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Posted on 11th Mar 2015 @ 7:41 PM



The history of the American Revolution is rich with information of the use of flags.  For a dozen years after the French and Indian War the British and the Colonies argued the relationship of the Colonies to the British Government.  The Colonists protested laws and taxations imposed upon them by England using various symbols to represent their protests.  One of those symbols were various flag designs.  The flags had slogans on them that expressed their stand.

The Sons of Liberty was a designation adopted by many colonists who objected to the legislation imposed on them by Parliament.  The name was first referred to by Colonel Isaac Barre who had participated in the taking of Quebec in the French and Indian War.  He was very vocal expressing the opinion that the British were overstepping their authority.  His words did not prevent the Stamp Act but did win him many friends and supporters in the Colonies.  In 1765 the Sons of Liberty became very involved in actively demonstrating against the Stamp Act and the agents who were threatened by burning in effigy, destruction of their property and physical violence to force them to design. 


The Liberty Tree was the largest of beautiful Elms in a grove in the heart of Boston.  It became the known as the Liberty Tree when in the Summer of 1765 the Sons of Liberty held their meeting standing under it.   The ground under it was named Liberty Hall.  A Red flag was flown from a pole attached to the trunk of the tree.  The pole rose far above the tree top and the flag signaled to citizens that a meeting was in progress.  Placards and banners  were also suspended from the limbs or attached to the trunk.

When Sir Francis Bernard, the governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony was ordered back to England, the people celebrated joyously by lighting bonfires, firing salutes from Hancock's wharf and raising the Union Flag above the Liberty Tree.  The Union flag which consisted of thirteen red and white stripes was popular before, during and after the American Revolution.  The Sons of Liberty flew this flag when they celebrated the anniversary of their opposition to the Stamp Act in August of 1773.

A portion of the Union flag is housed at the Boston Society where a textile expert from the Smithsonian examined the remnant in 1976.  She found no evidence that would disclaim that this piece does not date back to the period of The American Revolution.

A large flag was hoisted above the Liberty Tree in November 23, 1773.  No description of it is available; however, it  signaled the arrival of British Ships into the Boston Harbor.  The town crier summoned the people to a meeting resulting in the rejection of Tea Act and the famous Tea Party where the citizens dressed as Native Americans boarded the ships tied up at the wharf and dumped the tea overboard into the water.


                       The Union Flag




A Red flag with a British Union Jack as a canton was raised as a protest flag in Taunton, Massachusetts on October 19, 1774.  This flag with red field, the British Union Jack in the upper left corner and beneath the canton stretching the length of the field the words " LIBERTY AND UNION".  Because of its early date, it is considered by some as an early American flag. By raising the flag resembling the  British Red Ensign, many colonists believed that they were still showing loyalty to the British while they were protesting corrupt officials and unjust laws and taxation.  They believed that adding the words "Liberty and Union" they were protesting violation of their rights as British subjects.

A description of the flag was printed in the Boston Evening Post, and as was the custom, the article was reprinted in newspapers in other cities and towns.  The design was duplicated and flown as one of the first American flags since there was no official flag for the Colonies. 

The flag from Taunton is considered to be one of the oldest American Flags, if not the oldest American Flag. It was adopted by the city of Taunton as its official flag on October 19, 1974, the 200th anniversary of its raising. It should be noted, though, that no one knows exactly what the original flag looked like because the modern version was drawn from an incomplete newspaper article from the time. Today the Taunton Flag is commonly flown as a patriotic symbol of the American Revolution and can be purchased from many American flag vendors.

Read more: http://www.revolutionary-war-and-beyond.com/taunton-flag.html#ixzz3V3fufMoC


The Taunton Flag


The movement spread to the other colonies and citizens in many locations created flags of protest in the years before the American Revolution began.  Citizens in New York City in early March 1775 hoisted an English Red Ensign with the union on their Liberty Pole on the Common.  On the red field were the words "George Rex" and "Liberties of America" on one side and on the other "No Popery".  This last was in protest to The Archbishop of Canterbury's effort to install bishops of the Church of England in the colonies.  This was strongly resisted by other Protestant denominations.  

In Poughkeepsie New York on March 21, 1775, citizens raised a flag with the words "The King" on one side and "The Congress and Liberty" on the back side.  There is no record of the colors but the flag may have been the Red Ensign with white letters.  The authorities on the Common tore the flag down considering it a public nuisance. 

The Liberty flag is preserved at the Schenectady Historical Society in New York.  The flag is square measuring 45 inches on each side and made of silk or a tafeta material.  It is now showing a brownish color but a fragment taken from its staff shows a blue-green color indicating that it may have been a blue or a green field.  "Liberty" in block letters is a white silk tape sewn on with linen or coarse silk thread.  This flag is associated with the Sons of Liberty in upstate New York in 1774 and possibly later.


