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Flags of Revolutionary and Colonial Times.
Prior to the Declaration of Independence the different colonies retained the standards of the mother country, the ancient national flag of England, a white banner with the red cross of St. George, or the union flag of King James, a combination of the crosses of St. George and St. Andrew, designated as the “King's colors." There wås sometimes an addition, however, of some local emblem. Massachusetts, for instance, adopted for its emblem the pine tree, placing the device also on its coins.
According to the Massachusetts-Bay records, the red cross of St. George was in use in that calony in 1634, and probably had been for some time. The Puritans strongly objected to the red cross in the flag, on the narrow ground that it was a papistical symbol and was idolatrous. In November, 1634, John Endicott, of Massachusetts, a Puritan of the most austére type, with his sword cut the cross out of the banner thato hung before the Governor's gate. His act received so much support in sentiment among the militiamen that in 1635 the Military Commissioners substituted the King's colors for the cross of St. George, to be, displayed from ships and over Castle Island, Boston, because the castle belonged to the King, but colors were appointed for the militia companies, with the red cross left out of all of them. The English Parliament, however, in 1651, revived the standard of St. George, and the General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts decreed that it be used on all appropriate occasions.
The flags in use in America in these early times were of various construction and arrangement of color. Sometimes a white field was charged with the red cross ; at other times the field was red with the cross cantoned on a white field in one corner; sometimes, too, the field was blue, with the cross cantoned in white, and at times a pine tree or globe was displayed in the canton along with the cross. Under the government of Sir Edmund Andros the flag of New England had a white field, charged with the cross of St. George, surmounted with a crown, and bearing the inscription J. R. (Jacobus Rex). In 1707,
when, under Queen Anne, the kingdom of Great Britain, including England, Wales and Scotland, was established by treaty, the Union Jack of the time of King James was adopted by the American colonies, in conformity to the action of the British Parliament.
At the commencement of the Revolution the revolted colonies displayed quite a variety of flags, those so much spoken of in 1774 as "union flags" being red English ensigns, with the Union Jack, or combined crosses of St. George and St. Andrew, and bearing, in addition, such mottoes as “Liberty,” “Liberty and Union," etc.
The “Union, with a red field,” or, in other words, a red ensign, was displayed at New York in March, 1775, on a liberty pole, with the inscription "George". Rex and the Liberties of America.” The Connecticut froops displayed on their standards after the battle of Lexington the arms of the colony, with the motto “Qui transtulitz, sustinet,” which was freely translated “God, who transported us: hither, will support us.” Some time later the Provincial Congress ordered that the regiments be distinguished by the colors of their flags. Nothing is positively known as to what ilag, or whether any flag, was carried by the Americans at Bunker's Hill, but there is a tradition that one was hoisted at the redoubt with the motto, “Come if You Dare.” The : generally accepted belief as brought down from early descriptions is that the Bunker Hill flag was blue, with the red cross of St. George and a green pine tree in a white canton in the upper left hand corner. The motto, "An Appeal to Heaven," was ordered by the Provincial Congress of Massachusetts, in 1776, to be borne on the flag of the warships of that colony. This flag was the green pine tree on a white field. The first warships commissioned by Washington, sailed under the pine-tree flag. Blue, with a white crescent, was the first revolutionary flag unfurled in the South. This was hoisted on the fortifications of Charleston, September 13, 1775, being the design of Captain William Moultrie, who prepared it at the request of the Council of Safety.
The flag known as the “Great Union" was first unfuried by Washington at Cambridge, on January 2, 1776. It combined the thirteen alternate red and white stripes of the present United States flag, with the St. George and St. Andrew crosses on the blue canton where the stars now are.
The first flag adopted by the ships of the United States as a national ensign consisted of the familiar horizontal stripes, with the British union, however, retained in a canton. Commodore Esek Hopkins bore this flag at the masthead of his ship when he sailed with his fleet from the Delaware capes on February 17, 1776. A yellow ensign, with the device of a rattlesnake about to strike, and bearing the motto, “Don't Tread on Me," was carried by Hopkins previous to the introduction of the “Great Union.” The snake emblem on many of the flags then used was doubtless suggested by the illustrations at the heads of many of the newspapers of the time, representing a snake in thirteen sections, each inscribed with an abbreviation of the name of a colony and bearing the motto, "Join or Die.” Sometimes the snake was represented coiled around the base of a pine tree, and at others lying at length on a field of thirteen alternate red and white or red and blue stripes. Again, it was coiled in the center on a yellow field.
When the “Great Union," whose official origin is somewhat obscure, was adopted, the legal rights of the mother country were still acknowledged by the colonists; hence the combination of the crosses of St. George and St. Andrew was retained. The thirteen red and white stripes were probably derived from the red flag of the army and white flag of the navy, which were previously in use. It is said that the thirteen stripes were first used in a banner presented by Captain Abraham Markoe to the Light Horse troop of Philadelphia in 1775. This banner is still in the possession of the troop, and is sometimes displayed at its anniversary dinners. The stripes, however, were cantoned in the upper left hand corner, while the center of the flag contained armorial emblems.
The National Flag.
The emblems of union with Britain were retained in the American flag until the year after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. As they were then considered altogether inappropriate, Congress decreed, on June 14, 1777, that “the flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing new constellation.” This was the basis of the present United States Flag, which differs only in the number of white stars cantoned on the blue, and is the first definitely recorded legislative act for the adoption of a National Flag. The original thirteen States were : New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. Some of the flags used, when only twelve of the States had ratified the articles of the Convention, bore only twelve stars.
The resolution in relation to the Flag was published in the papers in August, but the design was not officially promulgated by Congress until the 3d day of September.
There is a story that the National Flag was first unfurled by Paul Jones on the Ranger, he having been appointed to the command of that ship on the very day that Congress passed the National-flag resolution. It has long been accepted as a historical fact that the first military display of the Flag in battle was made August 2, 1777, when the American garrison at Fort Stanwick, New York, besieged by redcoats and Indians, raised a curiously improvised banner made up of shirts cut up to form the white stripes, bits of scarlet cloth joined for the red, and the blue ground for the stars composed of a cloth cloak.
Although tradition speaks of the unfurling of the Stars and Stripes immediately after the Declaration of Independence, there is no definite evidence of the use of the flag of thirteen stars and thirteen stripes prior to its adoption by the American Congress. George Henry Preble, Rear Admiral, U. S. N., in his "History of the Flag of the United States of America," has this to say:
“Beyond a doubt, the thirteen stars and stripes were unfurled at the battle of Brandywine, September 11, 1777, eight days after the official promulgation of them at Philadelphia, and at Georgetown on the 4th day of October following; they witnessed the operation against and the surrender of Burgoyne, after the battle of Saratoga, October 17, 1777; and the sight of this new constellation helped to cheer the patriots of the army amid their sufferings around camp fires at Valley Forge the ensuing winter. They waved triumphant at the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown, September 19, 1781; looked down upon the evacuation of New York, November 25, 1783; and shared in all the glories of the latter days of the revolution."
It is conceded by all authors of books touching upon the subject, that the first flag combining the stars and stripes was made and partially designed by Elizabeth or "Betsy' Ross, at No. 89 Arch street (now No. 239), Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.