The Earliest American Flags
During the Revolutionary War, the colonists used several different banners. The first unofficial flag went by several names including Continental Colors, the Grand Union Flag, the Union Flag, the Cambridge Flag, and the Somerville Flag. It was hoisted on a 76-foot liberty pole at Prospect Hill in Charleston, Massachusetts – which is now known as Somerville. The design combined thirteen stripes to represent the unity of the colonies and the British Union Jack.
Also during this time, the Continental Navy used a red and white striped banner with the warning “Don’t Tread on Me” inscribed on it. It featured a coiled rattlesnake along with patriot Patrick Henry’s famous words, “Liberty or Death.”
Although some historians disagree, Washington reportedly commissioned Betsy Ross to sew and design the first official flag, which was presented to and approved by Congress.
Birth of the Star-Spangled Banner
Just before the War of 1812, two new states were added to the Union, bringing the total to 15. The flag was altered to make room for 15 stars and stripes. This was the only official version to have more than 13 stripes. While it flew over Fort McHenry during a British naval battle, Francis Scott Key became inspired to write what would become America’s national anthem: The Star-Spangled Banner.
However, while discussing the proposed Great Seal of the United States, Charles Thomson, secretary of the Continental Congress, suggested:
“White signifies purity and innocence, Red, hardiness & valour, and Blue … signifies vigilance [sic], perseverance [sic] & justice.”
Today, there are many places where the flag is flown 24-hours a day:
- The White House
- Fort McHenry National Monument
- Customs ports of entry
- Flag House Square
- Marine Corps Memorial (remembrance of Iwo Jima) in Arlington, Virginia
- On the town green in Lexington, Massachusetts
- National Memorial Arch in Valley Forge State Park in Pennsylvania