Do the stars and stripes represent specific states?

Discussion in 'American Flag History' started by jllshore, Sep 12, 2007.

  1. jllshore

    jllshore Guest

    An interesting set of questions:

    1) The flag has 13 stripes. Does each stripe represent a specific original state? If so, which stripe for which state?
    Does it go in the order in which the original 13 colonies joined the union? Would that start from the bottom or the top?

    2) The flag has 50 stars. Does each star represent a spsecific state? If so, which state goes with which star? (A search on wikipedia shows which states and stars were added over time but I was not sure of a particular star mapped to a particular state)

    Does anyone know this? :confused:
     
  2. Peter Ansoff

    Peter Ansoff USA Flag Site Admin

    Dear Jill,

    1) The flag has 13 stripes. Does each stripe represent a specific original state?

    No. The Congressional resolutions of 1777, 1794 and 1818 just said that the flag would have 13 red and white stripes, and the current law (Title 4 USC, Chapter 1 Section 1) says the same thing.

    2) The flag has 50 stars. Does each star represent a spsecific state?

    Again, no. The three resolutions just specified the number of stars, and the 1818 resolution provided that a new star would be added on the 4th of July following the addition of each new state. I've seen many books with diagrams that assign a state's name to each star (usually in the order that they joined the union), but there is no official basis for this.

    It's kind of interesting that the current law does not say anything about reducing the number of stars. If, say, the independence movement in Hawaii were successful, we would be back down to 49 states, but flag would not change unless Congress amended Title 4.

    Peter Ansoff
     
  3. jllshore

    jllshore Guest

    Peter:

    Thanks for the quick response and detailed explanation.

    The reason I raised the question in the first place is kind of funny. I was talking to a British colleague about our flags and we got into the discussion of the stars and stripes and he asked me the question. I was rather embarrassed as a U.S. Citizen not to know the answer about our flag. I thought it was a good question.

    Now I know!

    Thanks!

    BTW - I also learned that there is a way to tell which way is "up" when flying a Britsh flag. It has to do with the width of one of the white diagnol bands. ;)
     
  4. Peter Ansoff

    Peter Ansoff USA Flag Site Admin

    Ansoff Makes a Big Mistake

    there is a way to tell which way is "up" when flying a Britsh flag. It has to do with the width of one of the white diagnol bands.

    That's right! In heraldic terms, the Scottish saltire (white on blue) has precedence over the Irish saltire (red on white). A British vexillologist friend suggested the mnemonic of "the snow lies on the branch" on the hoist side of the flag.

    It's fun to spot upside-down British flags. I believe that there was a news photo of Tony Blair standing in front of one a while ago.

    Speaking of mistakes: looking back at my previous post in this thread (on 9/12/07), I noticed that I made a MAJOR error in the discussion of the stars and stripes. Who will be the first person to point out my goof? Hint: It's related to something that happened on today's date (September 13th).

    Peter Ansoff
     
  5. i read it 5 times and i have not spotted your mistake..... and i dont know what happened on the 13th of september... it was a normal day for me.. i went in twon and did shopping!
    please enlighten me!


    as for upside down union jacks i was watching our annual town parade today whos theme this year was the olympics...
    there was many many flags of different countries and i spotted 2 upside down union jacks.. i managed to take a picture of one of them! some1 also hand drawn some flags and the union jack the red cross was stright in the middle of the white one which looked funny.. again i got a pic of that ill get on when my net at home works again!
    a funy looking us flag drawing too.. like it had 5 stripes or sumthing and a tiny blue canton with random white dots!!
    and someone on a float was wearing an american flag too and other son the same float wore our union jack and others they were a steel pan band!! they rock!!
     
  6. bronny49

    bronny49 New Member

    I just learned something. I wrote a somewhat long rresponse on this thread but I had to check something so I left the site. When I came back, my draft was gone. So I will try again:

    The Stars are added July 4 following official Congressional law admitting a State. If only 1 State comes in during an interval and only 1 star is added, that might symbolize that State. I have been told that many Alaskans prefer to display their 49 star flags because that is the Alaska flag. There were 5 States added in 1889 and first half of 1890. The July 4 flag of 1890 added 5 new stars.

    I think this designation of States and stars goes along with some of the other non-facts that accompany sometimes mawkish myths and legends. I find it a bit disturbing that so many errors of fact linger long after the truth has been disclosed.

