Flags serve many purposes. They symbolize a people
and represent national pride. Flags convey a shared history.
Over the centuries, military units have carried flags and colors.
Colors and flags affirm group identity. They build pride and
morale, and represent the group's honor. In battle, flags served
as a rallying point when a formation was broken. Troops gathered
around the flag to regroup, attack or retreat. Flags marked specific
individuals, locations and functions such as hospitals and ambulances.
Infantry regiments regularly held trooping ceremonies.
Colors were paraded up and down the line of assembled soldiers
to music to make sure the men remembered the colors. A guard
of non-commissioned officers usually protected flags and colors.
Held in great reverence, a regiment's honor was embodied in its
colors. The entire regiment was humiliated if its colors were
lost in battle.
This flag was present at the battle of Concord
in April 19, 1775. It was carried by Nathaniel Page, a Bedford
Minuteman. The Latin inscription "Vince Aut Morire"
means "Conquer or Die". The arm emerging from the clouds
represents the arm of God. The original can be seen at the Bedford
Bennington or "Vermont"
This flag flew over the military stores in Bennington,
Vermont, on August 16, 1777. The American militia led by General
John Stark, defeated a large British raiding force, thus protecting
the military supplies at Bennington. Note that this flag begins
with a white stripe.
Betsy Ross or "First Stars & Stripes"
This flag was adopted June 14, 1777 (Flag Day). The Continental Congress on this day resolved,
"That the flag of the United States be thirteen stripes
alternating red and white; that the Union be thirteen stars,
white in a blue field, representing a new constellation".
It is unknown who actually designed this flag. There is a slight possibility that John Paul Jones did. The Congress
did not specify an arrangement for the stars in the canton, as
a result there are many variations in the flags that followed
British Red Ensign or "Colonial Red
The best known of the British Maritime flags,
or Ensigns, which were formed by placing the Union flag in the
canton of another flag having a field of white, blue or red.
This flag is also known as the Meteor flag, and was widely used
on ships during the Colonial period. This was the first National
flag of the United States.
On the night of June 16-17, 1775, the Americans fortified
Breed's and Bunker Hills overlooking
Boston Harbor. Although they had not officially declared their
independence, a fight was underway. When the British advanced
up the slope the next day they saw an early New England flag,
possibly a red or blue banner. Many early Colonial flags had
been made by altering the English flag and most still contained
a reference to the mother country. This was an example that the
Colonists still saw themselves as British subjects but were declaring
their right to be free from violation of their liberties.
Cowpens or "Third Maryland Regiment"
The Cowpens was first carried by the Third Maryland
Regiment which was part of the Continental line of Maryland,
Virginia and Georgia regiments. On January 17th, 1781, General
Daniel Morgan won a decisive victory against the British at Cowpens, South Carolina. The
original flag is enshrined in the State house in Annapolis, Maryland.
This flag represented a group of about one hundred minuteman from Culpeper, Virginia.
The group formed part of Colonel Patrick Henrys First Virginia Regiment of 1775. In October-November
1775 three hundred such minutemen, led by Colonel Stevens, assembled
at Culpeper Court House and marched for Williamsburg. Their unusual
dress alarmed the people as they marched through the country.
The word "LIBERTY OR DEATH" were in large white letters
on the breast of their hunting shirts. They had bucks' tails
in their hats and in their belts, tomahawks and scalping knives.
First Continental Regiment or "First
Pennsylvania Rifle Regiment"
This regiment served, during the course of the Revolution,
in each of the thirteen colonies and it's banner was carried
at the battles of Trenton, Princeton, Brandywine, Monmouth and
First Navy Jack or "Continental Navy
This flag is believed to have flown aboard the Continental
Fleet's flagship Alfred, in January, 1776. This flag or one of
it's variations was used by American ships throughout the Revolution.
~ Background ~
The United States Navy originated as the Continental
Navy, established early in the American Revolution by the Continental
Congress by a resolution of 13 October 1775. There is a widespread
belief that ships of the Continental Navy flew a jack consisting
of alternating red and white stripes, having the image of a rattlesnake
stretched out across it, with the motto "Don't Tread on
Me." That belief, however, rests on no firm base of historical
It is well documented that the rattlesnake and the
motto "Don't Tread on Me" were used together on several
flags during the War of Independence. The only question in doubt
is whether the Continental Navy actuallyused a
red and white striped flag with a rattlesnake and the motto "Don't
Tread on Me" as its jack. The evidence is inconclusive.
