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The Pepperell Historical Commission presents the facsimile of the minutes of the Town Meeting held on 29 August 1774. The text says:
"This being a time when the civil liberty of this province are unjustly infringed upon, when the ministry of Old England have endeavored to take away our Charter rights and privileges and the people of this province very much disturbed, every one looking after English liberties as departing from North America when congresses are appointed and appointing and the struggles very high, the people of this District prepared and raised a pole by the name of Liberty Pole the height of which was one hundred feet on the common directly before the Publick Meeting House door on the 29th day of August A.D. 1774 with a flag of Blew (sic) and red cloth five yards long and four bredths wide with convenience to hoist it to the top of the pole with ease."
The Commission comments:
"Town Meeting minutes recording the open display of a new flag flown in open defiance of the British crown, a treasonous offense in those days. This flag flown in Pepperell could well be the first American flag."
More details are given by Luke Steere, "Nashoba Publishing", 19 March 2012:
"We believe this is the first colonial era flag of New England and the first flag flown without connection to the crown," Commission Member Franek Kiluk said.
[...]"We need to be cautious in making the claim -- wording is key -- but it is also important to make a strong claim and provide the research and evidence to support it," [Commission Chair Diana] Cronin said.
The aforementioned description of the flag [...] was the work of former Town Clerk and Selectmen Neomiah Hobart. Current Town Clerk Jeff Sauer worked on some of the translating. "They were ticked off, really. They use terse language which was pretty radical," Sauer said of town meeting records from the mid-1770s. Size descriptions that Hobart outlined "five yards long and four bredths wide" gave the commission an impression that the flag was large. Bredths, they say, is an old British measurement they haven't been able to find an exact amount for. Based on the description, the commission said the flag's design was most likely derived from the flag of those who incited the Tea Party, the Sons of Liberty. Known as the "loyal nine," their rebellious flag had five red and four white vertical stripes, but was connected to a political group rather than a district. The Sons were also known to meet around a liberty pole and utilize newspapers to rally colonists to their cause. According to Kiluk, it is likely the people of Pepperell were well-versed in the goings-on of the Sons.
Using the flag as a stepping stone, the commission is not only planning to reproduce it, but educate Pepperell about the town's rich history.
See also: Pepperell, Massachusetts
Ivan Sache, 21 March 2012
image by Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 16 November 2012
I doubt any image of this flag exists. If it based on one of the Sons of Liberty flags and it is red and blue then I would take it to be nine stripes with blue taking the place of white.
Steve Shumaker, 21 March 2012
There is no image of this flag. The description is that the flag was blew [sic] and red and four "bredths" by five yards long. By my reckoning it was maybe four 18" wide horizontal stripes of blue-red-blue-red but who really
knows? My experience with 18th century descriptions is that they did not pay much attention to exact details. I counseled the historical society to start looking through the local newspapers of the day to see if there is any more info.
As for their claim, it is spurious at best. Their assumption is that other flags of the day, for example the Sons of Liberty, were only "political" flags and therefore can not be considered "American". They claim their flag was not "political" but "regional" in nature. What hogwash! The red and white stripes of the Sons flag was indeed political but it is still flying as a component of the good old Stars and Stripes! How much more "American" can you get?
And in fact the passage in their town meeting records states "This being a time when the civil liberty of this province are unjustly infringed upon, when the ministry of Old England have endeavored to take away our Charter rights and privileges and the people of this province very much disturbed, every one looking after English liberties as departing from North America when congresses are appointed and appointing and the struggles very high, the people of this District prepared and raised a pole by the name of Liberty Pole the height of which was one hundred feet on the common directly before the Publick Meeting House door on the 29th day of August A.D. 1774 with a flag of Blew (sic) and red cloth five yards long and four bredths wide with convenience to hoist it to the top of the pole with ease." How much more political can you get?
Dave Martucci, 22 March 2012
The dimensions would be 6 feet by 15 feet, more-or-less as we say in Maine. The "breadth" is a somewhat variable size depending on who was specifying it but British Navy usage makes it likely to be 18 inches or 1/2 yard at this time. Multiply that by four and you get 6 feet. A flag at 6x15 feet isn't too strange looking. Maybe the "breadth" they were using was 20 or 24 inches as well, as there was a bit of variation at the time. By my deductions the term actually refers to a full selvage-to-selvage piece of cloth rather than to a dimension. Looms of various sizes can make fabric of various sizes as well.
Dave Martucci, 23 March 2012
According to an article written by Bruce Nicholls, when he was President of the Flag Institute, a full breadth, in 1776, was 19 inches.
David Prothero, 23 March 2012
As noted above, the record does not really describe the flag's design. By a strict reading of the record you may interpret it as four "breadths" of blue-red-blue-red or perhaps as blue-red-red-blue or perhaps as red-blue-blue-red or perhaps as red-blue-red-blue or ????
My own feeling given the design trends of the day is that maybe it was a red ensign with a motto or two in blue letters? Who knows?! As you correctly state, the four breadths was merely a dimensional statement, but there is no other hint of any design. Trying to reconstruct this design accurately from the record is impossible.
But the Pepperell Historical Commission has used their ESP to do just that! They used the 1767 Sons of Liberty Flag, which is not in their opinion an American flag but a political flag, as the model for what the 1774 Pepperell flag must have looked like, except it is an American flag not a political flag that they flew from their non-political Liberty Pole in opposition to the British Crown's revoking the Charter of Massachusetts!
Also like I said earlier, the more I read about the dimension termed a "breadth" in the 18th century, the more I think it really is not a measurable dimension as much as it describes the selvedge-to-selvedge width of fabric from one loom. I could be wrong.
Dave Martucci, 24 March 2012