|The Grand Union flag carried by the Continental Army,|
1775. The Union Jack in the canton united the English
St. George's cross with the Scottish St. Andrew's saltire
(diagonal cross). After April 19, the canton had to go.
The puzzle is still unsolved, but I believe I’ve identified some new pieces of the puzzle that may help answer the question: Was George Washington's coat of arms a factor in our flag’s design, and, if so, what is the theory of how and why it entered the design?
My search led me to focus on the counties on the border between England and Scotland, where the Washington family was settled (what is now the county of Wear and Tyne, with Newcastle as the principal city), before the family moved to Sulgrave Manor in Northamptonshire.
These connections appear to have eluded heraldry experts. My theory is that George Washington and his friends employed some misdirection to deflect questions about the obvious fact that the young American flag clearly echoed Washington's family arms, of which he was hugely proud. No other president has taken such a delight in using his family's arms as a motif in his household. The problem for Washington and his political associates is that they were determined to avoid the fate of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, which left the tyranny of the British Monarch only to find a tyranny of their own. Washington resisted any talk of recreating the monarchy in the new United States of America.
The time frame for the break with Crown and the creation of the Stars and Stripes is well defined. Before 1775, most of the protesting colonists were eager to assert that, despite their grievances, they still considered themselves loyal subjects of the Crown, King George III. Hence, as Sir Charles Fawcett explains at length in a 1937 article, the East India Company flag was initially an acceptable one with which to
indicate a union of the thirteen States in revolt, each of which had previously used a flag of its own. It seems to be established that it was first flown by Lieutenant Paul Jones on the Alfred, the flagship of the Congress Navy, on 3 December 1775. It was undoubtedly hoisted on 1 or 2 January 1776 by Washington at Cambridge, Massachusetts, when he assumed command of the united forces of those States [and is therefore called the Cambridge flag].The meaning attached by the colonists to the 13 stripes in the Grand Union flag was the 13 colonies. This carried forward to the Stars and Stripes formally adopted by the Congress via a resolution of June 14, 1777. The flag's origins may also be credited to the Sons of Liberty, originally nine Boston citizens who in August 1765 objected to the passing of the Stamp Act. They adopted the "rebellious stripes flag" with nine vertical stripes, five red and four white. This came to mean the nine colonies represented at the rebel Stamp Act Congress of 1765. Participants from the other four colonies eventually joined in, so the nine stripes became 13. In 1767, the Sons of Liberty adopted the 13-stripe flag, identical to the East India Company flag and began recruiting supporters. In December 1773, the Sons of Liberty united against the Tea Act and poured tons of tea into the Boston Harbor.
The perspective of London was that the King's troops cleared the French and the Indians from the colonies, and the cost of keeping the troops there should be borne by the colonies. British regular troops were the vanguard in that war, under Scotsman General Braddock, who led the troops and died in the effort. George Washington was a colonel in this war and Braddock was his mentor and hero until Braddock died after the Battle of Duquesne (today's Pittsburgh, named after Pitt the Elder).
The Stamp Act and Tea Act were two of the ways the Crown chose to pay for the cost of maintaining British troops in the colonies. For Virginians, another way was more worrisome–the Quebec Act, in which the Crown claimed all the land that Virginia had been selling off to raise revenue.
The colonies had a different perspective. The militias of each state, not the British troops, bore the brunt of the fighting with the French and the Indians. If the colonies were to be taxed by London, they wanted a voice in the London Parliament. That would be the same deal that England made with Scotland.
The Continental Army in 1775 marched under the Grand Union flag, with Britain's Union Jack in the canton (the upper left corner) because they were hoping to trade their loyalty to the King for a voice in Parliament. Their attitude changed completely after the morning of April 19, 1775, when 700 British Army regulars arrived at Lexington Common as the sun was rising. The British regulars found 70 minutemen waiting, alerted by Paul Revere. Someone fired a shot and a battle was on. The Crown was shooting at its own subjects.
It didn't last long, as the regulars outnumbered the defenders ten to one and had superior weapons. The regulars killed eight Lexington defenders, wounded ten more, and scattered the rest. The regulars moved confidently on to Concord, but there they found more resistance. They turned tail back to Boston, pursued all the way by minutemen; the Revolution was on.
So it was not until after Lexington and Concord that the Union Jack became an enemy flag. It took more than two years for the colonies to decide on a new flag, but meanwhile the need for one was on everyone's mind. Forget the voice in Parliament. Now they wanted independence, and that meant a new flag with no Union Jack on it. ASAP.
