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New England flags (U.S.)

Historical

Last modified: 2015-01-09 by rick wyatt
Keywords: united states | new england | pine tree | st. george |
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New England flags

In 1636 a famous sermon was preached in Salem, Massachusetts by Roger Williams (who was later banished and became the founder of Rhode Island) which stated the cross was a symbol of popery and was therefore the symbol of the antichrist. The Governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, John Endicott, fearful for his soul, subsequently ordered the cross removed from the flags used in Massachusetts. He was stopped, however, by the Great and General Court (the local legislature) who examined the circumstances of the incident and decided Endicott had "exceeded the limits of his calling" and stripped him of office and forbade him from holding any public office for one full year. Thereupon the Court stated the standard bearers of the colony could adopt any flag they should choose and, without exception, they removed the cross from their flags, leaving the de facto Massachusetts flag red with a white canton. There are a number of references to this flag over the next 50 years.

[Massachusetts flag of 1636] image by Dave Martucci, 27 April 1998

In 1686, Lt. Graydon painted a picture of the New England Flag in his manuscript, now in the British Museum. It shows a white flag with a red cross and a green tree.

[Lt Graydon's flag of 1686] image by Dave Martucci, 27 April 1998

It has been assumed this is the jack version of the flag because other contemporary sources show a red flag with a white canton bearing the red cross and green tree.

[New England flag ] image by Dave Martucci, 27 April 1998

A similar flag with a blue field is shown in a French source of the period but is described as "The Red Flag of New England" a mistake that is still repeated to this day.

After the St. Andrews Cross was added to the St. George's Cross to make the Union Flag, New England Flags sometimes showed the British Red Ensign with the tree in the first quarter.

[New England flag ] image by Dave Martucci, 27 April 1998

After 19 April 1775 and the beginning of the Revolutionary War, the cross seemed pointless to the more radical colonists and was dropped.

[New England flag ] image by Dave Martucci, 27 April 1998

This is the flag pictured in Trumbell's painting "The Battle of Bunker Hill" and it is documented in numerous contemporary sources. The Massachusetts Navy adopted the jack form of this flag with a motto "Appeal To Heaven" as their ensign in December 1775. It was changed in 1971 when the motto was dropped.
Dave Martucci, 27 April 1998


[Bunker Hill Flag] image by Randy Young, 11 September 2004

The New England flag or the Flag of Bunker Hill appears in "Flags to Color from the American Revolution" on page 3. Similar versions are also listed as New England colonial flags, the only difference being the design of the tree.

"Colors: Red field, green tree in a white canton."

"Trumball's painting of Bunker Hill shows this flag. Another version with the cross of St. George and a blue field, shown for many years in flag books, was the result of poor research by nineteenth century historians."

Randy Young, 11 September 2004


The 8 August online edition of the Riverhead, New York, News-Review has a very interesting story on the discovery of what is possibly a 17th century New England Pine Tree Flag. See www.timesreview.com/nr08-08-02/stories/news5.htm

The article quotes Whitney Smith-
"There are still a lot of questions, but it's clearly a very old flag and not a forgery,' said Whitney Smith, former Boston University professor, consultant to the Smithsonian Museum, and currently director of the Flag Research Center in Winchester, Mass. 'The design is suggestive of the military of the New England period ... In terms of the exact date, that's hard to say without independent research, but it is a very early, possibly the earliest, locally made flag from British North America. It's a very important flag; ones this old are rare."

It should be interesting to see what further testing reveals.
Ned Smith, 15 August 2002

There is another article in today's online edition of Newsday, which has photos of the canton and the "5 Regt." inscription. The flag is 31 by 33 inches. The canton is a St. George's Cross with a green pine tree in its upper hoist quarter. From the small bit of the field visible in the photos it seems to now be a light brown color, but I'm guessing it was probably originally red.
Ned Smith, 16 August 2002


The New England flag, used in colonial times [and noted at Logan Airport, Boston], was a red ensign with the Cross of St. George in the canton.

Another variation of the red version had a pine tree in one of the corners of the canton. Yet another variation, arising from the sentiment that the use of a cross was improper, only had a tree in the canton, without any cross at all. This cross-less version was, for obvious reasons, opposed by the crown authorities, and provoked some serious conflict for a while.
Perry Dane, 27 October 1995

To this I can add reference to World Book Encyclopedia, Volume 7, Flag, pp 209, 210 (article by W.Smith):

On page 210 there is image of 1. with caption: New England flags. [...] A flag representing New England flew from 1686 to 1707. It was the first regional American flag.

On page 209 there is a white flag with a pine tree and motto above "An Appeal to Heaven", The caption says: "Navy flags. American ships in New England waters flew a liberty tree flag in 1775. Latter that year, the Continental Navy began using a striped flag [13 stripes starting with white] with a rattlesnake design and the words "Don't tread upon me"
Željko Heimer, 7 February 1996


At one point the New England states were joined administratively for about three years as the Dominion of New England, which I think is unrelated to the later concept of Dominions such as Canada. This was long before the American War for Independence.

Apparently the Dominion of New England did not have a flag. Quoting from Whitney Smith's Flag Book of the United States [smi75a] referring to military flags in the colonies:

In 1661 St. George's cross was established as a background pattern for the infantry ensign. There is evidence that a flag of this type, the first captain's color of the King's Guards, was carried by troops in this country during the administration of Governor Sir Edmund Andros (1686-1689) in the Dominion of New England*. This was a square banner with a purple St. George's Cross bearing [King] James's royal cipher in gold. It had been mistakenly identified in some books as a flag for New England or for Andros himself.
(*) The Dominion, established by King James II, combined the colonies of Connecticut, Massachusetts Bay, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Plymouth, and Rhode Island. It was dissolved before it could effectively begin to operate.
I have seen references where this flag is indeed (mis-) identified as the flag of New England. There were, however, other flags that served to identify the "New England" colonies. The Escutcheoned Jack (the Union Flag with a blank white shield in the center) was established to identify colonial ships.
Nick Artimovich, 27 March 1996


New England Ensign 1775

[New England Flag of 1775] image by Rick Wyatt, 18 July 2001

New England Flag (1775). As depicted in the postage stamp, it consists of 13 red, white and blue stripes with a white canton bearing a green pine tree.
Dave Martucci, 17 February 1998

From the stamp:
George Washington's military secretary, Col. Joseph Reed, proposed that all American ships fly the Massachusetts Navy flag. This "Americanized" version of the flag links a regional symbol, a New England pine, with the now familiar national colors.
Rick Wyatt, 18 July 2001


A commercial flag of New England

Note: There is a flag being touted as "THE Flag of New England" that is blue with the cross and tree in the canton and six stars in a circle in the fly. This flag has no basis in good history or good vexillology. It was invented by a Flag Company in Ipswich, Massachusetts strictly for commercial purposes and they have sold many to unsuspecting customers. For more info, click here .