Flags of the American Revolution

Betsy Ross flag on flag pole

The Revolutionary War inspired the first sense of American patriotism in those who fought for American independence. Revolutionaries took every step they could to separate themselves and their beloved country from all aspects of British rule.

Each colony had their own flag that was used by many militia groups as a battlefield standard, and those flags influence some state flags we still see today. However, there were some flags that grew from a specific regiment or area that have also influenced some of our modern banners.

Washingtons Cruisers flag "an appeal to heaven"

Washington’s Cruisers Flag

Also known as the Appeal to Heaven flag or simply the Pine Tree flag, this was the standard hoisted by six cruisers in the Revolutionary War. These ships were specifically commissioned by General Washington for the war effort. The pine tree was derived from the long-time flag of New England, as well as the importance of these trees in ship building. White pine can grow up to 150 tall, so they are perfect for constructing ship masts. The inscription, “An Appeal to Heaven,” is credited to philosopher John Locke in his defense of the need for revolution.

After the Revolution, the flag was used for many years by the Massachusetts navy before fading into relative obscurity. There are no modern flags that bear a strong resemblance to this particular banner, though the pine tree does appear on the flag of the New England Governor’s Conference. The flag can also be seen flying in the popular HBO miniseries John Adams. It is always used in Revolutionary War reenactments, especially those taking place in Massachusetts.

Gadsden Flag

This may be the most recognizable of these historic flags, but we know it more commonly as the Don’t Tread On Me flag, thanks to the inscription. The yellow flag also features a coiled rattlesnake. It was designed by a Continental Colonel from South Carolina, Christopher Gadsden, in about 1775, and was used by the Continental Marines during the Revolutionary War.

This flag is still used by many groups, especially to signify dissent with the government. Most recently it was adopted by the American Tea Party Movement and used at their rallies. It is commonly displayed in South Carolina for historical significance, recognizing the contribution of Christopher Gadsden. There are dozens of representations of this flag in current pop culture.

Fort Moultrie Liberty Flag

South Carolina presents us with another important, historic flag that bears a strong resemblance to their state flag today. The Fort Moultrie flag is also known as the Liberty flag. It is a blue flag with a white crescent in the upper left corner. The word “liberty” is inscribed on the crescent in blue. The flag was designed by Colonel William Moultrie and based off the uniform of the soldiers he commanded. It was famously flown over Fort Moultrie in their battle against the British Navy to save Charleston in 1776.

The pre-Civil War state flag of South Carolina retained the crescent, but it appeared more commonly with the word “liberty” moved to appear in larger letters across the bottom of the flag. After the Civil War, they removed “liberty” and replaced it with a palmetto, their state tree. The South Carolina state flag is very popular with residents. The palmetto and crescent appear on everything from license plates to flip-flops to beach towels.

Rhode Island regiment flag "hope"

Rhode Island Regiment Flag

The Rhode Island Regiment of Continental soldiers was commonly known as Varnum’s Regiment. The regiment is also known sometimes as the Black Regiment because they had quite a few companies of black soldiers. They were one of the only regiments that allowed black men to serve. The regimental flag is a white field with a 13-star field in the upper left corner. It also features a blue anchor topped by a blue banner with the word “hope” inscribed.

The original flag still hangs in the State House in Providence, Rhode Island. The modern Rhode Island state flag preserves many of the symbols of that regimental flag. It still features an anchor and banner with the word “hope.” Instead of a star field, the anchor is surrounded by 13 stars. The 13 stars represent both the original 13 colonies and Rhode Island’s status as the 13th state to ratify the Constitution.

Betsy Ross Flag

Betsy Ross is a household name. At a young age, children are taught about her famous creation of the flag of the 13 colonies. The flag that is credited to Betsy Ross was the first official flag of the United States of America. It featured the 13 red and white stripes, as well as a blue field with a circle of 13 five-pointed stars. Every American flag has preserved the stripes and blue field of the original and simply added stars as states joined the Union.

There is much debate over whether Betsy Ross truly made the first flag. It is a fact that Betsy Ross and her descendants were in the flag-making business and, while her family staunchly upholds the claim she made the first one, there is not enough historical evidence to officially prove or discredit these claims. There is one thing that is sure – the flag was supposed to have six-pointed stars, but Betsy Ross changed it to five-pointed stars, simply because they were easier to make.

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