Monday, June 23, 2014

Flags of our (Founding) Fathers: Displaying My American Pride

I love our American flag and the history it holds, and I love showing the pride I have of our country and its past by displaying it.
Does this upset you? I'm sure it doesn't because most (if not all) of who reads my postings tend to feel the same as I.
But, believe it or not, proudly flying the American flag really upsets many.
Because I have a fervent pride in my country, I am immediately called a Republican or a Tea "Bagger."
Funny...I didn't know flying your flag made you belong to one political party or another. I thought we were all Americans no matter what party we vote for and, by that nature alone, should be enough reason to fly the flag anytime with pride.
To really set people off I also fly my red, white, & blue bunting, my Gadsden 'Don't Tread On Me' flag, and my 'Betsy Ross' flag.
From a page out of an 1880's school book
Yes, as you shall see later, these (and all of our American flags) can really anger some folks.
But call me what you will. I am part Republican, part Democrat, a helping of Tea Party, a dose of Constitutionalist, and part Libertarian.
Whatever you want to call me, there certainly is no denying that I am a proud American.
And I do love most of our history, too.
I've also come to find that so much of our nation's past is within her flags. Yes...I know you knew that, but sometimes we don't really think of it very much. Neither did I until the last couple of years. So I'd like to show you a few pictures I found on the internet (and a couple I took myself) of America's historical flags and the history behind them.The information comes from numerous sources including (but not limited to) the book A Grand Old Flag: A History of the United States Through Its Flags, Wikipedia, and US History.org.

Until the time of what is known as the Betsy Ross flag in 1776, the English colonies and militias flew numerous types of flags. Some are famous, such as the Union Jack (Britain's flag still used today) and the "Rattlesnake Flag" used by the Continental Navy, with its venomous challenge "Don't Tread on Me."
Other flags were quite similar to the Union Jack or incorporated elements of it.
This is not surprising. Many colonists considered themselves loyal subjects of Britain as King George III ruled over the colonies.
But there are flags uniquely American which helped to give our ancestors the feeling of pride in not only forging a new nation, but guiding its people after becoming one. So let's check out a few of those flags and get a quick overview of *roughly* the first hundred years of flags in our nation's history...

  1766...
This flag and the one from 1775/76 (a few flags below - they're in chronological order) are considered to be the Sons of Liberty Flag. This one here was the flag of the early colonist who had joined together in the protest against the British impositions on American economic freedom. One such protest was resistance to the Stamp Act, on October 7, 1765. A delegate from each of the nine colonies formed the "Stamp Act Congress." They petitioned the king and parliament, the act was repealed on March 18, 1766.

 1775:
In 1775, General Washington decided to take it upon himself behind closed doors to commission 6 Privately owned schooners and start his own navy, (rumored to be at his own expense) it was to be called "Washington's Secret Navy" and all boats were to have "An Appeal to Heaven"  flags upon them. Also known as the "Washington’s cruiser flag", it was white flag with an evergreen tree in the middle and the words “An Appeal to Heaven" stitched across.

The phrase “An Appeal to Heaven" comes from the studies of John Locke, a 17th century English philosopher, on “Natural Laws", a system of right or justice common to all humankind and derived from nature rather than from the rules of society and the only judge is that of our Creator. It is in these laws where our unalienable rights come from and the foundation on which this country was formed. The phrase "An Appeal to Heaven" means that when all resources and justices on earth are exhausted that only "An Appeal to Heaven" remains. And so is the example of our country when our rights were taken away by the tyrannical acts of King George that we as nation after countless attempts to resolve, Appealed to Heaven as our final judge before breaking ties with the crown.

1775:

The Gadsden flag is a historical American flag with a yellow field depicting a rattlesnake coiled and ready to strike. Positioned below the rattlesnake are the words "Dont tread on me.” The flag is named after American general and statesman Christopher Gadsden, who designed it in 1775 during the American Revolution.
Considered one of the first flags of the United States, the flag was later replaced by the current stars and stripes flag. Since the Revolution, the flag has seen times of reintroduction as a symbol of American patriotism, a symbol of disagreement with government, or a symbol of support for civil liberties.
Personally, this is one of my favorites of all American flags for those reasons alone.

