Historical Flags: Unraveling the Stories Behind Iconic Flags Throughout History

Did you know there have been dozens of flag designs throughout US history? American historical flags vary widely in style and time, with some dating as far back as the American Revolution. Here are a few of the most recognizable flags from US history and where they came from.

Betsy Ross Flag

The Betsy Ross flag is the very first official flag of the United States. As per the Flag Act of 1777, the design of this flag would have 13 white stars and 13 stripes in representations of the original 13 colonies. The name of this flag comes from American upholsterer Betsy Ross, who lived from 1752 to 1836. According to American legend, several Founding Fathers approached Ross and commissioned her to create the first official national flag. Furthermore, it is suggested that Ross changed the design of the stars from 6-pointed to 5-pointed, the shape the stars retain to this day.

Gadsden Flag

First designed in 1775 during the American Revolution, the Gadsden flag is one of the most iconic flags of American history. The flag is named for Christopher Gadsden, a brigadier general in the Continental Army. The rattlesnake was chosen since it was already a popular political symbol at the time, representing the unity of the American colonies against British oppression.

Grand Union Flag

Another significant flag from American history is the  Grand Union Flag, also known as the Continental Colors or the Union Jack. This flag, first raised on January 1, 1776, combines the British Union Jack with thirteen alternating red and white stripes, symbolizing the thirteen colonies. It served as the de facto national flag of the United States during the early stages of the American Revolution, before the adoption of the Stars and Stripes. The Grand Union Flag represented a transitional period in American history when the colonists sought a redress of grievances from Britain rather than complete independence. It holds a unique place in the story of American flags, marking a pivotal moment in the nation's quest for freedom.

Commodore Perry Flag

Known as the Commodore Perry flag, this flag was designed as a tribute to naval officer James Lawrence by his friend Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry. Lawrence was in command of the USS Chesapeake during the War of 1812 when a battle with the HMS Shannon broke out. Mortally wounded by bullets, Lawrence’s last words were, “Don’t give up the ship!”. After his death, Perry ordered an ensign be stitched with the same phrase and flew it from his flagship.

Continental Flag

A symbol of New England, the Continental flag features an eastern white pine in the canton. In John Trumbull’s painting, “The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker’s Hill, June 17, 1775”, the Continental flag is shown at the battle scene. The flag’s red coloring hails from the Red Ensign of Britain’s Royal Navy.

Washington Cruisers Flag

Also known as the Pine Tree Flag, the Washington Cruisers flag was initially used by frigates under George Washington’s command during the American Revolution. The design was suggested by Washington’s secretary, Colonel Joseph Reed, and the flag was later designated as the official flag of the Massachusetts State Navy.

First Navy Jack

In 1775, the Continental Navy flew the first American jacks of a striped design. Over time, a rattlesnake and the quote “Dont tread on me” was added to the First Navy Jack. In modern times, this flag was the official naval jack of the US Navy from 1975 to 1976 and 2002 to 2019. Today, the First Navy Jack is reserved for use on the longest active status warship, which is currently the USS Blue Ridge.

How many of these flags have you seen before? Were there any you had never heard of? The Stars and Stripes may be our nation’s most recognizable flag today, but plenty of others still have their share in American history and symbolism. 

Jul 06, 2023 Caeden F.

Recent Posts