    Peter Ansoff's "error" was a minor one. The actual reolution establishing the 15 star/15 stripe flag was enacted in 1795, not 94. The September 13 date is the anniversary of the attempt by the British to capture Baltimore. The 15/15 flag was the "Star Spangled Banner" that Francis Scott Key saw flying over Ft. McHenry in Baltimore harbor that night and the next morning. That flag is about 40 feet wide. It was made by Mary Pickersgill. There was a post that asserted that Mary made the first American flag. She was only a tot in 1777. Her mother Rebecca Young made flags for Washington's quartermaster.

    British flag, the Union, originally had no way of being flown upside down as a sign of distress. That was changed early in the 20th century when some thin red stripes were added parallel to the white St. Andrew's Cross. They are situated in a way that the flag can be recognized as upside down.

    "Betsy Ross Flag" is a false designation. The flag with the round pattern was unknown until after the Revolution. It was first adopted by the Army in 1790. In that sense, it is the first US flag under the Constitution. The story about Betsy Ross and Washington is hokum. The first "Stars and Stripes" came from Francis Hopkinson, whio had early advocated a new flag for the navy ships. The Grand Union, with is British Union in the corner, would be confused with British ensigns. His design was in a 3/2/3/2/3 pattern. That flag was probably used on the Ranger a few weeks after the June 14, 1777 resolution which adopted the Hopkinson design.

    Betsy Ross may have made that type of flag since her first husband was a navy officer who was killed. It is known that she had contracts from the navy to make flags of various colors.

    I also saw an old post on this site from a person who claimed direct descent from Betsy Ross. The problem with that is that Betsy had only daughters from her 3 husbands. All of her husbands were connected with the navy.

    Historical facts are so much more interesting than the myths and legends. If anyone reading this wants to get a nearly definitive book on the subject, go find this:

    So Proudly We Hail, The History of the United States Flag" Smithsonian Institution Press 1981.

    It was compiled by two retired senior naval officers and people from the Smithsonian, who verified textures and sewing etc.

    Ron
     
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2007
  7. bronny49

    bronny49 New Member

    I also made an error about the Briish Union in my earlier posting. I would guess it will be corrected forthwith.

    Ron
     
  8. ahahah peter... i looked at that answer of urs at 4 am... thats wy i didnt see the error!!! i looked just now and spotted it straight away rofl!

    bronny49: ''British flag, the Union, originally had no way of being flown upside down as a sign of distress. That was changed early in the 20th century when some thin red stripes were added parallel to the white St. Andrew's Cross. They are situated in a way that the flag can be recognized as upside down. ''

    i live here in England. the red saltire added over the white saltire is because northern ireland joined our union and northern irelands flag is a red saltire on white field but as we already had scotlands flag (white saltire on blue field) on our union flag there was no room for the irish cross except to put it half the width and put over the scottish saltire.
    we have no 'distress' signal for our union flag itslef but our ships and vessels use british ensigns, which are flags with a union flag in the top left corner and either a red or blue filed and also a white ensign which is the england flag (red st george cross on white field) with a union flag in the top left quarter. these flags are alot eisier to use as a distress signal cos its clearer! quite alot of countries have different ensigns to their national flag and usually the top left corner of the esign will contain all or parts of the national flag of that country. the USA uses their national flag for an ensign because it comes with a ready made canton so can easily be flown upside down and tell the difference,

    quite a number of people in england do not know which way our union flag goes and why. i quite often see our flag flying or displayed upside down simply because the person who did it didnt realise he was hanging it upside down lol! - i will include pics of this shortly.. i have some!

    bron - are you a vexillologist? btw welcome to American flag forum!
     
  9. Peter Ansoff

    Peter Ansoff USA Flag Site Admin

    Hi, Ron -- welcome to the forum! A few comments on your comments:

    If only 1 State comes in during an interval and only 1 star is added, that might symbolize that State.

    Perhaps. The problem, of course, is that the pattern of the stars is rearranged each time. Personally, I think that the symbolism is better if the stars are not identified to particular states. It shows that all the states are equal members of the union; there is no "first" or "last" one.

    The actual reolution establishing the 15 star/15 stripe flag was enacted in 1795, not 94.

