David Aaron Gray

"Don't believe everything 
you hear on the radio"
- Charles Foster Kane

David Aaron Gray (Blog)

Today is Flag Day Everyone!

Posted by davidaarongray on June 14, 2013 at 2:35 PM


Today, June 14th, is Flag Day in the United States. To mark the occasion we should clarify a few things about Old Glory and her 30+ facelifts since her birth.

First things first... the below flag, commonly known as the "Betsy Ross Flag" was NOT EVEN THE FIRST FLAG OF THE USA!


Above: the "Betsy Ross Flag"

Like all new enterprises, in the early days of the U.S. there were a bunch of official and unofficial logos meant to represent the fledgling startup.

We only know for sure, 2 things about the so-called "Betsy Flag" shown above:

1) It was never created, designed or stitched by a woman named Betsy Ross; and

2) It was (at best) the third officially commissioned flag by the Continental Congress.  

Before Betsy there was Hopkinson...that's Francis Hopkinson of New Jersey who holds the distinction of at least being a real person who actually designed a flag (in this case, the second flag used by our nation shown below):


Above: the "Hopkinson Flag"


Now, the Hopkinson flag gets as much recognition as Flag Day itself for a simple reason: Hopkinson's design used a staggered pattern of 3-2-3-2-3 using 6 pointed Marian stars.

This creates an optical effect of the crosses used in the British flag (aka the Union Jack) shown below:


Above: Flag of Great Britain


See... today, we Americans love to think of the proverbial patriot of the American Revolution to be (if nothing else) staunchly anti British...after all, we were in fact shooting at someone were we not?

When it comes to shedding our British heritage however, the reality is a bit more complex and requires its own dedicated post.

Suffice it to say, that back in the 1770s, the first Americans went to great lengths to preserve many British symbols they had come to adore.

Which leads us to the real first flag of the United States of America.


#1...the original...

BEHOLD! The ______ and Stripes Forever!

Above: The "Grand Union Flag" of the United States


The "Grand Union Flag" (also the Continental Colors, the Congress Flag, the Cambridge Flag, and the First Navy Ensign) is the true first national flag of the United States. This flag (shown above) consisted of 13 red and white stripes with the British Union Flag of the time in the canton.

The story behind #1, in a nutshell, goes like this:

In the first year of the American War for Independence, the Continental Congress authorized the creation of a navy and everyone knows you can't have boats out on the open seas without identification.

So...a flag was required representing the Congress and the nation, and in order to distinguish its ships from those carrying the Red Ensign flying from British vessels (shown below):


The Grand Union Flag was first hoisted on the USS Alfred, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on December 2, 1775, by Lieutenant John Paul Jones.

The event was documented in countless letters to Congress.

The Grand Union Flag was used by the American Continental forces as both naval ensign and garrison flag through 1776 and early 1777.

What is not known for certain is when, or by whom, the design was created.

That said, despite its anonymous creator and short tenure as "First Flag," the Grand Union had a pretty decent showing.

The flag was raised by George Washington's army on New Year's Day 1776 at Prospect Hill in Charlestown (now part of Somerville), near his headquarters at Cambridge, Massachusetts. Due to its strikingly familiar look, the flag's display was actually interpreted by British officers as a sign of surrender...

Any doubt as to who won the Battle at Prospect Hill quickly disappeared as the Continental Army began firing at the lines of remaining British redcoats who were carrying chains and a document of surrender to be signed by General Washington.

The flag was also the first to be folded into a triangle during the funeral of a soldier serving in Washington's Army during the Battle of Long Island.

The Flag Act of 1777 authorized a new official national flag (the first flag's confusing message probably had something to do with the Act) of a design similar to that of the Grand Union in color and stripe but with thirteen stars (representing the thirteen States) on a field of blue replacing the British Union flag in the canton (this is the aforementioned Hopkinson design). 

Categories: Correcting the Historical Record

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