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First U.S. National Flag


First U.S. National Flag

(1777 - 1795)

In June 1777, the Continental Congress decided to break the symbolic tie to Britain then reflected in the Grand Union flag. By then, the colonies had declared their independence as new states. The 13 red and white stripes on the Grand Union flag were retained as a symbol of the 13 unified states. However, the British Union Jack was replaced with a canton consisting of 13 stars on a solid blue field—symbolic of “a new constellation” of 13 independent states. Because there was no official provision on how the 13 stars were to be arranged, early versions of the “Stars and Stripes” had a variety of cantons. One of the earliest had stars arranged into five rows (3-2-3-2-3), as shown above. In his paintings Surrender of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown and Surrender of General Burgoyne at Saratoga, artist John Trumbull (1756-1843) appears to portray the stars as forming a square along the four edges of the canton (with an additional single star in the middle of the canton in the first painting). Later, Archibald Willard added confusion to the arrangement of the stars in his famous painting Spirit of ‘76 (originally completed in 1875 but with a better-known version painted in 1891).

Rightly or wrongly, the arrangement of stars most associated with the first U.S. national flag is a circle of 13 stars—often termed the “Betsy Ross flag”—popularized in the famous painting of Washington Crossing the Delaware. Some versions of this flag have all 13 stars pointing to the top. However, others have the tip of each star pointing outwards away from the circle. Also, in some cases, six-pointed stars are used.

Tradition has long credited Betsy Ross with designing and sewing the first Stars and Stripes for George Washington, but the best available evidence suggests that the flag was designed by Francis Hopkinson, a delegate to the Continental Congress from New Jersey.

In the collection of historic Georgia flags at Georgia’s state capitol is what appears to be the Stars and Strips with a circle of 13 stars. Interestingly, according to tradition, this flag purports to be a militia flag carried by the Richmond Hussars during the early days of the Civil War. That unit was created in 1835, and it is possible that this flag was an old copy of an early Stars and Stripes that was used in Georgia.

First U.S. National Flag View large image

First U.S. National Flag (1777 - 1795)
Source: Ed Jackson

First U.S. National Flag View large image

Surrender of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown
Source: John Trumbull

First U.S. National Flag View large image

Surrender of General Burgoyne at Saratoga
Source: John Trumbull

First U.S. National Flag View large image

"Spirit of '76" (1875 version)
Source: Archibald Willard

First U.S. National Flag View large image

"Spirit of '76" (1891 version)
Source: Archibald Willard

First U.S. National Flag View large image

Washington Crossing the Delaware
Source: Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze

First U.S. National Flag View large image

First U.S. National Flag, (1777 - 1795). While some versions of this flag have all 13 stars pointing to the top, others (as shown above) hav
Source: Ed Jackson

First U.S. National Flag View large image

Francis Hopkinson Flag Commemorative Stamp. Continental Congress member Francis Hopkinson designed the first Stars and Stripes. His stars ma
Source: Ed Jackson

First U.S. National Flag View large image

Betsy Ross Commemorative Stamp
Source: Ed Jackson

First U.S. National Flag View large image

Richmond Hussars Flag
Source: Ed Jackson