Source:  SO PROUDLY WE HAIL  , A History of the United States Flag; Furlong/McCandless


Flags of the 1775 - 1776 Era

The British had information that the Colonials were gathering and storing arms and munitions in Concord, Massachusetts.  General Gage sent a small force of troops to destroy any arms found.  They met a group of Colonial "Minute Men" who had gathered on the Common in Lexington.  Shots were fired, the Minute men stating they were preparing to follow the British order to disperse - the British saying that a shot was fired upon the British from the Colonial side.  There was an exchange of fire there in Lexington on the morning of April 19, 1775 resultin in eight killed and ten wounded Minute Men and one dead with two fatally wounded as British casualties.  Colonial survivors left the Green and marched along the road to Concord, the neighboring town, to warn those in Concord that the British force was on its way.

No record of a flag carried by the Minute Men in Lexington has been found to date. 


There is no record of a flag raised at the Battle of Lexington in 1776.  The diary of a British lieutenant describes the battle at the Concord Bridge and describes the taking of a hill before marching into the town of Concord.  He claims that a Liberty Pole stood on this hill with a flag flying which they cut down.  There is no description of the flag. 

 At Concord Bridge the British advance was disputed by the Minute Men of Bedford.  Bedford is a town bordering Lexington and Concord to the East.  The Bedford company was organized by the townspeople in March of 1775.  They elected their officers and chose a design for their flag. 

The Bedford flag was a Crimson square.  The design covers most of the field area with a vertical group of clouds running along the hoist. From this an arm extends grasping a sharp pointed sword.  A scroll which partly surrounds the arm is inscribed with the Latin words "Vince Aut Morire"  meaning "Conquer or Die".  This flag resembles the flag originally designed in England between 1660 and 1670 for the three county troops of the Massachusetts Militia.   





Source of the diary entry as quoted in  Captain John Manley by Isaac J. Greenwood Boston 1915 


Flag of the First Troop of the Philadelphia Light Horse 

This flag was first displayed by the troop in its movements in the city of Philadelphia sometime in September 1775.  When George Washington left Philadelphia to take command of the army , the Philadelphia Troop of Light Horse escorted him as far as New York City.  the troop also escorted Martha Washington  into Philadelphia on November 21, 1775.   

There is a legend suggesting  George Washington was inspired by this flag when the Continental Union Flag was designed.  This has never been verified but the history has noted that the Union flag was not the first use of this design.

The first flag was commissioned by Captain Markoe, one of the well-to-do citizens who made up the troop, and hired John Folwell to design it.  That first flag was a yellow silk field edged with silver fringe.  The design was painted on the silk background.  The British Union was originally painted onto the upper left corner.  The artist was instructed to paint thirteen silver stripes over the Union, representing the thirteen United Colonies, after loyalties to the British changed.


                                           Flag of the First Troop of Philadelphia Light Horse

                                                            Officers and Gentlemen of the First Troop of Philadelphia City Cavalry


Source:  So Proudly We Hail; The History of the United States Flag;  Furlong/McCandless

The Continental Union Flag

This flag is considered the first flag of the United States.  General of the Army, George Washington, had been trying to unite the various units of the Colonial Militia Men before Boston.  On January 1, 1776 he raised the Continental Union, now commonly known as the Grand Union Flag 1775, over the encampment on Prospect Hill in Somerville, Massachusetts near Washington's Headquarters in Cambridge "as a compliment to the United Colonies.  This flag has thirteen red and white stripes, signifying the unity of the Colonies, with the Union Jack, the British King's Colors, as the canton in the upper left on the hoist. 

Washington received a copy of the King's speech to Parlament on the same day he raised that flag.  The King had expressed his compassion for his American subjects.  Although Washington had hoisted the flag before he received the message, the British in Boston had interpreted the flag-raising as indicating that submission by the Colonists would follow.   Three days later Washington wrote to his secretary, Joseph Reed, in Phliladelphia.  He expressed the thought that the British must think it strange that by that time the Colonists had not made a formal surrender. 

However, the significance of this flag was not lost on one British captain of a transport in Boston Harbor.  An excerpt of a letter dated January17th was published in the Middlesex Journal and Evening Advertiser.  "I can see the Rebels' camp very plain, whose colours a little while ago were entirely red; but on receipt of the King's speech (which they burnt) they have hoisted the Union Flag, which is here supposed to intimate the union of the provinces."

The Annual Register in London also reported that the Americans "burnt the King's speech and changed their colors from a plain red ground, which they had used to a flag with thirteen stipes, as a symbol of the union and the number of the colonies".  The red flag which was reportedly seen may have been the regimental colors of the Second or the Third Connecticut Regiment.  Both Regiments carried colors with different texts which may not have been evident from a distance.  The conclusions of the British observations although mistaken have special significance.  A red flag had long been associated with defiance.  The act of protest of the men from Massachusetts was not purely an act of defiance but a reflection of the feelings of all the Colonists.








Source:  So Proudly We Hail; The History of the United States Flag

            The Flag of The United States of America   www.usflag.org