Grand Union - An Offical U.S. Flag?

Discussion in 'American Flag History' started by Pocketman, Aug 23, 2007.

  1. Pocketman

    Pocketman Guest

    The Grand Union was not approved by Congress, nor does it comply with the 14 June 1777 flag ordinance. It has no stars and therefore no "constellation." Nevertheless, it is considered the "first U.S. flag."

    When carried with a Betsy Ross or other stars and stripes, there are some re-enactors who refuse to dip the Grand Union during the "Star Spangled Banner." They are adamant about it being a U.S. flag.

    What is the status of the Grand Union? Is it an official U.S. flag subject to protocol?
     
  2. Peter Ansoff

    Peter Ansoff USA Flag Site Admin

    Greetings!

    there are some re-enactors who refuse to dip the Grand Union during the "Star Spangled Banner."

    Actually, it is improper to dip *any* US flag. The flag code says it clearly:

    ". . . the [US] flag should not be dipped to any person or thing. Regimental colors, State flags, and organization or institutional flags are to be dipped as a mark of honor."

    There is an exception that relates to US Navy practice: if a foreign ship dips its flag to a US ship, the US ship may dip in return. However, the US ship never initiates the dip.

    As to whether the GU was/is an official flag, that sort of depends on what you mean by "official." It was flown on US ships and forts between 1775 and 1777, and was generally recognized as the flag of the "United Colonies" and then the United States, both in the US and abroad. You're correct, however, that it was never officially adopted by Congress.

    By the way, you might be interested in an article that I wrote about this flag a few years ago in the NAVA journal, "Raven." It's on the NAVA web site (NAVA - Home) in under the "Flag Information" tab. (Go to the "NAVA News and Raven Articles" selection.) Among other things, I concluded that the name "Grand Union" was a 19th century invention and was not used during the Revolutionary War. The people who actually used it called it the "Continental Colours" or the "Continental Flag."

    Peter Ansoff
     
  3. Pocketman

    Pocketman Guest

    This leads to the root of the question: Is the Grand Union a U.S. flag? When carried with an Old Glory or Betsy Ross, does "Continental Flag" remain erect along side the "official" U.S. flag?

    I guess the same question could be asked about the Bennington. While there is some dispute about the flag's origin, it is flown by the FBI alongside the other U.S. flags and it does fit the description in the first flag ordinance since it has a field of stars.
     
  4. Peter Ansoff

    Peter Ansoff USA Flag Site Admin

    Is the Grand Union a U.S. flag?

    Yes it was, at least by any reasonable definition. It was created in 1775 to identify ships and forts of the United Colonies, and it continued to be used in that role after the United Colonies became the United States in July 1776. The fact that it was not formally adopted by Congress is not really relevant; the point is that it was generally recognized as the US flag by both American and foreign authorities. (A similar case exists with the Union flag of the United Kingdom -- it is universally known as the British national flag, but there is no law that says it is, other than as a jack on Royal Navy warships). Americans regarded the Continental Colours as their flag, and they fought and died under it. It certainly seems to me that it deserves to be honored.

    When carried with an Old Glory or Betsy Ross, does "Continental Flag" remain erect along side the "official" U.S. flag?

    In a sense, the 13-star flag is not "official" either, in that it does not conform to the legal definition of the flag in Title 4 USC. (Not enough stars!) We honor it because of its historical associations. BTW, as you probably know, the so-called "Betsy Ross" design, with the stars in a circle, seems to be more legendary than historical.

    Bennington . . . While there is some dispute about the flag's origin, it is flown by the FBI alongside the other U.S. flags and it does fit the description in the first flag ordinance since it has a field of stars.

    The flag that John Paul Jones flew over the captured ship Serapis in 1779 did not conform to the flag resolution of 1777; it had red, white and blue stripes. However, nobody at the time would have questioned the fact that it was a US flag. The point is that, when dealing with historic flags, there is really no point in getting too technical. If it was displayed as the flag of the United States, and recognized as such, then it was a US flag. That's the way our ancestors saw it, anyway, and I think that we should honor them by following suit.

    Best regards,

    Peter Ansoff
     
  5. Pocketman

    Pocketman Guest

    "If it was displayed as the flag of the United States, and recognized as such, then it was a US flag. That's the way our ancestors saw it, anyway, and I think that we should honor them by following suit."

    :) Thank you Peter for helping us put this into the proper perspective. I am the commander of the Indiana Society Sons of the American Revolution Color Guard. We represent our patriot ancestors in over 70 events each year displaying an assortment of contemporary and historic flags. Countless people ask us questions about the various flags and we like to be accurate in our answers. The most "controversial" issue has involved the status of the Grand Union. The Betsy Ross and Bennington seem to generate a bit of angst as well.

    We mostly carry a Betsy Ross because it is more recognized as a Revolutionary War era emblem. While not always effective, it does help people distinguish us from pirates and Civil War re-enactors. I am seriously considering a 3-2-3-2-3 star arrangement as our primary flag.

    This is a very nice forum and the NAVA web site is full of interesting information.

    Regards,
    Steve Oberlin
    Indiana Society Sons of the American Revolution
     
  6. Pocketman

    Pocketman Guest

    "If it was displayed as the flag of the United States, and recognized as such, then it was a US flag. That's the way our ancestors saw it, anyway, and I think that we should honor them by following suit."

    Thanks Peter for putting this so succinctly. I am the commander of the Indiana Society Sons of the American Revolution Color Guard. We display the U.S. and several Revolutionary War era flags at over 70 events each year. It is our intent to be accurate and informative. This Grand Union "debate" has been on-going within our organization and you have helped us see the situation from a different perspective.

    Regards,
    Steve Oberlin
    Indiana Society Sons of the American Revolution
     
  7. Pocketman

    Pocketman Guest

    Thank you Peter for your explanation concerning the "Continental Colors." Between your replies and the extensive research documented in your NAVA Journal article, I have a much clearer perspective on the Grand Union flag. Some of this newly acquired knowledge was shared yesterday at a citizenship party for a friend from the U.K. who just received her U.S. citizenship.
     
  8. Peter Ansoff

    Peter Ansoff USA Flag Site Admin

    a citizenship party for a friend from the U.K. who just received her U.S. citizenship.

    Was your friend pleased to hear that George Washington might have flown a British flag outside Boston? (-;

    Seriously, the origin of the Continental Colours is still a bit of a mystery. All indications are that it was created in Philadelphia in late 1775 as an ensign for the new Continental Navy. But who actually came up with the design? Presumably it was someone on the Naval Committee, or one of the other people who was involved in outfitting the ships, but that is all just speculation.

    Anyway, glad to help! I'm especially interested in the historiography of early American flags. It's fascinating to track down the real stories behind the legends --that "Prospect Hill" paper was a great example. Originally, I was just looking into the origin of the term "Grand Union." However, when I actually read the primary sources, I had a "hey, wait a minute" moment -- the sources didn't say what everybody assumed they said.

    Best,

    Peter Ansoff
     
  9. awww man ium jeallous of your friend.... i hope that is me one day!!!
     

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