The Thirteen Colonies and Their Flags

It may come as a surprise to many that the colonies didn’t become states until four years or more after the war ended. While our Independence was declared on July 2nd and the Declaration of Independence was accepted on July 4th of 1776, the war raged on until 1783. The colonies overthrew the governors and British Lords who ruled them, in 1776, and began their own governments.

Not an easy task to do while fighting for your sovereignty! Understandably, it took a few years to have state constitutions and formally accept the Constitution of the United States as their governing principles. Going hand in hand with constitutions, each state had a date on which they were accepted into the union and their own unique flags with which they identified themselves.

Let’s take a look at each one and how they came to represent the 13 states we know today.

Delaware was named for the tribe and also an early governor of colonial Virginia, Lord de la Warr. Officially adopted on July 24, 1913, the Delaware state flag has a background of colonial blue surrounding a diamond of buff color in which the coat of arms of the state is placed.

Below the diamond are the words “December 7, 1787,” indicating the day on which Delaware was the first state to ratify the United States constitution. Because of this action, Delaware became the first state in the Union, and is, therefore, accorded the first position in such national events as presidential inaugurations.

According to members of the original commission established to design the flag, the shades of buff and colonial blue represent those of the uniform of General George Washington. Inside the diamond, the flag recognizes the importance of commerce to the state, with the ship and agriculture depicted by wheat, corn, the ox, and the farmer. Tribute is also paid to the revolutionary war soldiers. The words in the ribbon banner read Liberty and Independence.

The next state to enter the union was Pennsylvania, which occurred on December 12, 1787. Named for one of the founders of the colony, William Penn, and the Latin word “Sylvania” meaning “forest,” Pennsylvania’s state flag is composed of a blue field on which is embroidered the State Coat of Arms. The first State Flag bearing the State Coat of Arms was authorized by the General Assembly in 1799. An act of the General Assembly on June 13, 1907 standardized the flag and required that the blue field match the blue of Old Glory.

Named for the Isle of Jersey in England, New Jersey was the third state to join the United States on December 18, 1787. The state flag of New Jersey is buff colored. The state coat of arms is emblazoned in the center, the shield with three plows and a horse’s head above it. The two women represent the goddesses of Liberty and Agriculture. A ribbon at the bottom includes the year of independence in 1776 and reads: “Liberty and Prosperity.” The New Jersey state flag was formally adopted in 1896.

Georgia was the fourth state to become a part of the union on January 2, 1788. Named for King George II of England, their flag may look familiar, as it is similar to the flag of the Confederate States of America. The Georgia flag has three red and white stripes and the state coat of arms on a blue field in the upper left corner.

Thirteen stars surrounding the seal denote Georgia’s position as one of the original thirteen colonies. On the seal three pillars supporting an arch represent the three branches of government: legislative, judicial, and executive. A man with sword drawn is defending the Constitution, whose principles are wisdom, justice, and moderation. The date 1776 represents the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The flag was officially adopted on May 8th, 2003.

Connecticut was named for the Algonquin word quinnehtukqutmeaning “by the long tidal river” and was founded by Thomas Hooker among others. They became part of the United States on February 6, 1788. On a field of azure blue is an ornamental white shield with three grapevines, each bearing three bunches of purple grapes.

The state’s motto “He who Transplanted Sustains Us” is displayed on a white ribbon. The vines stand for the first settlements of English people who began to move from Massachusetts to Connecticut in the 1630s. These settlements were thought of as grape vines that had been transplanted. The flag was adopted in 1897.

Though founded in 1630 by John Winthrop and other Pilgrims, Massachusetts didn’t become a state until February 6, 1788, as the sixth state to join the union. On a white field is a blue shield emblazoned with the image of a Native American, Massachuset. He holds a bow in one hand and an arrow in the other. The arrow is pointing downward, representing peace. The white star represents Massachusetts as one of the original thirteen states. Around the shield is a blue ribbon with the motto: “By the Sword We Seek Peace, but Peace Only Under Liberty.” Above the shield is an arm and sword, representing the first part of the motto. Though the flag was adopted in 1915, it was amended in 1971.

