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Boston, Massachusetts (U.S.)

Plymouth County

Last modified: 2018-07-24 by rick wyatt
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[Flag of Boston] image by Dave Martucci, 1 November 2015

See also:

Boston City Flag and Municipal Standard

The Columbus Day Committee proposed the City Flag in 1913. It was introduced into the City Council 16 January 1914 but was not adopted until 30 January 1917.

The design is the City Seal in dark blue on white and buff centered on a dark blue field. The proportions are 7:10.

The City Seal was designed in 1823 and slightly modified in 1827. Designed by John R. Penniman (New England's most famous flag painter of the 'golden era'), it consists of a view of the City, including the Massachusetts State House, and ships in the harbor in the foreground depicted in dark blue on white. Below is the legend 'Bostonia Condita A.D. 1630' in dark blue and encircling the seal at the top is the motto 'Sicut Patribus Sit Deus Nobis', which means 'God be with us as He was with our fathers', and 'Civitatis Regimine Donata A.D. 1822' around the bottom. These last two inscriptions appear in dark blue on a buff circle, fimbriated white. This version of the seal on the flag is slightly different than the official emblem.

The ordinance specifies the flag is to be used on City Hall and on the Boston Common and that it is to be made of bunting with the seal showing through to the back side. The ordinance also specifies a 'Municipal Standard' to be made of silk for use in parades and other occasions when the mayor is present. The City Seal appears on the obverse and a depiction of the Trimountain is supposed to appear on the reverse. No illustration of this distinctive reverse is known to exist. The Standard is supposed to be fringed in buff.

The colors of the flag and standard, 'Continental blue' and buff are the colors of the Revolutionary War uniforms of Boston Soldiers. In practice, the City Flag is used exclusively and is often fringed.
Dave Martucci, 9 March 1998

"Civitatis regimine donata A.D. 1822" at the bottom means that Boston was chartered as a city in 1822.
Phil Cleary, 1 November 2015


The shade of blue is "Continental" blue (as in the Continental Army of 1776), but every representation I have ever seen here in town is a light blue. I don't think it has to do with fading in the weather. Either the manufacturer doesn't know the official specifications, or someone changed them.

The "yellow" is supposed to be "buff" (again, a 1776 uniform color) but I have never paid close enough attention to the actual flag specimens to notice that. There's not much of it on the flag in any event.
Al Kirsch, 14 November 2000

Most of the flags I've seen in my 50+ years here actually have a lighter shade of blue, what I would describe as "sky blue." But I have seen the occasional flag with the shade shown in the image. I suppose that the flag flown at City Hall would be as official as one could get. But the last time I was there, the flag on one side of the building was sky blue; the one on the other side was the somewhat darker shade, more like the one on the image above. I have no idea what the official shade is.
Phil Cleary, 18 September 2002

"Continental" blue is a reference to the military uniforms worn by the Continental Army during our Revolutionary War (1775-1781). By all definitions it is a rather dark blue color and certainly not celestial or sky blue. It is somewhere between what is termed royal blue and navy blue as far as I can determine from original existing material. Here is a scan of the original 1918 illustration of the Boston City Flag and, as you can see, the printing technology of 1918 was not that great so the color is not uniform throughout the image but I think it conveys the true intent for the color. I did the best I could to match that to the 16 color palette.
Dave Martucci, 3 November 2015

History of the Flag

I have studied Boston's flag history for decades. Most of the images that exist are technically wrong as are most of the flags that exist. Here is a synopsis of my research to date.

1907 Flags

[Flag of Boston 1907] image by António Martins-Tuválkin, 22 December 2017

The earliest flag to represent the City of Boston that I can find in documents was adopted in 1907 for Boston's Old Home Week, 28 July to 3 August of that year. There were several variants and two basic forms used, a flag and a "bannerette". The design was the same in all of the versions except for the field color. On the flags the emblem is shield-shaped with dark blue at the top and bottom and a stylized three-hills emblem also in dark blue in the center. The same emblem appears in the upper portion of a long narrow swallow-tailed banner but the upper and lower blue areas are rendered as stripes, no shield shape. The background of the shield and the center of the emblem on the "bannerette" is white. The field color for general purposes is white. The flag's standard size is 4' x 6' while the "bannerette" is 9.5' x 2'. Residences and businesses were encouraged to fly this emblem during the week.
Dave Martucci, 1 November 2015

Fire and Police Departments
Sanitation & Health and Parks & Water Departments

[Flag of Boston 1907]  [Flag of Boston 1907]

[Flag of Boston 1907]  [Flag of Boston 1907]

Special designs were also implemented for Boston's municipal departments. The flag and "bannerette" were the same design with different field colors; red for the Fire Dept.; blue for the Police Dept. (presumably a light shade, although the materials are silent on that point); yellow for Sanitation and Health Depts.; and green for the Park and Water Depts.

The three hills of course represent the original reference for Boston, the Trimount or Trimountain. The upper and lower blue areas represent the "ocean and rivers".

