American Flag


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Betsy RossFlag, NATIONAL. During the formative years of the country, each colony had its own banners and flags, and the army and navy of the united colonies, at first, displayed various flags; some colonial, others regimental, and others, like the flag at Fort Sullivan, Charleston Harbor, a blue field with a silver crescent, for special occasions. The American flag used at the battle on Bunker  Hill, was called the "New England flag." It was a blue background, with the red cross of St. George in a corner, quartering a white field, and in the upper  left quadrant was the figure of a pine tree (See the Blue Flag Below).

The New Englanders had also a "pine-tree flag" as well as a "pine-tree shilling." The engraving below is a reduced copy from a map published in Paris in 1776. The London Chronicle, an anti-ministerial paper, in its issue for January, 1776, described the flag of an American cruiser that had been captured: "In the Admiralty Office is 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 'Appeal to Heaven.' "

Culpeper Flagbunker hill flagThe Culpeper minutemen, who marched with Patrick Henry towards Williamsburg to demand instant restoration of powder to the old magazine, or payment for it by Governor Dunmore, bore a flag with a rattlesnake upon it, coiled ready to strike, with Patrick Henry's words (Liberty of Death) and the words "Don't tread on me."

Revolutionary War Flag

The First American Stars and Stripes Flag

Pine Tree FlagIt is believed that the first American flag  bearing thirteen red and white stripes was a Union flag presented to the Philadelphia Light Horse by Captain Abraham Markoe, a Dane, probably early in 1775. A "Union flag" is mentioned as having been displayed at a gathering of Whigs at Savannah in June, 1775, probably thirteen stripes. The earliest naval flags exhibited thirteen alternate red and white stripes, some with a pine-tree upon them, and others with a rattlesnake stretched across the field of stripes, and beneath it the words, either imploringly or as a warning, "Don't tread on me."  The new Union flag raised at Cambridge, Jan. 1, 1776, was composed of thirteen alternate red and white stripes, with the English union in one corner.

Continental Congress Resolution Establishes the Official United States Flag

First American FlagFinally, the necessity of a national flag was felt, especially for the marine service, and the Continental Congress adopted the following resolution, June 14, 1777: "Resolved, that the flag of the United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white, on a blue field, representing a new constellation." There was a delay in displaying this flag. The resolution was not officially promulgated over the signature of the secretary of the Congress until September 3, though it was previously printed in the newspapers. This was more than a year after the colonies had been declared free and independent. Probably the first display of the national flag at a military post was at Fort Schuyler, on the site of the present city of Rome, New York. The fort was besieged early in August, 1777. The garrison had no flag, so they made one according to the prescription of Congress by cutting up sheets to form the white stripes, bits of scarlet cloth for the red stripes, and the blue ground for the stars was composed of portions of a cloth cloak belonging to Captain Abraham Swartwout, of Dutchess county, New York This flag was unfurled over the fort on August 3, 1777.

Paul Jones was appointed to the Ranger on June 14, 1777, and he claimed that he was the first to display the stars and stripes on a naval vessel. The Ranger sailed from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on November 1, 1777. It is probable that the national flag was first unfurled in battle on the banks of the Brandywine, September 11, 1777, the first battle after its adoption.

It first appeared over a foreign stronghold, June 28, 1778, when Captain Rathbone, of the American sloop-of-war Providence, with his crew and some escaped prisoners, captured Fort Nassau, New Providence, Bahama Islands. The captors were menaced by the people, when the stars and stripes were nailed to the flagstaff in defiance. John Singleton Copley, the American-born painter, in London, claimed to be the first to display the stars and stripes in Great Britain. On the day when George III. acknowledged the independence of the United States, December 5, 1782, he painted the flag of the United States in the background of a portrait of Elkanah Watson. To Captain Mooers, of the whaling-ship Bedford, of Nantucket, is doubtless due the honor of first displaying the national flag in a port of Great Britain. He arrived in the Downs, with it flying at the fore, February 3, 1783. That flag was first carried to the East Indian seas in the Enterprise (an Albany-built vessel), Captain Stewart Dean, in 1785.

When Vermont and Kentucky were added to the union of States the flag was altered. By an act of Congress (January 13, 1794) the number of the stripes and stars in the flag was increased from thirteen to fifteen. The act went into effect May 1, 1795. From that time until 1818, when there were twenty States, the number of the stars and stripes remained the same. A committee appointed to revise the standard invited Captain Samuel C. Reid, the brave defender of the privateer Armstrong, to devise a new flag. He retained the original thirteen stripes, but added a star for every State. That has been the device of the flag of the United States ever since. In 1901 the field of the flag contained forty-five stars.

American Flag in the Civil War

Civil War FlagDuring the Civil War, stars were NOT removed from the United States Flag, as Confederate States seceded from the Union. The Federal Government did not recognize the legality of the secession, and would not acknowledge it with a removal of stars from the flag. The Southern states were not represented in Congress during these years, but their stars remained always on the flag.

During the Civil War, the flag evolved several times. At the beginning of 1861, the Union Flag had 33 stars. On January 29, 1861, Kansas was admitted to the union, and a star was added (for a total of 34). The new 34 star flag became official on July 4, 1861. The flag had four rows of 7 stars, and the center row had 6 stars. On June 20, 1863, West Virginia became a stat, and another star was added to the flag. This 35 star flag had 5 rows of 7 stars (7X5=35). This 35 star flag flew over Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, and was the flag at the end of the war, when Lee surrendered at Appomattox.

American Flag in World War II

World War II FlagIn World War II, the American Flag had 13 stripes, and 48 stars, with the stars arranged in rows and columns in a regular pattern (When Alaska and Hawaii became states, the pattern of stars was offset to accommodate the two new stars). The photograph at right shows the flag of World War II. The photograph shows the flag flying over an American Aircraft Carrier, and a fighter can be seen on the deck of the carrier, preparing to take off. While this flag is very similar to the modern American flag, there is  a subtle difference due to the arrangement of the stars. I have found that many World War II veterans feel a particular affinity to this specific flag. I often hear them describe it as the "Flag that I Fought Under". I get the impression that they distinguish it somewhat from the modern flag, perhaps reflecting a perception that the country was different as well.

Modern American Flag

Modern American Flag

Alaska became a state on January 3rd, 1959, and a 49th star was added to the flag. This flag was short lived, as it was replaced by the modern 50 star flag on July 4, 1960, as Hawaii became our 50th state. This flag remains the flag of the United States today. The stars are placed in a staggered pattern . . . 5 rows have 6 stars, and 4 rows have 5 stars ( 5X6 + 4X5 = 50). It is a clever arrangement which creates an attractive flag.

Old Glory



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