Phyllis Walker | Honoring the History of Our Flag

Letters to the Editor
Letters to the Editor

The history of the U.S. flag as shared by Santa Clarita Elks Lodge 2379 officers at their annual Flag Day Ceremony on June 14 is very timely with Independence Day forthcoming on July 4. The Young Marines and Boy Scout Troops 313 and 583 presented each flag during the ceremony, as described by the officers, from inception to the stars and stripes of today. 

The evolution of the American flag marks the progression of the government of the American people. From the landing of the Pilgrims in 1620 until 1775, the flag of England was the flag of the peoples of America. The Revolutionary War began April 19, 1775, and ended Sept. 3, 1783, as the colonists began to shape their banner or flag. 

The Pine Flag was adopted for all colonial vessels, and was the banner carried by the continental forces in the Battle of Bunker Hill. The southern colonies used the Snake Flag from 1776 to 1777. 

Continental Congress appointed a committee in the latter part of 1775 to consider the question of a single flag for the 13 colonies. The committee recommended a design of 13 alternate stripes of red and white; an azure field in the upper corner contained the red cross of St. George and the white cross of St. Andres. John Paul Jones, senior lieutenant of the flag ship “Alfred,” hoisted this flag on Dec. 3, 1775. One month later it was raised over the headquarters of Gen. George Washington at Cambridge, Massachusetts, in complement to the United Colonies. This flag, called The Continental Colors and The Grand Union, was never carried by Continental land forces, used only by the navy. It was the first American flag to receive a salute of honor – 11 guns from the Fort of Orange in the Dutch West Indies. 

It is generally believed that in May or June 1776, Washington, Robert Morris and George Ross commissioned Betsy Ross, a Philadelphia Quaker, to make a flag from a rough design that was provided. Supposedly, she suggested that the stars should have five points rather than six. 

July 4, 1776, the 13 American colonies broke their political connection to the Kingdom of Great Britain by declaring independence. The Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Second Continental Congress at the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia. By declaring independence, the states became independent nations. 

In response to a general demand for a banner more representative of our country, Congress on June 14, 1777, stated “That the flag of the United States be 13 stripes of alternating red and white and the union be 13 stars, white on a blue field, representing a new constellation.” 

This Betsy Ross-designed starry banner was flown at Fort Stanwix (then Fort Schuyler) near Rome, New York, on Aug. 3, 1777; it was under fire three days later during a British and Indian attack. 

The first official salute to the stars and stripes on Feb. 14, 1778, was made by France, when the Ranger under command of John Paul Jones was saluted by the French fleet on the French coast. This flag was made by young women of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, from their best colored silk dresses and the white wedding gown of a recent bride. It is said this same flag was flown by Jones’ ship, the “Bon Homme Richard,” in its thrilling fight by moonlight upon the high seas with the British frigate Serapis in 1779. 

The original stars and stripes represented the original 13 colonies. In 1796, two additional stars and stripes were added to represent the admission of Vermont and Kentucky to the union. The War of 1812 was fought under this banner. The site of it flying over Fort McHenry on Sept. 14, 1814, inspired Francis Scott Key to write what became our national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.” 

On April 14, 1818, Congress adopted a resolution that on and after July 4, 1818, the number of stripes should be 13 and a blue field should carry one star for each of the 20 states in the union; a new star would be added for each state admitted thereafter. 

Since 1918, the flag design has not changed except that 28 new stars were added before July 4, 1912. This flag of 48 stars flew over the nation for 47 years until just before the Vietnam War. July 4, 1959, a star was added for Alaska, our first non-connected state; a year later, Hawaii, our island state, added the 50th star. 

The display of our present flag – 50 stars and 13 stripes – proudly represents our country. It is at once a history, a declaration and a prophecy. It represents The American nation as it was at its birth. It speaks for what it is today, and it holds the opportunity for the future. 

Phyllis Walker

Santa Clarita

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