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Colonial and Revolutionary War Flags (U.S.)

Historical

Last modified: 2013-07-06 by rick wyatt
Keywords: united states | colonial | revolutionary war |
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Colors and Stripes Used

Mastai, The Stars and the Stripes[m2o73] mentions the stripes of the American flag in the revolutionary period, and how various liberties were taken with them.

"It would be a mistake to think that the 'American stripes' were limited to the three colors red, white, and blue. In the early years of the Republic, the symbolism of the stripes proper, rather than their color, mattered most. ... Nor was the 'color of hope' left out, as records exist of various green-striped American flags. The charge book of a Philadelphia ship's chandler lists, for December 20, 1775, 'a Union Flagg, Green and Red, 13 stripes,' while a bill found among the papers of the Governor of Delaware for 1783 includes 'a pieces of Green silk... for a Continental Flag' - this no less than six years after the red and white stripes had been officially established by the Flag Resolution of June 14, 1777. As late as July 4, 1807, in fact, the Volunteer Company of Ranges in Augusta, Georgia, was presented with a flag that bore 'the accustomed device' but had 'the stripes formed of alternate green and white.'

"Similar license would be taken in regard to the number of stripes. Nine, as well as thirteen, continued in symbolic use simultaneously with a number corresponding to the current number of states in the Union. Indeed, officially this role of the stripes in indicating the total states prevailed from early republican days. It is illustrated by an anecdote of the War of Independence reported in the London gazettes. An American privateer captured by the Royal Navy had been flying an ensign of only twelve stripes; the captain was asked the reason for the unusual number, and his interrogator quoted his reply, that, 'since we [the British] had taken New York, the Congress had a province the less; and that whenever they lost any of their provinces, it was their orders to cut away one of the stripes from their colors so that there should be no more stripes than provinces."

The book also mentions that the flag of the Sons of Liberty prior to the American Revolution consisted of 9 vertical red and white stripes. "The four white and five red stripes were symbolic of '45,' the number of the pamphlet published in 1763 by the English civil-rights activist John Wilkes, whose influence on the American revolutionary movement was second only to Tom Paine's 'Common Sense.' ... Later, the symbolism of '9' came to apply to the nine states represented at the adoption of the Constitution on September 17, 1787 - and also the nine states which ratified it into existence."

One of the examples given in the book of an American revolutionary flag with stripes other than red and white is that of an unidentified American privateer, which "sported a black and yellow striped ensign. While at Martinique in 1776 the brig Reprisal flew a similar flag of yellow and white."

Randy Young, 2 August 2001