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 came the flag of Spain, a banner with four quarters, two of which were red, embellished with golden castles, and two white, emblazoned with red lions. This was the standard of Spain during most of the period of her conquests.
The Landing of Columbus
THE MAKING OF THE FLAG
The first flags, according to authentic record, raised by white men in America were those which Christopher Columbus brought to the Island of San Salvador, October 12, 1492.
His son thus chronicles the ceremony of the landing:
Columbus, dressed in scarlet, stepped on shore from the little boat which bore him from his vessels, bearing the royal standard of Spain emblazoned with the arms of Castile and Leon, in his own hand, followed by the Pinzons in their own boats, each bearing the banner of the expedition, viz: the Columbus flag consisted of a white flag background with a green cross, having on each side the letters F and Y surmounted by golden crowns.”
Columbus also bore a personal flag, which had been presented to him by Queen Isabella, consisting of a white ensign with a green cross, having on either side the letters F-Y surmounted by golden crowns, (F for Ferdinand and the Y for the initial letter of the Spanish Ysabel or Ysabella).
The first named, composed of four sections, two with yellow castles upon red and two with red lions upon a white ground, was the flag of Spain in the time of Columbus and during most of the succeeding years of discovery and conquest.
Illustrations of these flags are shown on the Arms of Castile and Leon Flag page.