There is reason to believe that the Continental Navy jack was
simply a red and white striped flag with no other adornment.
~ Conclusion ~
The historical evidence makes it impossible to say
for certain whether the Continental Navy used the striped rattlesnake
flag as its jack. At the same time, the evidence does suggest
strong connections between the symbol of the rattlesnake with
the motto "Don't Tread on Me" and the United States'
earliest naval traditions.
This flag was carried by Colonel William Moultrie's
South Carolina Militia on Sullivan Island in Charleston Harbor
on June 28, 1776. The British were defeated that day which saved
the south from British occupation for another two years. Some
versions of this flag have the word "LIBERTY" in the
crescent moon.The South Carolina state flag still contains the
crescent moon from this Revolutionary flag.
This flag was first used by Commodore Esek Hopkins,
the first Commander in Chief of the New Continental Fleet. When
his ships put to sea for the first time in February, 1776, flags
with the symbol of the rattlesnake were very popular in Rhode
Island at this time. Colonel Christopher Gadsden of South Carolina
copied this flag and presented it to the Continental Congress.
~ Background ~
In early 1776 Commodore Esek Hopkins, the first and
only commander in chief of the Continental Navy fleet, used a
personal standard designed by Christopher Gadsden of South Carolina.
This flag consisted of a yellow field with a coiled snake and
the motto "Don't Tread on Me." There is no doubt as
to the authenticity of Hopkins's personal standard, usually referred
to as "the Gadsden flag."
The only written description of the Continental Navy
jack contemporary with the American Revolution appears in Commodore
Hopkins's "Signals for the American Fleet," January
1776, where it is described as "the strip'd jack."
No document says that the jack had a rattlesnake or motto on
it. Elsewhere, Hopkins mentions using a "striped flag"
as a signal. Since American merchant ships often displayed a
simple red and white striped flag, there is a good chance that
the striped jack to which Hopkins refers was the plain, striped
flag used by American merchant ships.
Grand Union or "Continental Colors"
This flag was never officially sanctioned by the Continental Congress but is considered
the first flag of the United States and was in use from late
1775 until mid 1777. This flag was an alteration of the British
Meteor flag. In its blue canton was the red cross of St. George,
signifying England, and the white cross of St. Andrew, signifying
Scotland. The thirteen stripes signified the original colonies.
Retaining the British Union in the canton indicated a continued
loyalty, as the Americans saw it, to the constitutional government
against which they fought. On January 1,1776, this flag was first
raised on Prospect Hill (then called MT. Pisgah), in Somerville,
Massachusetts. At this time the Continental Army came into formal existence. At the time it was known
as the continental colors because it represented the entire nation.
In one of Washingtons letters he referred
to it as the "Great Union Flag" and it is most commonly
called the Grand Union today.
Green Mountain Boys
On August 16, 1777 the "Green Mountain Boys"
fought under General Stark at the Battle of Bennington. It's
green field represented their name and the thirteen white stars
a tribute to the thirteen colonies. A notable victory of the
Green Mountain Boys under Ethan Allen, occurred on the morning
of May 10, 1775, when they silently invaded the British held Fort Ticonderoga and demanded
its surrender "In the name of the great Jehovah and the
Continental Congress". The captured cannon and mortars were
transported across the snow covered mountains of New England
and their installation on the heights over Boston Harbor enabled Washington to force the British to leave
that important seaport.
This flag is an example of the lack of uniformity
in American flags during the Revolutionary period as each group
chose what flag to be used as it's standard. This flag has the
unique elements of an elongated canton and blue stripes. It was
raised over the Guilford Courthouse, North Carolina on March
15, 1781 under the leadership of General Greene whose militiamen halted the British advance through
the Carolinas and turned them back to the seaport towns. This
was one of the bloodiest battles of the long war with the British
losing over a quarter of their troops.
Philadelphia Light Horse Troop
This troop was formed by a group of Philadelphia gentlemen
on November 17, 1774. Many were businessmen and merchants who
supplied their own uniforms, military equipment and horses. The
flag was contributed to the unit by Captain Markoe, it was designed
by John Folwell and painted by James Claypoole. The British Union
was originally painted in the canton but the artist was instructed
to paint thirteen stripes to represent the united colonies. It
was this troop that escorted General Washington
from Philadelphia to take command of the Continental Army, assembled at Cambridge outside of Boston in June, 1775.
