, walked the length of the fort, picked up the flag, fastened it upon a sponge staff, and fixed the flag firmly upon the bastion, amid the iron hail pouring upon the fortress. Three cheers greeted him as he leaped unhurt within the fort.
Governor Rutledge presented Jasper his own handsome small sword which hung by his side, and thanked him in the name of his country. He offered the young hero a lieutenant's commission, but he modestly refused, saying,
I am not fit to keep officers' company; I am but a sergeant."
At the Spring Hill redoubt at Savannah, October 9, 1779, Sergeant Jasper, while planting the crescent flag upon the parapet of the British works, fell pierced by a rifle ball.
"Join or Die"
BEARER OF THE RATTLESNAKE FLAG
A favorite device with the colonists during the excitement over the Stamp Act was a serpent cut in ten pieces, with the inscription ''Join or die!” or "Unite or die!”
The newspapers of the day placed this significant design at the head of their columns. The rattlesnake was considered an emblem of vigilance, true courage, and magnanimity, because, while it is not quarrelsome, it quickly resents oppression. It never gives its small but deadly wound without first shaking its rattles as a signal that it is about to strike.
The rattlesnake flags were probably suggested by the cuts displayed in the newspapers, and were of several kinds. One in use in the navy was a yellow ensign bearing the device of a rattlesnake in the attitude of striking, with the motto, "Don't Tread on Me."
The snake was represented, generally, with thirteen rattles; sometimes it was coiled around the base of the pine tree, and sometimes placed diagonally across the field of thirteen alternate red and white or red and blue stripes. (Fig. 31)
The Cambridge Flag
BEARER OF THE GRAND UNION FLAG
After the devices of the palmetto, the pine tree, and the rattlesnake, the next step in the evolution of the flag was the "Grand Union flag”. This was the result of a conference between Dr. Franklin, Mr. Lynch, and Mr. Harrison, who were chosen to select some device for a common national flag.
The First “Old Glory”
The flag was hoisted for the first time over Washington's camp at Cambridge, January 2, 1776. The colors were red, white, and blue, and there were thirteen stripes as in the flag today, but the field was not yet spangled with stars. The blue field carried the united crosses of St. George and St. Andrew instead of the white five-pointed stars.
The King's Colors, or Union Flag, meant the yet recognized sovereignty of England, while the thirteen stripes, alternate red and white, were emblematic of the colonies united against the tyranny and oppression of England. This has sometimes been called the Cambridge Flag.
BEARER OF THE FLAG OF 1777
Resolved, That the flag of the thirteen united states be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white on a blue field, representing a new constellation." (Fig. 32 B)
As to the origin of the stripes in the flag, the theories advanced are very interesting. It has been suggested that the stripes were originally drawn from the flag of the Netherlands. The Dutch flag consisted of three broad horizontal stripes,—red, white, and blue.
The coat of arms given to one of Washington's ancestors by Henry VIII, showed a, white shield with red stripes, (Fig. 22 ), and this is by some thought to be the origin of the flag.
Washington and Morris called upon Mrs. Betsy Ross of Philadelphia, and engaged her to make the flag from a crude pencil drawing. She suggested changes in the form of the stars, and defty folding a piece of paper, showed the gentlemen how a perfect five-pointed star could be made with a single clip of the scissors. Here is Betsy now, and she will show you how to do it. (See Figs. 39, 40, etc.)
(A little girl comes upon the stage, and folds and cuts the star.)
The Star-Spangled Banner Flag
BEARER OF THE FLAG OF 1812 (1794)
When Vermont was admitted to the sisterhood of the states in 1791, followed by Kentucky in 1792, Congress voted that the flag should have fifteen stripes and fifteen stars. (Fig. 32 C)
This flag was carried during the War of 1812, and was the “Star-Spangled Banner" which was seen catching "the gleam of the morning's first beam" over the ramparts of Ft. McHenry. The red meant, indeed, defiance and valor; the blue eternal vigilance; and the white, purity and peace with honor.
BEARER OF THE FLAG OF 1818
Influenced by reverence for the flag of the Revolution, and by the fact that increase in the number of the stripes tended to destroy the beauty of the flag, Congress ordered a return to the original thirteen stripes, and an increase of the number of stars to twenty.
Tennessee, Ohio, Louisiana, Indiana, and Mississippi had been added to the constellation. It was also voted that a new star should be added to the flag on the Fourth of July next succeeding the admission of a new state. (Fig. 32 D)
BEARER OF THE FLAG OF 1897 ("Old Glory")
Today I bring you the beautiful flag of our glorious republic. It has forty-five stars, each one representing a noble state. Our banner stands for freedom to all, and has a glorious record in all the years of the past. Let us, oh my fellow-pupils, see that we preserve undimmed its glories which our fathers have placed in our care.