The key was the canton. The stripes, as noted above, already had rebel significance as the flag of the Sons of Liberty. It was the Union Jack had to be replaced. But with what??
Many people proposed new symbols. One famous one conveyed the colonists’ growing fury–a coiled rattlesnake ready to strike, over the slogan "Don't tread on me.”
The canton design of white stars on a blue field was presented by Washington to the Congress on June 14, 1777, with the description "a new constellation". There have been only two major changes since then:
- The number of points in the stars was changed in 1777 from six to five.
- The number of stars and their ordering within the canton has been changed as states have been added.
|Elements of an "achievement", including the coat of|
arms and the rest. Source: Berkshire History for Kids.
George Washington’s coat of arms features three stars and three stripes. In heraldic parlance, the blazon of the Washington shield is: Argent two bars and in chief three mullets gules. What looks like a stripe on a coat of arms is called a bar and what looks like a star is called a mullet, except in Scotland, where a star is a star. Argent is the metal silver. Gules is the tincture red.
This Washington shield is now used as the flag of the District of Columbia, which is co-terminous with the City of Washington. No one disputes that the D.C. flag is derived from the Washington family arms.
Washington's coat of arms has also been widely discussed as the likely source of inspiration for the flag, and this was the common view in 1876, when the Stars and Stripes were celebrated at the centennial of the Declaration of Independence.
But a letter to the editor of the New York Times, cited by mainstream historians since 1914, flatly rejected any connection with the Washington arms. Typical is a statement by Joseph McMillan, director of research for the American Heraldry Society, who wrote in the first issue of the group’s American Herald journal, in 2006:
Ever since the 19th century, many have been unable to resist the conjecture that the American flag and coat of arms are derived from the armorial bearings of President Washington. Unfortunately, there is not a shred of evidence that the one had anything to do with the other … [N]owhere in the records of [the government’s flag and great seal committees] is there any indication of a desire to honor Washington with the flag or the seal, honors which it would have been quite out of character for Washington to accept, considering how he reacted to other attempts to create a cult of personality around him.
|Elements of an "achievement". Source: Fleur de Lis.|
Is there really "not a shred of evidence"? Or has no one looked at the evidence seriously?
I will assemble here a few pieces of evidence for the connection between the flag and the coat of arms as I am searching for some new evidence in the origin of the stars on the flag, which I believe to be the key to the puzzle.
1. Sulgrave House Manor. In Northamptonshire last year I took a photo of the frame above the portrait of George Washington, contributed by the Colonial Dames of America. They strongly assert the connection between the Stars and Stripes and the Washington coat of arms. They used a design of Paul Revere, who had prepared it for William and Mary University. Paul Revere attached himself to the view that Washington's coat of arms was connected to the Stars and Stripes. Remember that no one wants to assert too close to a connection out of respect for Washington's democratic posture.
2. Tupper Play. In 1876, on the centennial of the Declaration of Independence, a popular English poet named Martin Farquhar Tupper wrote a highly successful play in which the character of Benjamin Franklin asserts that friends of Washington, unknown to him, made sure that the U.S. flag reflected the George Washington coat of arms. This was the widely accepted view at the time.
3. Douglas Wardrop. In 1914, in The New York Times, G. Douglas Wardrop, described as an Assistant Secretary to Theodore Roosevelt, asserted, "There is very little doubt that the three stars and the three stripes [on Washington’s coat of arms] furnished the idea for the American flag."
4. Mr. McMillan himself. McMillan supplies evidence to answer his last sentence, about George Washington's avoidance of anything to do with the cult of the individual, earlier in his own article. Take a look at the long list he provided of Washington's purchases of objects bearing his coat of arms or crest or were defined by it. The Father of Our Country started buying these costly armorial objects when he was just 23 years old! I have greatly abbreviated the detail in his list and have ordered it by year to make my point. Does the following collection not suggest someone who would be deeply grateful if the new American flag were to echo his family's arms?
|George Washington coat of|
arms with raven crest, coronet
and helmet. The arms are now
used in the D.C. flag.
Source: Arms and Badges.
1755: Livery suits ordered from London for his house slaves and servants based on the red-and-silver (gules and argent) colors from his coat of arms–translated into scarlet and off-white, with lace trimmings. Washington owned slaves since his father died 12 years before and bequeathed to him ten slaves; when Washington died, there were 318 slaves at Mount Vernon. Washington's will provided for the freeing of all his slaves after his widow's death.