 1775:

 The First Navy Jack - The Continental Navy used this flag, with the warning, "Don't Tread on Me," upon its inception. In late 1775, as the first ships of the Continental Navy readied in the Delaware River, Commodore Esek Hopkins issued, in a set of fleet signals, an instruction directing his vessels to fly a "striped" jack and ensign. The exact design of these flags is unknown.
  
 ...and 1775/76
 Here is the second "Sons of Liberty" flag (see the earlier one at the top). This flag of nine red and white vertical stripes that represented these "Sons of Liberty" became known as the "Rebellious Stripes."
 On December 16, 1773, the Sons of Liberty protested the parliament's Tea Act, an action that became known as the Boston Tea Party. The colonists' believed the tax to be a violation of their legitimate economic liberty. Three and a half years after the Tea Party the thirteen colonies had come together in their decision to fight for independence and the nine stripes had grown to thirteen. The Sons of Liberty would rally under a large tree which became known as "The Liberty Tree".

1776:
Much of the following comes from the Betsy Ross page:

Betsy Ross would often tell her children, grandchildren, relatives, and friends of the fateful day when three members of a secret committee from the Continental Congress came to call upon her. Those representatives, George Washington, Robert Morris, and George Ross, asked her to sew the first flag. This meeting occurred in her home some time late in May 1776. George Washington was then the head of the Continental Army. Robert Morris, an owner of vast amounts of land, was perhaps the wealthiest citizen in the Colonies. Colonel George Ross was a respected Philadelphian and also the uncle of her late husband, John Ross.
Naturally, Betsy Ross already knew George Ross as she had married his nephew. Furthermore, Betsy was also acquainted with the great General Washington. Not only did they both worship at Christ Church in Philadelphia, but Betsy's pew was next to George and Martha Washington's pew. Her daughter recalled, "That she was previously well acquainted with Washington, and that he had often been in her house in friendly visits, as well as on business. That she had embroidered ruffles for his shirt bosoms and cuffs, and that it was partly owing to his friendship for her that she was chosen to make the flag."

In June 1776, Betsy was a widow struggling to run her own upholstery business. Upholsterers in colonial America not only worked on furniture but did all manner of sewing work, which for some included making flags. According to Betsy, General Washington showed her a rough design of the flag that included a six-pointed star. Betsy, a standout with the scissors, demonstrated how to cut a five-pointed star in a single snip. Impressed, the committee entrusted Betsy with making our first flag.
According to Betsy Ross's dates and sequence of events, in May the Congressional Committee called upon her at her shop.
She finished the flag either in late May or early June 1776. In July, the Declaration of Independence was read aloud for the first time at Independence Hall. Amid celebration, bells throughout the city tolled, heralding the birth of a new nation.

On June 14, 1777, the Continental Congress, seeking to promote national pride and unity, adopted the national flag. "Resolved: that the flag of the United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation."
Betsy Ross is regarded by many modern historians, pseudo-historians, vexillologists (flag experts), and writers on Philadelphia as a character befitting a fable — that the tale of her making the first flag is no more than an instructive parable.
Modern-day parsers of the past suggest that several 19th-century authors and enthusiasts of American history were overanxious to champion the story of Betsy Ross brought to public attention by her grandson, William Canby, in a speech before the Pennsylvania Historical Society in 1870. That the story of the patriots of the Revolutionary Era required a deserving female role model. That magazines, textbooks, and artists uncritically have echoed the contrivance of a man who was an 11-year-old boy when his grandmother died. Some historians ignore Canby altogether and say, "There's no written record of the sewing of the first flag; therefore we cannot accept the story as truthful or likely."
Historians, to their credit, always want source documentation. 
Ladies "reenacting" the sewing of the first Stars and Stripes flag.
However, the oral history testimony of Betsy Ross's own daughter and other family members recount Betsy's story, and historically the dates and circumstances remain unrefuted. There is even a notation that Martha Washington's granddaughter made it a point, while in Philadelphia in 1820, to visit Mrs. Claypool (Betsy Ross). This is, as author Marla T. Miller wrote in her book, Betsy Ross and the Making of America, "a tantalizing point of contact between Ross's life and her legend." It also reveals us to "check the fables that lace through popular historical memory against the historical record itself."  Evaluating the circumstantial evidence also supports her story, including the paper star found in a safe in the 20th century.  
The completed flag! I'm sure General Washington will be pleased. 
By the way, which one is Betsy Ross?
In April 2009, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission officially recognized Betsy Ross's contributions with a historic marker in front of her house, stating, "Credited with making the first stars and stripes flag, Ross was a successful upholsterer. She produced flags for the government for over 50 years. As a skilled artisan, Ross represents the many women who supported their families during the Revolution and early Republic."
Perhaps we'll never be 100% certain on who made the first 13 star flag, but the evidence, in my opinion - though going against the grain of historians (who can be mistaken) - supports Betsy Ross as the maker of the first flag. Therefore, to blow off the story as a complete fable is doing our country's history an injustice.

