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Revolutionary War Flags

The Bennington Flag is a well-known flag which may have or may have not actually flown over the battlefield of Bennington with the Green Mountain Boys in 1775. Some historians believe this flag was born in 1826 to commemorate the nation’s 50th birthday. Others believe a similar flag was flown over the battlefield, only to be taken by Nathaniel Fillmore, who passed it on to his family and eventually to his grandson – the future president Millard Fillmore (which is why it is sometimes called the Fillmore Flag). Unlike similar flags, the first stripe on the Bennington flag is white, and the stars within the upper left box have seven points.

The Betsy Ross flag is probably the most well-known of all revolutionary flags. Its 13 five pointed stars in the blue canton (corner box of a flag) represent the original 13 colonies. Despite the fact that many historians cast doubt on the assertion that Betsy Ross designed the flag, it has become a popular and generally accepted story. Her story was published in 1870, 34 years after her death by her only surviving grandson. Actual historical evidence supports parts of his story, but certainly the legitimacy of other parts remain in question to this day.

The Bunker Hill flag illustrated above has a blue field and a design called the Cross of St. George, which was the national symbol of England. In the corner of the canton (the square division in many flags) is a pine tree, possibly representing the pine tree shilling, a type of coin minted in Massachusetts. There is much controversy concerning whether or not this flag actually flew at Bunker Hill. Some accounts claim the flag was a result of a wood engraving error, which caused the field to be blue rather than red. Nevertheless, this flag has become the symbol of the Battle of Bunker Hill and was even illustrated on a 1968 U.S. postal stamp.

Designed by South Carolina minutemen, the Fort Moultrie flag was flown over Fort William Moultrie near Charleston, South Carolina. Fort Moultrie, located on a small island, was built from native materials – palmetto logs and sand. It came under heavy bombardment by British naval troops on June 28, 1776. The flag itself, which was shot to pieces during the bombardment, features the crescent moon, which South Carolina soldiers wore on their hats. The flag was the first American flag flown in the southern states and had a major influence on South Carolina’s current state flag which still features the crescent moon.

The Guilford Courthouse flag was flown over the courthouse on March 15, 1781 after Revolutionary forces under the command of Nathaniel Greene, who prevented British forces from advancing inland through the Carolinas, instead, turning them back to the coast. Some historians believe this flag shows as lack of uniformity among the colonial militias as its colors are reversed from those normally seen on American flags, illustrating the point that each army chose its own flag designs.

The Green Mountain Boys were a group of militia men from the Vermont Republic who were led by Ethan Allen and members of his family. They were instrumental in victories against the British at Fort Ticonderoga, Quebec, and Bennington. This green on the flag represented the Green Mountain Boys and the 13 stars were a tribute to the original 13 colonies. The original flag was flown during the Battle of Bennington, when the Green Mountain Boys, under the command of General John Stark, defeated a group of Hessians in 1776. Remnants of that flag still exist and are displayed at the Bennington Historical Museum.

The Grand Union flag, also called the Navy Ensign flag, or the Congress Colors, is considered America’s first national flag. It was first flown by John Paul Jones on December 2, 1775 on a Philadelphia ship named Alfred and was used by the Continental Army as a naval ensign and garrison flag in 1776 and 1777.

Known as the First U.S. Navy Jack, the flag illustrated above shows 13 red and white stripes with a rattlesnake in the middle. The rattlesnake was a traditional sign of resistance to the British. The phrase “don’t tread on me” refers to the fact that a rattlesnake does not strike unless it is provoked and served as a symbol of British tyranny toward the colonies. The rattlesnake and “don’t tread on me” phrase was first used in the Gadsden flag, which had a yellow field designed by Christopher Gadsden of South Carolina. This yellow flag dates back to 1775. The above flag most likely appeared as a mistake sometime in the 1800s.

A variation of the New England pine tree flags, the “Appeal to Heaven” flag was used by George Washington in the fall of 1775. This pine tree represents the “liberty tree,” a large tree that the Sons of Liberty would gather under before uprisings. The phrase “Appeal to Heaven” represents the divine power that the Patriots believed would guide them to victory over the vaunted British military.
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