On many a hard-fought field, brave soldiers have borne this tattered old banner through clouds of cannon-smoke to victory. There is more than history in the emblem.
Floating in the breeze; it means more than mere glory. The old Roman soldiers guarded their standards with religious veneration, and their reverence for their ensigns was a just measure of their bravery in battle.
Our own interest in flags must center in the evolution and meaning of our own bright banner.
A Continuation of the History of Early American Flags by USA Flag Co.
During the Revolutionary War, several patriots made American flags for our new Nation. Among them were Cornelia Bridges, Elizabeth Betsy Ross, and Rebecca Young, all of Pennsylvania, and John Shaw of Annapolis, Maryland.
Flag of Columbus, Standard of Spain. A quartered flag of red, gold and silver—the standard of Castile and Leon—is generally accepted as having been the first European flag flown on American soil. This truly regal standard was planted on the beach before the startled gaze of the awe-struck aborigines when Christopher Columbus, richly clad, set […]
If we accept the possiblity of the Norsemen having visited the North American Continent several centuries before Columbus steered his frail vessels westward, then the first flag that ever caught the breezes of the New World was the banner of the hardy Vikings—“a raven, with wings extended and open bill, upon a white ground.” Then […]
In 1497 John Cabot, a Venetian, unfurled in North America, probably at Labrador, the first English flag. Cabot and his three sons sailed from Bristol with letters patent from Henry VII of England, “to set up the royal banners and ensigns in the countries, places, or mainland newly found by them, and to conquer, occupy […]
On the union of the two crowns at the accession of James VI. of Scotland and I. of England to the English throne, the Cross of St. Andrew, Fig. 92, was combined with that of St. George. Cross of St. Andrew Flag also known as the Flag of Scotland, or the Saltire.Use: Civil and state […]
The flag of Great Britain, commonly known as the Union Flag, Union Jack or King’s Colors, is a maritime flag of Great Britain that was used from 1606 to 1801. The design was ordered by King James VI and I to be used on ships on the high seas, and it subsequently came into use […]
Under the red ensign, many of England’s greatest admirals won the victories which made the island kingdom mistress of the seas. The famous Red Ensign Flag also know as the Meteor Flag of England was a modification of the King’s Colors, is a red ensign with the device of the crosses in the canton. The […]
The Bedford Flag is the oldest known flag in the United States. Associated with the Minutemen of Bedford, Massachusetts and Battles of Lexington and Concord of 1775. The Bedford flag which is considered by many to far exceed all others in historic value, in fact, “the most precious memorial of its kind of which we […]
The earliest and only suggestion of the stars as a device for the, American ensign prior to their adoption in 1777, I have been able to find, is contained in the Massachusetts Spy for March 10, 1774, in a song written for the anniversary of the Boston Massacre (March 5). In a flight of poetic […]
The flag of Taunton, Massachusetts, also known as the Taunton Flag and the Liberty and Union Flag, is the city flag of Taunton, Massachusetts, United States. The flag was first adopted in 1774 and has since been adopted as the flag of Taunton. It consists of a red ensign with the flag of Great Britain […]
George Washington, had supplied funds to create a temporary fleet of floating batteries in Boston Harbor and six privateers, known as “Washington’s Cruisers” for service on the high seas. A flag or ensign was necessary to distinguish these “Cruisers” from pirate ships or merchant marine. In April 1776 the Massachusetts Council passed a series of […]
The Gadsden flag also known as the Rattlesnake flag or Don’t Tread on Me flag. The Gadsden flag’s central feature, had been an emblem of Americans even before the Revolution. The Pennsylvania Gazette Published an article in 1751 bitterly protesting the British practice of sending convicts to America where the author suggested that the colonists […]
General John Stark of New Hampshire commanded a militia brigade known as the “Green Mountain Boys”. Tradition relates that its green flag was flown at the Battle of Bennington on August 16, 1777. As in many American flags, the stars here were arranged in an arbitrary fashion. Nevertheless they signified the unity of the Thirteen […]
The Minute Men of Culpeper, Virginia, carried a white flag bearing the name of their organization across the top, and a coiled snake in the center; above which were the words “Liberty or Death” and below “Don’t Tread On Me.” The Minute Men of Culpeper was a militia group formed in 1775 in the district […]
The Rhode Island flag was the most beautiful and perhaps the most characteristic Colonial Flag or Banner. It is sometimes called the “Hope Flag.” The 13 stars, white on a blue field, arranged quincuncial in outline of the Cross of St. George and St. Andrew was the first representation of stars in a flag. This, […]
