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United Kingdom: Striped ensigns after 1630

Last modified: 2013-05-07 by rob raeside
Keywords: striped ensign | louisbourg | philadelphia | boston |
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Prior to c1625 English Royal Naval Ensigns were striped in various colours (green and white, red, white and blue, gold, white, and blue etc.,) with a white canton and red Cross of St George (or occasionally with a Cross of St George overall). Merchant ensigns were either striped with a St George canton (that of the Honourable East India Company is a survival from that age) or a simple cross of St George on a white field - if, that is, a stern ensign was carried at all, since a masthead flag of St George was the older form of recognition. The exact date of introduction of the red ensign is slightly uncertain, however, it is known that the recommendation was made in 1625 and that the striped ensigns had become obsolete by 1630 (for warships). The white and blue ensigns were introduced for all naval ships by an Order of the Navy Commissioners in 1653.
Christopher Southworth, 24 February 2003

Some reports of striped ensigns have been made for dates after 1630 - here we have compiled what we know of them.

Louisbourg, Canada, 1745

A painting at the Canadian Military History Gateway shows detail of a striped ensign in battle.
Marc Pasquin, 22 September 2004

     The use of striped ensigns by the Royal Navy had ceased more than one hundred years before this date, and to the best of my knowledge the only merchant ships still carrying such a thing (and that illegally) were those of the Honourable East India Company? It is of course possible that an East Indiaman had been chartered as a troopship for the expedition, but it hardly seems likely?
     Still if the artist was painting accurately, and the details of the ship certainly seem to indicate that he was, then my "hardly seems likely" has suddenly become an 'evident possibility'...
Christopher Southworth, 22 September 2004

Philadelphia, 1754

A 1754 engraving of the city of Philadelphia, published in London after a drawing by the American surveyor George Heap. There's a detail of this engraving in Richardson's "Standards and Colors of the American Revolution," showing a striped ensign flying on a ship's ensign staff. For what it's worth, a "corrected" version of this engraving was published in 1756; it did not include the ship with the striped ensign.
Peter Ansoff, 23 September 2004

Boston Trade Card, 1765

A 1765 "trade card" for Boston merchant Joseph Webb, engraved by Paul Revere. It shows, across the top, a British Union flag, a swallowtailed narrow pennant, and a British Ensign with stripes in the field (the pennant has a union and also appears to be striped). There's a picture of this card in "Paul Revere's Engravings" by Clarence Bingham.
Peter Ansoff, 23 September 2004

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