History Patriotism

The History of America’s Flag

Flag Day celebrates the founding of the first official American Flag on June 14th, 1777. This history of the American Flag can be traced back to 1620, when New England began modifying England’s Red Ensign, in an attempt to begin to separate themselves from England’s rule. Since America developed an official Flag in 1777, the nationally used design has been updated 26 times.

New England’s Flag Origin

It is arguable to find record of the very the first flag that arrived on on U.S. soil.

One, was Christopher Columbus in 1492, who brought the Flag of Castile and León on his ships.

Christopher Columbus in 1492

Another, when Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León, arrived with a variation of the Flag of Castile and León, April 1513.

Flag of Castile and León

IIn the year 1616, an English explorer named John Smith founded a region he named “New England”. It wouldn’t become official until November 3rd, 1620.

During this time, England’s flag featured the Cross of St. George.

The Flag of England

Although the traditional flag of England was widely used, the Flag of Great Britain was developed in 1606, and combined both England and Scotland’s flags, gained popularity and was ordered by King James VI and I to be used on ships.

This English Red Ensign was first used on ships as early as 1558. This would become one of the first Flags of New England, upon it’s founding.

In 1708 Queen Anne asked all British Vessels to use the British Ensign

In 1652, Puritan militias began to grow, and new cavalry regiments were created. This brought to life the “Bedford Flag.”

Three County Troop, or the Bedford Flag

A Pine tree was added, and was seen as a symbol of New England, in an attempt to separate from England’s rule.

New Englanders also modified their British Ensigns, with a Pine Tree in the upper corner.

In 1636, Governor Endicott ordered New England’s Red Ensign to be stripped of the Cross of St. George, however the colonists made sure to keep an original Red Ensign with the Cross of St. George at hand, to be able to salute Royal Ships, and to avoid appearing rebellious.

In 1686, the New England’s Red Ensign further evolved to contain a larger Pine Tree in the upper corner

The Taunton Flag was invented in 1774, and still exists to this day in Taunton, Massachusetts. The design symbolized a revolt against the oppression of England.

Taunton Flag

Revolutionary War Flags

The Battle of Bunker Hill Flag was flown during battle, in 1775.

A Revolutionary War flag was designed depicting stripes representing the thirteen colonies, also featuring a Pine Tree in the canton.

The Liberty Tree flag’s design was created in a letter suggested by Colonel Joseph Reed on October 21st, 1775 to be used for ships Washington commissioned.

The Gadsden Flag was designed and named after Christopher Gadsden, an American Politician. This flag was designed and first used on ships in 1775 and used by the Continental Marines and flown during battle in 1776. It was one of America’s first mottos, and the one of the first animal symbols of America, as rattlesnakes were not found in England. The rattle depicts the 13 original colonies.

The Moultrie Flag, was designed by Colonel William Moultrie during the Revolutionary War, and was flown in defense of Sullivan’s Island in 1776.

The Moultrie Flag was shot down during the 10 hour battle, and raised back up by Sergeant William Jasper. The British retreated, saving Charleston, South Carolina.

The Culpeper Minutemen, founded in 1775, and disbanded in January 1776 under order of the Committee of Safety. The Culpeper Minutemen successfully defended Hampton from British Invasion in October 1775, which this flag was flown. This flag was also used in Virginia during the Battle of Great Bridge on December 9th, 1775.

It’s said that the Easton Flag was flown when the Declaration of Independence was read in Easton, Pennsylvania on July 8th, 1776.

The Easton Flag

The Continental Navy Jack, or the First Navy Jack, was flown over the first U.S. Navy ships in 1775. One of the ships, the USS Alfred, was Commodore Esek Hopkins

The South Carolina Navy’s Flag of 1778, featured a similar design to the First Navy Jack.

Stars and Stripes

The Rebellious Stripes, created in 1767, was the Flag of the Sons of Liberty, a secret society that coined the phrase, “No taxation without representation”. The society disbanded after the “Stamp Act” was repealed in 1765. The Original Rebellious Stripes Flag still exists to this day.

The Rebellious Stripes

The Grand Union, also referred to as the “Continental Colors“, created in 1775 and lasting until 1777, depicted 13 stripes, showing the unity of the 13 colonies, with England’s Union Jack in the canton.

There were multiple versions of 13 starred flags during this time, and the specific “original” design will vary depending on the source. Some versions of our flag started off with 8, 7, or 6-pointed stars, until ultimately 5-pointed stars were decided on for official use. Our flag inherited its three colors, Red, White and Blue, from Britain’s Union Jack flag.