Following the skirmishes with the Minutemen at Lexington and Concord, the British withdrew to Boston. On the night of June 16-17, 1775, the Americans fortified Breed’s and Bunker Hill overlooking Boston Harbor. The blue Bunker Hill Flag. The blue field may be the result of an error in a wood engraving; the actual “Bunker Hill […]
The first flag of the colonists to have any resemblance to the present Stars and Stripes was the Grand Union Flag, also known as the Cambridge Flag, the First Navy Ensign, the Congress Flag, and the Continental Colors, is considered to be the first national flag of the United States. This flag consisted of 13 […]
South Carolinians defending Fort Moultrie in Charleston Harbor in 1776 raised one of the earliest flags of American liberty. The blue corresponded to their uniform, the silver crescent appeared as a badge worn on their caps. The cause for which they fought—liberty—was emblazoned on the crescent. The Moultrie flag also known as the Fort Moultrie […]
The history of our flag from its inception, in fact, the inception itself, has been a source of much argument and great diversity of opinion. Many theories and mystification’s have gone forth, mingled with a few facts, giving just enough color of truth to make them seem plausible. It is for the purpose of clearing […]
The Bennington flag illustrates a unique interpretation of the original Flag law before the official design was available. It contains thirteen seven pointed stars white on a blue field representing a new constellation and the digits 76 the sum of which is 13. The stripes are alternate white and red instead of red and white. […]
This thirteen-star flag, twelve in a circle with one in the center, was reportedly carried by Color Sergent William Batchelor of the Maryland Light Infantry, ..at the battle of Cowpens, S.C., January 17, 1781. Wounded in the engagement, Batchelor returned with the Cowpens flag to his Baltimore home; and in the War of 1812 his […]
Captain John Paul Jones flew this version of the American flag from his ship, U.S.S. Bonhomme Richard in 1779 when he captured a British Frigate ship called Serapis. Designed in 1779 with 13 stripes alternating red, white and blue. The Serapis flag was raised by Captain John Paul Jones on the British Frigate ship Serapis […]
The origin of the battle flag of the cavalry troop commanded by Colonel William Augustine Washington, a distant relative of General Washington, is a romantic and interesting story. In 1780, Colonel Washington at the head of his cavalry force came from Virginia to South Carolina, where he met Miss Jane Elliott at her father’s house, […]
During the War of 1812 Captain James Lawrence of the Chesapeake encouraged his men, as he lay dying, by exhorting “Don’t Give Up the Ship”. Three months later at the Battle of Lake Erie, Commodore Perry emblazoned these words on a flag which carried him to victory. Similar flags and mottoes have inspired Americans throughout […]
This 15 Star and 15 Stripe flag know as the “Star Spangled Banner flag” became the Official United States Flag on May 1st, 1795. Two stars were added for the admission of Vermont (the 14th State on March 4th, 1791) and Kentucky (the 15th State on June 1st, 1792, and was to last for 23 […]
Credit must be given to Mr. Wend over for the pressing of the bill in the House, but it was Captain Samuel C. Reid of the United States Navy who suggested reducing the stripes to thirteen, representing the 13 original states of the Union, and the adding of a star for each new state. Captain […]
The Battle of Gonzales was the first military engagement of the Texas Revolution. It was fought on the west side of the Guadalupe River about four miles outside of Gonzales, Texas, on October 2, 1835, between rebellious Texian settlers and a detachment of Mexican army soldiers. Come and Take It flag flown by Texians before […]
This was the flag that floated in 1836 over the historic mission fortress, the Alamo, at San Antonio, when Texas was fighting for her independence. For twelve days the garrison of 178 Americans held out under the heavy bombardment of a force of 4,000 Mexicans. On the 6th of March, the garrison was so weakened […]
General John C. Fremont, who, at the head of an exploring expedition, had reached the Pacific coast early in 1846, in May received verbal orders from Washington to turn back, and he made his way to Slitter’s Fort, which was on the site of the present city of Sacramento, where he established headquarters and raised […]
The official flags, established by the Confederate States for use during the Civil War, contained, as might be expected, the colors red, white and blue, and Stars and Stripes. Naturally, this flag was not called the Stars and Stripes. It partook of the more euphonious appellation, Stars and Bars. The first Confederate Flag was adopted […]
The Bonnie Blue Flag was an unofficial banner of the Confederate States of America at the start of the American Civil War in 1861. It consists of a single, five-pointed white star on a blue field. The Bonnie Blue flag is said to have inspired the famous battle song of this name was made of […]
A Calvary Guidon flag of the Civil War contained 13 stripes, alternating red and white, and a rectangular union of light blue with thirty-four five-pointed gold stars. During the Civil War a special version of the United States flag – with swallowtail and stars of gold instead of white—was carried by the cavalry. General Custer […]