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15 Star Flag - (1795-1818) (U.S.)

Last modified: 2014-08-02 by rick wyatt
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[U.S. 15 star flag 1795] image by Mark Sensen, 4 December 1997



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Description of the flag

In 1795, two stars were added, representing Kentucky and Vermont, bringing the total number of stars to 15. Two stripes were added to make a total of 15 stripes. This was the only U.S. flag to have fifteen stripes. In 1818, Congress proclaimed that one star for each new state would be added on the 4th of July following the state's admission to the union and there would be thirteen stripes representing the thirteen original colonies. The 15 star flag flew over Fort McHenry during the War of 1812 and inspired the writing of the National Anthem, The Star Spangled Banner.
Rick Wyatt, 5 April 1998


Fort McHenry flag

[U.S. 13 star Fort McHenry flag 1777 ] by Dave Martucci, 6 December 1997
Fort McHenry Flag

This is a drawing of what the original Star Spangled Banner looked like. You should note that, like the 13 star flag, this flag existed in many different variations. Anyway, this is the most famous 15 star-15 stripe U.S. Flag and the one our National Anthem was written about. It was flying over Fort McHenry in 1814 in the early morning after a major bombardment, signaling the Fort still held out. The original is in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC and is huge (30' x 42').
Dave Martucci, 6 December 1997


In "The Reading Eagle", Charles J. Adams III gives more details on the history of the flag:
"[...]
Another [referring to Betsy Ross' story] legendary banner was the star-spangled one that flew over Baltimore's Fort McHenry during the War of 1812. Its creation is rooted not in legend, but in fact. And, its creator was also a Pennsylvania woman a native Pennsylvanian, at least. She was Mary Young, who was born in Philadelphia in 1776. She married John Pickersgill in 1795 and moved with him to Baltimore where she took up what had been her mother's trade. After her husband's untimely death in 1805, Mary set up shop as a signal flag and banner maker for the busy maritime shipping trade in Baltimore harbor. With a respected reputation for her work, Mary Young Pickersgill drew the attention of George Armistead, commander of Fort McHenry. With the threat of attack imminent in the summer of 1813, Armistead ordered a flag “so large that the British will have no trouble seeing it from a distance.”

The flag, and the job, was immense. Mary needed the assistance of several family members and hired hands to complete the 30-by-42-foot banner and a smaller garrison flag. The job was completed in six weeks. That attack didn't happen until the summer of 1814, when a young lawyer detained on a British ship watched the siege of Fort McHenry and marveled at the flag's endurance during the Battle of Baltimore. He was, of course, Francis Scott Key, and the rest is history. And, that history comes alive at the Flag House in Baltimore. It is the former residence and shop of Mary Pickersgill, and it is where she died in 1857. The original Star-Spangled Banner isn't there it's a few miles down I-95 in the Smithsonian Institution. But, the splendid see-through "Great Flag Window" at the Flag House is a full-scale exact representation. It is also the facade of the Star-Spangled Banner Museum that adjoins the Flag House. The circa 1793, National Historic Landmark house is furnished with 18th- and early-19th-century items including several from the Pickersgill family inventory. Opened for guided tours since 1927, it is one of the oldest museums in museum-rich Baltimore.
[...]"

source: www.readingeagle.com/re/adams_weekend/1616466.asp
Ivan Sache, 19 January 2007


If you take the tour of Ft. McHenry, then you will learn the story of the Star Spangled Banner on the night of the British bombardment.

It was raining and the garrison flag that Mary Pickersgill had made, already taking a reinforced flag pole as it was, starting absorbing lots of rain water thus increasing its weight. The flag pole began to bend over. So the troops of the fort pulled down the larger flag, then hoisted the smaller storm flag. The large flag was taken into one of the barracks and fires were built under it to help dry the flag.

In the morning, before the sun had come up, the rain stopped and the larger flag, now dry, was hoisted back upon the fort's flag pole. Thus when Francis Scott Key say it flying that morning after the night's bombardment, he never knew that it had actually been taken down and a smaller flag hoisted in its place.

Greg Biggs, 19 January 2007


For the benefit those of us dwelling in another parish, I add that this was on Sept. 13th, 1812, during a war between the U.S.A. and Britain. More info at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_of_1812 and en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ft._McHenry.
António Martins-Tuválkin, 21 January 2007


Fort Niagara flag

An actual garrison flag from Fort Niagara on Lake Ontario north of Niagara Falls (1813, possibly dating from 1809) has the star pattern in five staggered (or offset) horizontal rows of three stars each.

I checked a book entitled Picture History of the U.S. Navy by Theodore Roscoe and Fred Freeman published by Charles Scribner's Sons, New York and London 1956. In it are several paintings and one photograph that give opposing views. Remember that at this time there was no official arrangements of stars. A very pertinent, very clear painting of the Battle of Lake Erie (September 10,1813) [also known as the Battle of Put-in-Bay] shows Commodore Perry leaving the USS Lawrence for the USS Niagara in a small boat flying a 15 stripe flag with three horizontal non-staggered rows of five stars. Other paintings of this battle have the flags less clear. In a painting of the H.M.S. Shannon and USS Chesapeake entering Halifax, Nova Scotia, (June 1813) the Chesapeake clearly wears a U.S. flag with three non-staggered horizontal rows of five stars under the British White ensign. Just to confuse things, a photograph of the actual 1814 Stonington, Connecticut, battle flag shows a 15 stripe flag with 16 stars arranged in a rectangular field of 4 non-staggered rows of 4 stars. Of course, artistic license exists in paintings, as the Constitution vs. the Guerriere has the flag depicted two different ways in two paintings of the same event! (5 rows staggered vs. 5 rows non-staggered)

I would conclude that the 15 star flag with 5 staggered rows of 3 stars each was definitely in use on the Great Lakes, and the arrangement of 3 non-staggered rows of 5 stars was likely in use as well.

More on the Fort Niagara flag www.oldfortniagara.org/flag.htm
Kevin McNamara, 18 February 1999


Greasing Flagpoles

When British troops withdrew from Boston during the revolution, and after returning Fort Niagara to U.S. control after the War of 1812, they were supposed to have greased the flagpoles and cut the halyards to make it difficult for the American troops to raise their flag!
Kevin McNamara, 18 February 1999