The 13 stars represented the 13 colonies in a ‘state’ of rebellion against England, while the 13 stripes symbolize the union of the states. What is known, is that George Washington wanted to removed the Union Jack from the upper corner of our Flag at the time, so decided to make an official US Flag, separating us further from England. Who officially designed the first official American Flag is up for debate.

(left to right) The Flag of Betsy Ross, Francis Hopkinson, and the Battle of Bennington, were all 13-star designs around 1777

Arguably, Betsy Ross is widely regarded as the creator our first national American Flag, however the exact origins are unknown. Her version features 13 stars, in a circle, showing the eternity of the 13 colonies.

Francis Hopkinson, an American judge, musician (harpsichord) and composer, is also credited with the original 13 star design. He was also one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence in July 1776. Some historians suggest that the original design of this flag was for the American Navy.

The Hopkinson Flag

The Bennington Flag was flown during the Battle of Bennington, August 16, 1777. It features seven-pointed stars and an inverted red and white stripe pattern. Additionally the blue canton is larger, taking up two extra stripes.

The Bennington Flag

    26 further iterations were created

    • 1777 – 1795: 13-star flag
    • 1795 – 1818: 15-star flag
    • 1818 – 1819: 20-star flag
    • 1819 – 1820: 21-star flag
    • 1820 – 1822: 23-star flag
    • 1822 – 1836: 24-star flag
    • 1836 – 1837: 25-star flag
    • 1837 – 1845: 26-star flag
    • 1845 – 1846: 27-star flag
    • 1846 – 1847: 28-star flag
    • 1847 – 1848: 29-star flag
    • 1848 – 1851: 30-star flag
    • 1851 – 1858: 31-star flag
    • 1858 – 1859: 32-star flag
    • 1859 – 1861: 33-star flag
    • 1861 – 1863: 34-star flag
    • 1863 – 1865: 35-star flag
    • 1865 – 1867: 36-star flag
    • 1867 – 1877: 37-star flag
    • 1877 – 1890: 38-star flag
    • 1890 – 1891: 43-star flag
    • 1891 – 1896: 44-star flag
    • 1896 – 1908: 45-star flag
    • 1908 – 1912: 46-star flag
    • 1912 – 1959: 48-star flag
    • 1959 – 1960: 49-star flag
    • 1960 – present: 50-star flag

    The Origin of “Flag Day”

    George Morris, from Hartford, Connecticut, is credited as a founder of Flag Day, as credited in Kansas: a Cyclopedia of State History published in 1912. It suggests the first idea of “June 14th” being “Flag Day” was a program in Hartford, CT, that held a single day of observance on July 14th, 1861.


    Bernard John Cigrand is also considered a founder of this national holiday. Born in Wisconsin in the year 1866, Bernard Cigrand was a dentist and dean of Columbia Dental College, who in 1886 wrote an article titled “The Fourteenth of June,” which publicly suggested an annual observation of the birth of the United States Flag. A few years later, Cigrand became editor-in-chief of a magazine “American Standard”, where he further promoted suggestions for the Holiday.

    Bernard Cigrand claimed to have given 2,188 speeches during the course of his life on both Patriotism and the American Flag.

    Timeline of the Evolution of National Flag Day

    • June 14th, 1777Betsy Ross, and Frances Hopkinson create our first official American Flag

    • 1861 – George Morris, and the city of Hartford, CT hold observance for the American Flag, calling it “Flag Day”

    • 1886 – Bernard Cigrand writes an article titled “The Fourteenth of June,”

    • 1888 – William T. Kerr becomes the National Chairman of the American Flag Day Association

    • 1894 – Flag Day is held by a public children’s school in Chicago

    • 1912 – President Taft signs an executive order clarifying what the American Flag should look like.

    • 1916 – President Woodrow Wilson proclaims June 14th as “Flag Day”.

    • 1937 – Pennsylvania becomes the first state to make Flag Day a legal holiday

    • 1949 – President Harry Truman officially passes legislation making June 14th National Flag Day.

    • 1952 – Quincy, Massachusetts, has its first annual Flag Day parade on June 14th.

    • 2021 – Flag Day is still nationally celebrated

    Fact: June 14th is also the birthday of the U.S. Army, which was founded June 14th, 1775.

    Fact #2: June 14th is also the birthday of Former U.S. President Donald Trump

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