1757: Arms engraved on a silver cruet set made for him in London.
1758: Arms on the wax seal on a document he signed.
1768: Request to a London firm to manufacture a new carriage– requiring "my Arms agreeable to the impression here sent ... On the harness let my Crest be engraved.”
1771: A walking stick ordered from London with the arms engraved on the head, and the famed "rococo" bookplate with the Washington arms. In his will, Washington left his two canes to his cousins Lawrence and Robert Washington.
1771: Two seals ordered from the London carriage maker, one preferably of topaz in a gold locket, “with the Washington Arms neatly engrav'd thereon," and another stone in a second gold locket “with the Washington Crest.”
1790: Request to a Philadelphia firm to repaint a coach specifying:
[M]y crest without any cipher [motto] is to be on the four quarter panels, all to be enclosed with the original ovals. If it is thought best that the crests should be painted (as Silver does not show on a light ground) they may be painted. But quere, whether of some ornamental painting within the Oval, and around the Silver crests (the colours of which should form a contrast to the silver and not be inconsistent with other parts of the work) might not look well.1796: The Washington crest appears on the inkwell in the famous Lansdowne Portrait of Washington painted by Gilbert Stuart, now owned by the National Portrait Gallery in Washington.
1802: In the estate sale following the death of Washington's widow, his nephew Samuel Washington purchased a "Seal with W. arms" for $36.
1802: A second nephew, William Augustine Washington, bought another two seals, one with an ivory handle and another attached to a gold chain, most likely with the crest on them.
Many pieces of Washington armorial silver survive, notably at Mount Vernon:
- A set of silver cups Washington used during the Revolutionary years.
- A number of small silver items, such as spoons.
- Numerous items of silver made in London before the war.
- A silver service made in Philadelphia after the war.
|The Hopkinson flag adopted by Congress in 1777.|
Note that his stars were six-pointed. The Washington
family used five-pointed stars. Why the change?
|Hopkinson Arms. Source:|
My Heritage Wear.
Enter Francis Hopkinson, a multi-talented signer of the Declaration of Independence who was an employee of the Continental Navy Board, which operated as a rudimentary Navy Department. He was asked to deliver a flag. He did not change the red-and-white stripes and proposed that instead of the Union Jack in the canton there be 13 six-pointed white stars on a dark blue field, as shown above left.
His arrangement of the stars with a five-star diagonal echoes the English cross and Scottish saltire in the Union Jack. Hopkinson is credited with the design, although Congress didn't pay him his invoice of a "Quarter Cask" of wine because other people were involved and anyway he was already being paid for his services to the Navy Board.
Many authorities take all this at face value. Francis Hopkinson invented the Stars and Stripes, therefore it has nothing to do with George Washington. End of story.
|Another Version of Hopkinson |
Arms in Red (Gules).
However, I haven't seen it noted anywhere as of any significance in this context, but Hopkinson's family originated from Yorkshire and, like Washington's coat of arms, the coats of arms of the Hopkinson family have three stars in them. The star-like charges on the Hopkinson coats of arms differ slightly:
- They are wavy "estoiles" (Old French for "stars") rather than the straight-sided "mullets" (which are supposed to be the spur-revels on the heel of a knight's boot) on the Washington crest.
- They are six-pointed, whereas the Washington mullets are five-pointed. The original Stars and Stripes flag presented by Hopkinson had six points. Was he trying to assert that the Hopkinsons had a superior charge on their escutcheon?
|The so-called Betsy Ross star|
cut. But the "one cut" is no
time saver, as nine steps are
required before the cut.
In 14th century Oxford, students were divided into "northerners", meaning north of the River Trent (roughly, the old Danelaw territory), and southerners, meaning from England south of the Trent, or Wales, or Cornwall or Ireland (the old Wessex area).
Is it possible that:
- Francis Hopkinson was selected to design the flag because Washington, or his loyal comrades like Benjamin Franklin and Paul Revere, liked the idea of white stars on a blue field and they expected the outcome of the Hopkinson deliberations to be what it was?
- The final version of the stars on the flag went to five points because Washington's powerful fans preferred the connection to him rather than to the less-reputed Hopkinsons?
- The Betsy Ross story that five points are easier to cut than a symmetrical six–which is counter-intuitive–was promulgated as a convenient cover for the real motivation. The intent was to honor Washington without stirring up fears of a new monarchy.