To understand the muddle over our flag at our nation’s founding, it is important remember that in 1776, the allegiance and attachment of most people was to their own locale, not to the yet to be created United States of America. Our Revolution was fought in numerous locations, by distinct groups, but all wanting the same thing, a free country. All thirteen states had been created individually, one at a time, not as a cohesive unit. Consequently, each state created its own laws and identity, and symbols of their identity such as flags were no different.
For instance, in New Hampshire, Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys fought under a flag called, not surprisingly, the Green Mountain Boys flag. It was a solid dark green banner with a blue field holding thirteen stars in the upper left-hand corner. These courageous men fought under this flag at Ticonderoga, Crown Point, and Bennington.
We even used flags that looked like those used by our adversary, England.
In fact, early in 1776, General Washington flew a flag near his headquarters during the siege of Boston called the Grand Union Flag. Also called the Continental Colors, this flag included Britain’s Union Jack in the upper left corner. Odd as that seems, it is understandable when you consider that in January 1776, the colonists were still British citizens, and many wanted a reconciliation with the mother country.
The Sons of Liberty Flag was the flag of the Sons of Liberty, a group of colonists who resisted encroachments on our liberties by the English.
These men formed their association soon after the Stamp Act in 1765, but their most famous escapade was the Boston Tea Party in 1773. The flag they flew originally had nine red and white stripes and was later changed to thirteen. It became known as the “Rebellious Stripes” and was outlawed by England.
One of the earliest of our flags was the Taunton Flag, first flown on the town square in Taunton, Massachusetts on October 19, 1774. It was a red flag based on the traditional British Red Ensign Flag but included the phrase “Liberty and Union” in white letters boldly displayed across the flag.
Once again, because we were still English citizens, this early standard was drawn from an English flag.
The first United States flag flown in the south was the Fort Moultrie Flag, created by Colonel William Moultrie in 1775 when he was ordered to take over Fort Johnson in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina. This flag is dark blue with the word “Liberty” on a white crescent moon in the upper left corner.
The Gadsden Flag was created by South Carolinian Christopher Gadsden.
It is a yellow flag with a rattlesnake poised to strike and the bold words “Don’t Tread on Me” printed beneath the snake. The Gadsden Flag was created for Esek Hopkins, the first Commander of the United States Navy and was flown from his flagship, the USS Alfred. It was also the first flag of the United States Marines.
In Virginia, the Culpeper Minutemen from Culpeper County fighting with Colonel Patrick Henry in the 1st Virginia Regiment fought under the Culpeper Flag. It was a white flag again with a rattlesnake and the words “Don’t Tread on Me” scrolled across the bottom. This flag also added Colonel Henry’s famous phrase “Liberty or Death” written across the middle of the flag.
WHY IT MATTERS So why does knowing that our forefather’s in the American Revolution fought under many flag’s matter to us today?
The great variety of flags reminds us that the American Revolution was fought, at least initially, by thirteen different sets of Patriots, not one large group. These brave men from diverse sections of the country all fought to achieve the same goal, a free country where the natural rights of man prevailed.
The fact they were able to overcome their differences and unite in a common cause is remarkable.
Today’s Americans should always be appreciative of the work they did to give us the great country in which we live.
SUGGESTED READING “Flag; An American Biography” by Marc Leepson is a book that details the history of our national flag from its uncertain beginning to the beautiful flag we know today.
Written in 2007, it is a very interesting and readable book.
PLACES TO VISIT Fort Moultrie in Charleston, SC where the Fort Moultrie Flag was flown in 1776 is a great place to visit. Located near its more famous brother, Fort Sumter of Civil War fame, it is the only area in the National park System where the entire history of America’s seacoast defensive system can be found.
Until next time, may your motto be “Ducit Amor Patriae”, Love of country leads me.
Tom Hand is a West Point alumnus and a Ford Plantation resident. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And, read his blog at americanacorner.com.