    Not true. The act was passed on January 13, 1794, and signed by President Washington on the same day. The act itself specified that the 15-star flag would be official as of May 1, 1795, but it was enacted in 1794. That wasn't the error!

    British flag, the Union, originally had no way of being flown upside down as a sign of distress. That was changed early in the 20th century when some thin red stripes were added parallel to the white St. Andrew's Cross. They are situated in a way that the flag can be recognized as upside down.

    As af_uk pointed out, the British union flag would not be flown at sea (at least after 1707), except as the jack on the bow of British warships. The ensign flown on ships was a red, white, or blue field with the union crosses in the canton, which could be turned upside down. The addition of the diagonal red cross actually occured at the beginning of the 19th century, and reflected the incorporation of Ireland into the United Kingdom. The arrangement of the crosses reflected the seniority of Scotland over Ireland. It's true that the post-1800 version of the union flag could be turned upside down, but that's not why it was designed that way.

    Grand Union, with is British Union in the corner, would be confused with British ensigns.

    This is one of those legends. It comes from a misinterpretation of Washington's famous letter of January 4, 1776 describing the flag raising on Prospect Hill. While we don't know for sure, it seems likely that the "Grand Union" was designed way it was specifically so that it would not be confused with British ensigns. The red and white stripes are very distinctive at a distance.

    His [Hopkinson's] design was in a 3/2/3/2/3 pattern.

    Another legend (or at best an educated guess). We really have no idea what his original design for the US flag looked like.

    That flag was probably used on the Ranger a few weeks after the June 14, 1777 resolution

    The first Continental Navy ships to carry the S&S to sea were the Alfred and the Raleigh, which sailed from Portsmouth in late August 1777. The Ranger didn't get underway for the first time until November 1777. It's an interesting coincidence that the Alfred was the first ship to hoist the Continental Colors, and also one of the first to fly the stars & stripes.

    Betsy Ross may have made that type of flag since her first husband was a navy officer who was killed.

    The information on John Ross is sketchy, but he was apparently a member of a local volunteer militia. He had nothing to do with the navy, as far as we know.

    It is known that she had contracts from the navy to make flags of various colors.

    As far as I know, there is only one reference to her making colors during the war. It was for the Pennsylvania state navy in May 1777.

    I also saw an old post on this site from a person who claimed direct descent from Betsy Ross. The problem with that is that Betsy had only daughters from her 3 husbands.

    Well, yes, but a direct descendant can be through a daughter! There are many living direct descendants of Betsy Ross.

    All of her husbands were connected with the navy.

    Actually, I don't believe that any of them were. Ashburn and Claypoole both served in privateers, but I don't think either was in the navy.

    If anyone reading this wants to get a nearly definitive book on the subject, go find this: So Proudly We Hail, The History of the United States Flag"

    That's an excellent book, and one of the two that I always recommend to interested people. The other is Milo M. Quaife's book "The History of the United States Flag" (1959). Of course, like all books on the subject, neither of these is infallible.

    Best,

    Peter Ansoff
     
  10. bronny49

    bronny49 New Member

    Peter:

    Thanks for the additional information and corrections. I got confused on the 1794/5 dates because I had both a reference to the date Congress passed the bill and a name attributed to the act as the Flag Act of 1795.

    I agree that the stars do not actually represent spefcific states in any order. But Alaskans like the 49 star as their own. I don't think any other state treats the flag that added a star for their entry like that.

    You are right: The Alfred sailed in August and the Ranger in November. There is a flag labelled as the Alfred flag that shows the 3/2/3/2/3 pattern but with 7 white and 6 red instead of the more usual 7 red and 6 white. The 3/2/3/2/3 pattern was common and also appears in the pre-war Rhode Island flag. The 4/5/4 pattern also appeared in various flags, the Serapis flag being one which also had a variation in the stripe pattern. It seems that many variations of the 13 star motif were used since there was no pattern specified in any law until 1912. I have seen pictures of spiral patterns used as late as the Civil War.

    Given the conditions of visibility in a black powder gun battle, differences in the colors would be practical to enable the commodore to know which ship was which as he peered through the smoke. The army did not carry national colors into battle in the revolution era. Their regimental flags were in much variety. Washington seems to have had two flags, the one with only a simple oval of 13 5-pointed stars and the one that is at Valley Forge with the 13 6-pointed stars in the 3/2/3/2/3 pattern.