Reference: Boston Globe, "Emblematic of the three hills", 23 June 1907 p. 16.
Dave Martucci, 1 November 2015

1917 Flag

[Flag of Boston] image by Dave Martucci, 1 November 2015

In 1911 there was talk in the papers about Mayor John "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald (AKA "The Singing Mayor") looking for City Flag ideas. Reference: Boston Globe, 3 February 1911 p. 10.

In 1913, the Boston Columbus Day Committee called for designs for a Boston City Flag on 31 August 1913, to be featured in the annual parade held 12 October of that year. The competition closed on 12 September and 11 designs were chosen as finalists. Eight of them were illustrated in the Boston Globe ("Boston Flag Designs to be Shown", 16 September 1913 p.4). From these, two different designs were combined to become the final design, which was blue with the city seal in "blue and buff" on one side and the Trimountain on the other side.

On 16 January 1914, Mayor Fitzgerald transmitted a proposed ordinance and "3 cuts" illustrating the "proposed municipal standard" to the City Council for adoption of a City Flag and Municipal Standard. The ordinance languished for several years and it was finally adopted 30 January 1917 by the City Council. Reference: Boston City Council Reports of Proceedings 1914, pp. 378-379.

I am still searching for the "3 cuts" the Singing Mayor sent to the Council.

Chapter 8 of the Revised 1914 Ordinances of the City of Boston that was printed c. 1918 shows a color illustration of the obverse of the City Flag. This does not seem to be included in today's ordinances.

The Ordinance established two flags. The City Flag which is made of bunting and is Continental Blue with the City Seal in Blue and Buff (and white) in the center, the reverse of which is the same image reversed (it's important to note the ordinance clearly says the "seal showing through the bunting" is the reverse side image).

The ordinance also created a silk Municipal Standard (see below).
Dave Martucci, 1 November 2015

Reverse of flag

[Flag of Boston] image by Dave Martucci, 1 November 2015

Detail of seal

[Flag of Boston] image by Dave Martucci, 1 November 2015

Of interest is the requirement in the ordinance that the Standard and the city's flags are to be in the custody of the City Messenger. Inquiries to the present City Messenger have so far gone unanswered. Edward Leary who was City Messenger from 1896 to 1943 is credited by the Boston Globe with the design of the flag ("Edward J. Leary, City Messenger, Retires Today", 31 May 1943, p. 12).

The full text of the 1917 ordinance:

Revised Ordinances 1914.
Establishing the Municipal Standard and City Flag.

SECTION 1. The municipal standard of the City of Boston, which is hereby established, shall be made of silk of the colors designated, namely: Continental blue and buff, and shall be five feet in length and three and one half feet in width, or in proportion thereto. Provided, that a city flag of like design and colors may be made of bunting for outdoor display, the size of such bunting flag to depend upon the place of display. The body of the Standard shall be blue, as specified, with the official city seal embroidered in the center; and two rings of white shall encircle the seal. The reverse of the municipal standard shall bear a representation of the Trimountain. The city flag shall have no reverse except the seal showing through the bunting, the seal to be painted on or woven in the fabric. The municipal standard shall have a fringe of Continental buff; the city flag to be without fringe.

Sect. 2. The color herein specified shall be the official colors for the city of Boston, namely: Continental blue and Continental buff.

Sect. 3. The city flag shall be displayed on City Hall and may be displayed on Boston Common on occasions when the national flag is ordered displayed.

Sect. 4. The municipal standard of silk may be carried or displayed in parade, at reviews, and on other official occasions when the mayor is present and when directed by him. Boston organizations may have copies of the municipal standard on approval by the mayor.

Sect. 5. Neither the municipal standard nor the city flag nor any reproduction shall be used for any commercial purpose, and no advertising device shall be placed upon it or used in connection with it; and the municipal flag or standard shall not be used for any purpose not authorized by this ordinance, except with the permission of the mayor.

Sect. 6. Any person violating any provision of section five of this ordinance shall be punished by a fine not exceeding twenty dollars for each offence, and not only the person actually doing the prohibited thing, but also his employer and every other person concerned in so doing shall be punished by such fine.

Sect. 7. The city messenger shall be custodian of the municipal standard and of the city flags that are the property of the city.

Sect. 8. This ordinance shall take effect upon its passage.

Approved January 30, 1917.

Dave Martucci, 1 November 2015

Municipal Standard

[Standard of Boston]  image by Dave Martucci, 1 November 2015

[Standard of Boston]  image by Dave Martucci, 1 November 2015

The ordinance also created a silk Municipal Standard whose obverse is the same as the City Flag's obverse, except for the addition of buff-colored fringe on three sides. The reverse of the Standard, however, is an image of the Trimountain. To date I have not been able to find an exact image of that side of the Standard. I have, however, located several contemporary images of the Trimountain and have created an image based on those and my speculation as to how the image may have appeared on that flag. Some critics of the image have stated that it was displayed in conjunction with the word "TRIMOUNTAIN" so that is how I show it. Please note the image of the reverse of the Municipal Standard of Boston attached herewith is my interpretation and may not be an accurate image of the original flag.
Dave Martucci, 1 November 2015