1780:
American hopes were at a low point at the start of 1781. That changed, however, on January 17, when General Daniel Morgan won one of the most brilliant victories of the Revolutionary War at Cowpens, South Carolina. With the help of Maryland, Virginia, and Georgia regiments, Morgan stopped the attacking British dead in their tracks. Trapped by the cavalry and the militia, the surrounded British soon relented.

This flag of the Third Maryland Regiment known as the Cowpens flag, which was present that day at the Battle of Cowpens, is now enshrined in the State Capitol in Annapolis, Maryland in honor of that battle. 

Archibald MacNeal Willard (August 22, 1836–October 11, 1918) was an American painter who fought in the American Civil War. Willard painted “Yankee Doodle” (now known as “The Spirit of '76”) in Ohio after he saw a parade pass through the town square. For the painting, he used his father as the model for the middle character.
Notable is the use of the Cowpens flag rather than the Betsy Ross flag in the painting.



1794: The Revolution is over! Or is it...? Oh say can you see by the dawn's early light...

Mary Pickersgill stitched this 15 star flag (with her daughter, two nieces, and two African American servants) from a combination of cotton and dyed English wool bunting. The flag has fifteen horizontal red and white stripes, as well as fifteen white stars in the blue field. The two additional stars and stripes, approved by the Flag Act of 1794 represent Vermont and Kentucky’s entrance into the Union in 1791 and 1792 respectively.  The stars are arranged in vertical rows, with five horizontal rows of stars, offset, each containing three stars. At the time, the practice of adding stripes (in addition to stars) with the induction of a new state had not yet been discontinued.
This Star-Spangled Banner Flag (or the Great Garrison Flag) was the garrison flag that flew over Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor during the Battle of Baltimore in the War of 1812.  Seeing the flag during the battle inspired Francis Scott Key to write the poem “Defence of Fort McHenry” later becoming “The Star Spangled Banner,” which is the National Anthem of the United States.
As the story goes...
On September 3, 1814, following the Burning of Washington and the Raid on Alexandria, Francis Scott Key and John Stuart Skinner set sail from Baltimore aboard the ship HMS Minden, flying a flag of truce on a mission approved by President James Madison. Their objective was to secure the exchange of prisoners, one of whom was Dr. William Beanes, the elderly and popular town physician of Upper Marlboro and a friend of Key's who had been captured in his home. Beanes was accused of aiding the arrest of British soldiers. Key and Skinner boarded the British flagship HMS Tonnant on September 7 and spoke with Major General Robert Ross and Vice Admiral Alexander Cochrane over dinner while the two officers discussed war plans. At first, Ross and Cochrane refused to release Beanes, but relented after Key and Skinner showed them letters written by wounded British prisoners praising Beanes and other Americans for their kind treatment. 
Because Key and Skinner had heard details of the plans for the attack on Baltimore, they were held captive until after the battle, first aboard HMS Surprise and later back on HMS Minden. After the bombardment, certain British gunboats attempted to slip past the fort and effect a landing in a cove to the west of it, but they were turned away by fire from nearby Fort Covington, the city's last line of defense.
During the rainy night of September 13, 1812, Key had witnessed the bombardment and observed that the fort's smaller "storm flag" continued to fly, but once the shell and Congreve rocket[4] barrage had stopped, he would not know how the battle had turned out until dawn. On the morning of September 14, the storm flag had been lowered and the larger flag had been raised.
During the bombardment, HMS Erebus provided the "rockets' red glare". HMS Meteor provided at least some of the "bombs bursting in air".
The 15-star, 15-stripe "Star Spangled Banner Flag" which inspired the poem.
Key was inspired by the American victory and the sight of the large American flag flying triumphantly above the fort.  
The flag later came to be known as the Star Spangled Banner Flag and is today on display in the National Museum of American History, a treasure of the Smithsonian Institution. It was restored in 1914 by Amelia Fowler, and again in 1998 as part of an ongoing conservation program.
Great, great American history that so few of us have been taught. 