    The reference to Betsy Ross making flags for the navy,as you point out, was for Pennsylvania ships. Naval activity was not limited to the small national navy. State ships and privateers were used as adjuncts to the navy into the 19th century. With a few exceptions, the official navy did not do well during that war so it shrunk to just one ship by the end. It lanquished until the 1790's acts that authorized the frigates that were later so effective.

    The legend that Franklin may have designed the Continental Union is also not supportable, is it? The East India Company used a similar flag with varying numbers of stripes, including up to 13. Were the stripes related to their scattered operations? That company was perhaps the first global corporation. The stripe motif of that company might have been the source of the pre-war Sons of Liberty Flag or Continental Union flag of 13 red and white stripes since so much of the rebellion against the British Parliament was triggered by activities involving the East India Company and the favoritism given it in the Tea Act. E.g the Boston Tea Party, and similar protests in Charleston and Annapolis.

    So much of the history of that era is difficult to trace and document. One thing is sure, the post-war paintings of Turnbull, myths of the centennial period, and the flag popularity and pledge and all that beginning around the 1890's have embedded many romantic rather than accurate tales about the flag.

    Ron
     
  11. Peter Ansoff

    Peter Ansoff USA Flag Site Admin

    Hi, Ron,

    But Alaskans like the 49 star as their own.

    When I was in Sitka a few years ago, I noticed that the gift shop in the cultural center was selling 49 star flags, along with the Russian-America Company flags.

    There is a flag labelled as the Alfred flag that shows the 3/2/3/2/3 pattern but with 7 white and 6 red instead of the more usual 7 red and 6 white.

    You're probably thinking about the flag of the Alliance, not the Alfred. The Alliance flag picture was painted in Holland in 1779, at the same time as the Serapis picture that you mentioned.

    Washington seems to have had two flags . . . and the one that is at Valley Forge with the 13 6-pointed stars in the 3/2/3/2/3 pattern.

    There's an interesting article by Donald Holst in the Fall 1994 issue of "Military Collector and Historian" that discusses this flag. Holst makes a pretty strong case that it was actually an artillery flag, and had nothing to do with Washington.

    The legend that Franklin may have designed the Continental Union is also not supportable, is it?

    No, it's not. The historiography of that legend is kind of convoluted, but most of it came from a book written by Robert Campbell in 1890. Campbell's story was an obvious fabrication -- he cited no sources and got a lot of basic facts wrong. As far as I know, there's no evidence that Franklin had anything to do with designing the Continental Colours.

    You might be interested in an article that I wrote on the Continental Colours in the NAVA journal "Raven" a couple of years ago. It's on the NAVA web site (NAVA - Home, click on the "Flag Information" tab and then select "NAVA News and Raven Articles.") The article deals with the flag-raising by Washington's Army in January 1776, based on a review of the primary sources that describe the incident. My conclusion was that it didn't happen the way the history books say it did.

    The East India Company used a similar flag with varying numbers of stripes, including up to 13. Were the stripes related to their scattered operations?

    As far as anybody knows, the number of stripes on the EIC flag did not have any particular significance. As you point out, the number seemed to vary. (I've seen one picture of the flag on an EIC ship in China that had 21 stripes!)

    The stripe motif of that company might have been the source of the pre-war Sons of Liberty Flag or Continental Union flag of 13 red and white stripes since so much of the rebellion against the British Parliament was triggered by activities involving the East India Company and the favoritism given it in the Tea Act. E.g the Boston Tea Party, and similar protests in Charleston and Annapolis.

    That all seems fairly dubious. The tea shipments that triggered the "Tea Parties" were not sent in EIC ships, and even if they had been, the ships would not have flown the EIC flag in American waters (they were not allowed to fly it in the Atlantic north of St. Helena). And even if they had, why would the Americans adopt the flag of the "enemy?"

    The "Sons of Liberty" flag is another interesting case. As far as I can tell, the only evidence that they used a red and white striped flag before the Revolution comes from the relic flag that's preserved at the Bostonian Society. The evidence that this flag had anything to do with the Sons of Liberty is very slim. This may turn out to be yet another legend that's been perpetrated down through the years.

    So much of the history of that era is difficult to trace and document.