The Light Horse Troop later carried their flag in the Battles
of Brandywine, Germantown,
Princeton and Trenton.
This flag was in use 1775-1777. It was officially
adopted by the Massachusetts Navy in April 1776. It flew over
the floating batteries which sailed down the Charles River to
attack British-held Boston. This flag is the jack form of the
"Bunker Hill" flag. On October 20, 1775, Colonel Joseph
Reed, WaSHINGTON's military secretary,
recommended that this flag be put into general usage so that
American ships could recognize one another. The "Pine Tree
Flag" is a generic name for a number of flags used by Massachusetts
and by New England from 1686 to 1776.
Rhode Island Regiment
In Rhode Island the anchor has been used as a state
symbol ever since 1647 which is evident in the current State
flag. The anchor represents Rhode Island's seafaring activities
and the thirteen stars, the original thirteen colonies. The native
Rhode Islanders were among the first to join the Minuteman
outside Boston. The Rhode Island Regiments served at the Battles
of Brandywine, Trenton and Yorktown. This flag is preserved today
in the State House at Providence, Rhode Island.
Sons of Liberty
This was the flag of the early colonist who had joined
together in the protest against the British impositions on American
economic freedom. One such protest was resistance to the Stamp Act, on October 7, 1765. A delegate
from each of the nine colonies formed the "Stamp Act Congress"
. They petitioned the king and parliament, the act was repealed
on March 18, 1766. The flag of nine red and white stripes that
represented these "Sons of Liberty" became known as the "Rebellious Stripes."
On December 16, 1773, the Sons of Liberty protested the parliament's
Tea Act, an action that became known as the Boston Tea Party. The colonists' believed the tax to be a violation
of their legitimate economic liberty. Three and a half years
after the Tea Party the thirteen colonies had come together in
their decision to fight for independence and the nine stripes
had grown to thirteen. The Sons of Liberty would rally under
a large tree which became known as "The Liberty Tree".
This flag is another example of the colonists' modifying
the British flag, in this case the British Red Ensign. It was
raised on the Liberty pole in Taunton, Massachusetts, on October
21, 1774. Sometimes only the word "LIBERTY" was added
to the flag.
This flag was used by George Washington
on his squadron of six schooners which he outfitted at his own
expense in the fall of 1775. This flag was a variation of the
New England Pine Tree flag. It was later modified and adopted
by the Massachusetts Navy. The Sons of Liberty would rally under a large tree, in Boston Massachusetts,
which came to be known as "The Liberty Tree". This
tree became a symbol of American independence. Knowing they were
up against a great military power they believed they were sustained
by still a greater power, thus their "APPEAL TO HEAVEN."
~ Background ~
Col. Joseph Reed to Col. John Glover and Stephen Moylan,
20 October 1775, referring to Washington's fleet of schooners:
"Please to fix upon some particular Colour for a Flag--&
a Signal, by which our vessels may know one another—What
do you think of a Flag with a White Ground, a Tree in the Middle-the
Motto (Appeal to Heaven)-This is the Flag of our floating Batteries."
Sir Hugh Palliser to Lord Sandwich, 6 January 1776,
referring to the flag of the captured brig Washington, of George
Washington's fleet: "Captain Medows has brought the American
vessel's colours, it is a white field with a green pine tree
in the middle: the motto, Appeal to Heaven."
The Massachusetts General Court established the flag
of the state navy on 26 July 1776: "that the Colours be
a white Flagg, with a green Pine Tree, and an Inscription, "Appeal
~ The Rattlesnake Jack and
the Modern Navy ~
As part of the commemoration of the bicentennial
of the American Revolution, by an instruction dated 1 August
1975 (SECNAV Instruction 10520.3) the Secretary of the Navy directed
the use of the rattlesnake jack in place of the union jack (blue
field with white stars) during the period 13 October 1775 (the
bicentennial of the legislation that created the Continental
Navy, which the Navy recognizes as the Navy's birthday), and
31 December 1976.
By an instruction dated 18 August 1980 (SECNAV Instruction
10520.4), the Secretary of the Navy directed that the commissioned
ship in active status having the longest total period in active
status to display the rattlesnake jack in place of the union
jack until decommissioned or transferred to inactive status.
By an instruction dated 31 May 2002 (SECNAV Instruction
10520.6), the Secretary of the Navy directed the use of the rattlesnake
jack in place of the union jack for the duration of the Global
War on Terrorism.