I am not sure where to place the Bennington flag, for though it was thought to be from the Revolutionary War, history is showing that it could very well be a 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
That being said, here is another story behind it - - -
The Bennington flag is a version of the American flag associated with the American Revolutionary War battle of Bennington. Like many Revolution era flags, the Bennington features 13 stars and 13 stripes, symbolic of the 13 American colonies that were in a state of rebellion against Great Britain. The Bennington version is easily identified by a large '76' in the left corner recalling the year 1776, when the Declaration of Independence was signed.
Another distinctive feature of the Bennington flag is the arrangement of the 13 stripes, with white being outermost (rather than red being outermost as in the current flag). Also, its stars have seven points each (instead of the current five) and the blue canton is wider (higher) than on other flags, spanning nine instead of seven of the thirteen stripes.
The Bennington flag is a popular version of the American flag, and many historic flag dealers carry it. The large '76' makes it easily identifiable as banner evoking the Spirit of ’76 nostalgia.


1818:

Realizing that the addition of a new star and new stripe for each new State was impractical, Congress passed the Flag Act of 1818 which returned the flag design to 13 stripes and specified having the number of stars match the number of states. It also provided that subsequent changes in the number of stars be made on July 4 – Independence Day. This rule stands to this day, as does the basic lay out of the flag.


1837:
Here is the 26 star flag from 1837 when my home state of Michigan was welcomed into the Union. In just over 40 years the original 13 colonies doubled to 26.

1859: 33 Stars

1861: Entering the Civil War...

From this point, there are the additions to the stars as more states are added.
Other than that, the changes are not too far off from what we have today.
(Please note that I did not include the Confederate flags. The reason for this is that I wanted to stick strictly with the United States, and since during 1861 to 1865 the southern states formed their own country and flew their own flags, I felt it didn't fit with this particular.idea)

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
And, finally...
Here is the front of my not-so-old house with the bunting I bought close to ten years ago and the Betsy Ross & Gadsden flags my kids bought me for Father's Day this year. The spinning wheel and flint-lock musket? Just to add aesthetics, I suppose.

As a final comment: why no modern American flag on my home?
One reason is that the one I had for years had become tattered and torn, which is disrespectful to fly.
The other reason is that I am a historian of American history, and by flying the flags of the early days of our Nation I can not only show our country's past, but I can give passersby a little lesson of a very important time in history as well and (hopefully) get them to think and maybe even do a little research themselves.
I do plan to finally get a new one...this summer!

















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7 comments:

Kat said...

Bravo!

Virginia said...

I always enjoy your posts but did want to point out that there is no credible evidence that Betsy Ross made the first flag. In fact, that claim was not made until almost 100 years after the revolution and was made by her grandson. It could be true but cannot be documented by any independent means other than family lore.

Historical Ken said...

Thank you everyone.
Virginia, you are correct, though Betsy Ross' daughter also made statements that her mother indeed did make the flag.
I suppose we'll never know for certain, but I did make sure to make the point that you have stated at the end of the Betsy Ross section: "Though there is no archival evidence to prove this story true, there is also nothing to prove it is not. Like so much in history, we sometimes must see and note the observations from those who were there and make our own judgement. I tend to believe this story."

Historical Ken said...

As always, Virginia and Kat and everyone else, I love hearing from you!
Thank you!!

Historical Ken said...

This from a Facebook comments:
"It always amazes me how many people don't know that 1.) The Cowpens was one of the most pivotal battles in the Revolution and 2.) the flag depicted in the painting "The Spirit of '76" is the Cowpens flag. The Southern Campaign is pretty much ignored even though it is where the Revolution was eventually won."

Clyde said...

where can i purchase the flags that you showed? I am looking for appeal to heaven just like the way you have it & do not trend on me flag like is at your house. very hard to find good flags of quality

Historical Ken said...

Gadsden and Culpepper:
http://www.gadsdenandculpeper.com/noname1.html?cmp=googleadwords