Sunday, June 14, 2015

June 14 - Flag Day

Today in 1777, the Stars and Stripes were presented to Congress. The stripes were familiar but the stars were new. They were introduced as stars "of a new constellation".

Marc Leepson's Flag: An American Biography describes the many flags that were used in 1775 during the American Revolution - regimental flags, a rattlesnake with the slogan “Don’t Tread on Me,” and a pine tree with the words “An Appeal to Heaven.”

In June 1775, the Second Continental Congress, meeting in Philadelphia, created the Continental Army. Washington likely raised the British Union Jack back then, says David Martucci, past president of the North American Vexillological Association, the world’s largest organization dedicated to the study of flags. Martucci says that the Continental Colors - the 13 red and white stripes with a Union Jack in the canton (upper left-hand corner), was used by the navy and perhaps by the army at forts, says Martucci.

The revolutionaries realized that flying the enemy flag was not a good idea, says Leepson. So on June 14, 1777, the Continental Congress passed a resolution stating that “the flag of the United States be 13 stripes, alternate red and white” and that “the union [canton] be 13 stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.” No one knows for sure who designed the flag or why that particular color combination and pattern were chosen. There is a legend that Betsy Ross made the first American flag in 1776 after being asked to do so by Washington, but the story emerged long after the event allegedly occurred.

The stripes in the stars and stripes are easier to trace. There are several plausible sources. J R "States" Manship last year left a comment on my post "Washington's Coat of Arms and the Stars and Stripes".  He asked me: "What role do you see in the Sons of Liberty flag from the Massachusetts colony - the flag with only red and white stripes?"

One of the version of the flags of the Sons of Liberty.
This could be the primary origin of the stripes in
 the Stars and Stripes.
The Sons of Liberty Flag

Good question. The Sons of Liberty flag may well be the best explanation of the origin of the stripes in the Stars and Stripes. The flag was known to members all the way south to Georgia. It was easily made by sewing white strips onto a red ensign, which was widely available for British vessels.

The Sons of Liberty was an underground organization created in response to British tax and other hostile actions against the colonies. After defeating France in the French and Indian War, when George Grenville as Prime Minister, Parliament passed the Stamp Act of 1765. It required  certain printed materials in the colonies be produced on stamped paper produced in London with an embossed revenue stamp - notably legal documents, newspapers and magazines, and playing cards. The tax had to be paid in valid British currency. who should be paid by London. The Stamp Act was very unpopular among colonists and the Stamp Act Congress in New York City was the first common response among the American colonies to a British law:
  • The advertised purpose of the tax was to help pay for 10,000 British troops stationed in North America. The colonial protesters said there was no need for the soldiers, that with the French gone, the colonies had no foreign enemies.
  • Colonists needed protection from hostile Indian tribes - but this had always been a local matter.
  • Colonial leaders said that the tax was a way to make the colonies pay for semi-retired British officers and unneeded troops.
  • Colonists said their rights as Englishmen were violated. They should not be subject to "taxation without representation" in Parliament. They argued that only the colonial legislatures could impose taxes. (Meanwhile, colonial assemblies were voting to protest the taxes.)
The Sons of Liberty organization was created to resist the Stamp Act. The coalition extended from New England down to Maryland, with members all the way to Georgia. Protests and demonstrations initiated by the Sons of Liberty often turned violent. Stamp tax sellers were tarred and feathered, and resigned their commissions. The tax was never collected, as British vendors to the colonies feared for their business. Grenville was relieved of his office in 1765 and the Marquess of Rockingham was made Prime Minister. In 1766 the Stamp Act was repealed but Parliament affirmed its power to impose laws the colonies in the Declaratory Act, which also met with outrage. The next Prime Minister was Pitt the Elder, who was a hero to the colonies because he championed them in the French and Indian War. However, he too had a short time in office (1766-68) and it was left to Lord North to try to generate money from the colonies.