    Very true! Part of the problem is that writers tend to assume that the people in the 18th century viewed the flag the same way that we do. My impression is that, to most people during the Revolution, the flag was a rather mundane issue.

    Best regards,

    Peter Ansoff
     
  12. bronny49

    bronny49 New Member

    Peter:

    Thanks for additional information and unscrambling my mix-up of Alfred and Alliance.

    I have on order a copy of the Milo M. Quaife book. I found what is described as a very fine copy for under $9 including shipping.

    Your final comment is so right. The post-Civil War years leading up to the centennial in 1876 and the subsequent decades seem to be the period when the flag became an item of near worship. So many of the myths and old family lore came out of the attics, including the Betsy Ross story, the Bennington Flag, the Cowpens Flag and others. It was the period that produced the Pledge of Allegiance and the popular use of the flag for advertisement. That generated the first election campaign (1896) which began the Republican habit of claiming special patriotism and questioning the patriotism of the Democrats. That period also was followed by the beginnings of the flag protection drafts and speeches and such. And ever since, people project the ideas and legends of that period back into the 18th century. Many of the patriotic but anachronistic post-Revolution paintings also contributed to the excess of legends becoming "fact".

    Ron
     
    Last edited: Sep 21, 2007
  13. when i was growing up - my pre vexillology days i had learnt about the Americans love for their flag and wondered why we didnt have the same love for our flag (im english in case u didnt know) was our flag not as good as the american one? was the fact that the american flag looks nicer than the england flag have something to do with it? did americans just love their country and expressed it by flying flags evereywhere?
    these questions were all raised in my head and in discussion when i grew up.

    of course now i love the american flag like any other americaan perhaps more i dont know.. but i am completely obsessed with it.. more than ud ever believe lol! the bug certainly caught up with me!
     
  14. Peter Ansoff

    Peter Ansoff USA Flag Site Admin

    why we didnt have the same love for our flag (im english in case u didnt know) was our flag not as good as the american one?

    Part of the answer, I think, is that the flag is the most prominent nonpartisan national symbol that we have to represent our country's heritage, ideals and institutions. In Britain you have the Queen to fill that role.

    In both cases, it's the symbol rather than the physical thing or person that matters. In Revolutionary War-era writings, there are frequent references to fighting for "the honor of the flag" and such. I suspect that those writers were not thinking about the flag as a piece of cloth, but as a metaphor for their cause. Similarly, a Briton would have said that he was fighting for the crown -- he wouldn't mean the King's fancy hat, but the institutions of the British nation.

    Peter Ansoff
     
  15. Robin Hickman

    Robin Hickman Well-Known Member

    Greetings !!!


    For those who might be a tad confused about the UK's Grand Union (Union Jack) being right side up or upside down, I offer a simple VISUAL aid :


    RIGHT :
    UK-GrandUnionFlag.jpg

    WRONG :
    UK-GrandUnionFlag-UpsideDown.jpg

    RIGHT :
    UK-GU-Right.jpg

    WRONG :
    UK-GU-Wrong.jpg


    I wonder what it will feel like when I spot an upside-down Union Jack (LIVE!) for the very first time ?

    Robin "Yes... I Can See The Difference Now" Hickman
     
  16. hah - I have seen quite a few!!
     
  17. StarSpangledBanner

    StarSpangledBanner New Member

    As the nation grew and a new star was added with each new state, some organization would have had to keep track of which star represented which state -- for two reasons. One, that no one individual lived that long, and Two, because as each new star was added, they were rearranged to look balanced on the flag (so, the previous order would have been lost).
     
  18. Peter Ansoff

    Peter Ansoff USA Flag Site Admin

    Hello, SSB -- welcome to the forum!

    As the nation grew and a new star was added with each new state, some organization would have had to keep track of which star represented which state

    Nobody keeps track of it, because there's nothing to keep track of. The law just says that a star is added to the flag whenever a state is added to the union. The individual stars do not (officially) represent particular states.

    because as each new star was added, they were rearranged to look balanced on the flag (so, the previous order would have been lost).

    It's true that the arrangement of the stars changes when additional stars are added. Before 1912, each of the military services had its own regulations dealing with the star arrangement; since then it has been defined for all the services by Presidental executive order. The actual law that defines the flag does not say anything about the arrangement of the stars.

    Peter Ansoff
     

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