Named for Queen Henrietta Maria, Maryland joined the union on April 28, 1788. The Maryland flag contains the family crest of the Calvert and Crossland families. Maryland was founded as an English colony in 1634 by Cecil Calvert, the second Lord Baltimore. The black and Gold designs belong to the Calvert family. The red and white design belongs to the Crossland family. The flag was finally made official in 1904.

Settled by the English colonist, South Carolina was named for King Charles I, whose name in Latin is “Carolus.” Joining the United States on May 23, 1788 made South Carolina the 8th state in the union. Asked by the Revolutionary Council of Safety in the fall of 1775 to design a flag for the use of South Carolina troops, Col. William Moultrie chose a blue which matched the color of their uniforms and a crescent which reproduced the silver emblem worn on the front of their caps. The palmetto tree was added later to represent Moultrie’s heroic defense of the palmetto-log fort on Sullivan’s Island against the attack of the British fleet on June 28, 1776.

John Wheelwright founded New Hampshire in 1638, and the state became the 9th to join the union on June 21, 1788. New Hampshire’s state seal depicts the frigate USS Raleigh, and is surrounded by a laurel wreath with nine stars. The Raleigh is one of the first 13 warships sponsored by the Continental Congress for a new American navy, built in 1776 at Portsmouth. The seal is surrounded by a laurel wreath. The wreath is an ancient symbol of fame, honor, and victory. The nine stars within the wreath show that New Hampshire was the ninth state to join the Union. The water stands for the harbor of Portsmouth, and in the yellow-colored spit of land is granite, a strong igneous rock, representing both New Hampshire’s rugged landscape and the sturdy character of her people.

The first colony founded by John Smith in 1607 was Virginia, which became the 11th state to join the union on June 25, 1788. The state was named for the Virgin Queen of England, Elizabeth I. A deep blue field contains the seal of Virginia with the Latin motto “Sic Semper Tyrannis,” which means “Thus Always to Tyrants.” The flag was immediately adopted in 1776.

The two figures are acting out the meaning of the motto. Both are dressed as warriors. The woman, Virtue, represents Virginia. The man holding a scourge and chain shows that he is a tyrant. His fallen crown is nearby, clearly a nod to the British monarchy.

New York, named after the Duke of York, officially became a state on July 26, 1788. The state coat of arms is emblazoned on a dark blue field. The seal portrays the goddess Liberty holding a pole with a Liberty Cap on top, representing freedom. At her feet is a discarded crown, a symbol of the monarchy from England which no longer ruled the colonies at the end of the Revolutionary War.

On the right is the goddess, Justice. She wears a blindfold and carries the scales of justice, meaning that everyone receives equal treatment under the law. The state motto “Excelsior” on a white ribbon expresses the idea of reaching upward to higher goals. On the shield a sun rises over the Hudson highlands as ships sail the Hudson River. Above the shield is an eagle resting on a globe representing the Western Hemisphere.

North Carolina was settled by Virginia colonists looking to expand their settlements in 1653. Like its southern counterpart, it was named for King Charles I and became a state on November 21, 1789. The law states “That the flag of North Carolina shall consist of a blue union, containing in the center thereof a white star with the letter N in gilt on the left and the letter C in gilt on the right of said star, the circle containing the same to be one-third the width of the union.

The fly of the flag shall consist of two equally proportioned bars; the upper bar to be red, the lower bar to be white; that the length of the bars horizontally shall be equal to the perpendicular length of the union, and the total length of the flag shall be one-third more than its width. That above the star in the center of the union there shall be a gilt scroll in semi-circular form, containing in black letters this inscription ‘May 20th, 1775,’ and that below the star there shall be a similar scroll containing in black letters the inscription: ‘April 12th, 1776.’” These dates represent the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence and the Halifax Resolves, respectively, making North Carolina one of the forerunners of American independence.

Rhode Island was settled in 1636 by Roger Williams, who had been banned from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for his religious views. It was the first state to renounce the British crown, and the last to join the union on May 20, 1790, holding out until they were assured the Bill of Rights would be a part of the constitution.

Placed on a white field is a circle of thirteen gold stars representing the first thirteen states. The stars surround a gold ship’s anchor. The state’s motto “Hope” is on a blue ribbon below the anchor. It is possibly named in honor of the Greek Island of Rhodes, or was named Roode Eylandt by Adriaen Block, Dutch explorer, because of its red clay.

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