The British Parliament under Lord North passed some excise taxes on tea and other taxes. It did more, something not properly acknowledged in many history texts. The Crown, with the support of Parliament, claimed property rights to all territories to the west of the colonies - much of which was claimed by the colony of Virginia.

The Boston Tea Party

The Sons of Liberty are remembered mainly for hosting the Boston Tea Party in 1773 in reaction to the Tea Act and then the Intolerable Acts. A unifying name helped to promote inter-Colonial efforts against Parliament and the Crown.

By November 1765, a committee was set up in New York and in December an alliance was formed between groups in New York and Connecticut. By March, Providence had initiated connections with New York, New Hampshire, and Newport, Rhode Island; chapters were started in New Jersey, Maryland, and Norfolk, Virginia; and a local group in North Carolina was attracting interest in South Carolina and Georgia.

The Sons of Liberty would hold meetings to decide which candidates for office to support. British authorities attempted to denigrate the Sons of Liberty by referring to them as the "Sons of Violence" or the "Sons of Iniquity." The inter-colony communication made possible a decisive boycott following the Townshend Act in 1768.

The property of the gentry, customs officers and other British authorities often fell victim to mobs. In New York City the Sons of Liberty would put up liberty poles and British soldiers would tear them down. In January 1770, in the Battle of Golden Hill, many people were injured and at least one killed. Violent outbreaks over the pole raged intermittently from 1766 until the Patriots gained control of New York City government in April 1775. In Boston, another example of the violence they committed could be found in their treatment of a local stamp distributor, Andrew Oliver. Even after he resigned, they almost destroyed the house of his close associate, Lieutenant Governor Thomas Hutchinson.

In December 1773, the Sons of Liberty formally stated their opposition to the Tea Act and took direct action to enforce their opposition to the Tea Act at the Boston Tea Party. Members of the group, wearing disguises meant to evoke the appearance of members of Indian tribes, poured several tons of tea into the Boston Harbor.

The Flag - 1765-1767

In August 1765, nine citizens of Boston protested the passing of the Stamp Act. They adopted the "rebellious stripes flag" with nine uneven vertical stripes (five red and four white), signifying the “Loyal Nine”, which came to mean the nine colonies that met at the Stamp Act Congress of 1765.

As the other four colonies joined in, the nine stripes became 13. In 1767, the Sons of Liberty adopted the 13-stripe flag and started recruiting change agents in taverns, the docks and the marketplaces.

Members of the Sons of Liberty by Colony

Massachusetts - John Adams, lawyer. Samuel Adams, political writer, tax collector/fire warden, Boston. John Hancock, merchant/smuggler/fire warden, Boston.  James Otis, lawyer. Joseph Warren, doctor/soldier, Boston. Thomas Young, doctor, Boston.  Paul Revere, silversmith/fire warden, Boston. James Swan, American patriot and financier, Boston. John Gill, Boston Gazette.   New York - John Lamb, trader, NYC, Alexander McDougall, captain of privateers, NYC.  Isaac Sears – captain of privateers, NYC.  Haym Solomon, financial broker, NYC and Philadelphia. Marinus Willett, cabinetmaker/soldier, New York.  John Holt, colonial publisher for New York Gazette and Weekly Post-Boy (1762–1766) and New York Journal or General Advertiser (1766–1782) and also in Va. and Conn. PennsylvaniaBenjamin Rush, physician, Philadelphia. Charles Thomson, tutor/secretary, Philadelphia.  ConnecticutBenedict Arnold,  businessman, later General in the Continental Army and then the British Army, Norwich. Oliver Wolcott, lawyer. Maryland -  Charles Willson Peale - Portrait painter and saddle maker, Annapolis.  VirginiaPatrick Henry, lawyer/fire warden. South Carolina - Christopher Gadsden, merchant, Charleston.

Origin of the Stars in the Stars and Stripes

I have argued in several blogposts, for example, here, that the stars in the Stars and Stripes come from the Douglas coat of arms as worn by the Good Sir James Douglas, ally of King Robert the Bruce of Scotland.