13 Star U.S. Flag - early all cotton flag, naval or maritime.
While first sold at an auction as a 13-star ship's flag from the American Revolution and early Federal period 1776-1798, in fact, upon examination by a textile expert it was concluded that the materials were all available in the 18th century and the construction techniques used can be dated to the 18th century. Further research revealed that another flag in the ZFC collection ZFC0423, an all-cotton 16 star flag, shared many characteristics with this flag suggesting that the same Philadelphia-based maker may have manufactured both flags. Since this particular flag had no provenance when purchased it is important to consider its sister 16 star flag's provenance for clues which might help to accurately date it.

This flag bears several remarkable similarities to the previously mentioned 16 star flag also contained in the ZFC collection. Both flags evidence similar production techniques: they are made entirely of cotton; arrange their stars in a circular fashion around a larger central star; they have relatively small cantons resting on a red stripe and they use the method of attaching the flag to a staff or halyard by way of a number of metal rings sewn to the cotton heading. In addition, since the sixteen-star flag is sewn with a thread that has been dated to no earlier than 1840, it is likely that this flag dates from the same decade. At least two militia flags made during the War with Mexico also display their stars in a circle around a central star, indicating that this flag may date from the same period.

The 16 star flag ZFC0423 provenance is well documented as having been the property of the Vaux family, a notable family in Philadelphia during the 18th and 19th centuries. Records indicate that the flag was gifted to the Academy of Natural Science in Philadelphia in 1812, testifying that the flag was constructed in the late 18th century or the early 19th century - no later than 1803 when a 17th star was added to the national flag (though unofficially as the 15 star flag was the official flag at that time). It was customary, however, to add a star for each new state throughout the duration of officially 15 star flags. The flag eventually ended up in the Star Spangled Banner Collection in the early part of the 20th century.

Another significant feature of the 16 star flag in relation to this flag is the use of cotton. It proves that early US flags were sometimes made of cotton which at that time would have been a luxury - this period preceded the advent of the cotton gin which made the material a cheap commodity. Making a flag out of cotton during this period would have been a statement, e.g. the use of an expensive, durable fabric for an important symbol such as the country's flag.

This 13 star flag warrants further study and analysis because new research conducted after the flag's exhibition in San Francisco indicates that this star pattern potentially dates back to the revolution - when one of the flags captured by the British cavalry officer Banastre Tarleton had this pattern of stars on one of three flags captured at the Battle of Waxhaws, South Carolina 1780. Therefore, what we once believed to be a flag from the 1840s, in fact has attributes which possibly place it as far back as the late 1770s, making it a unique original 13 star flag from is the Federalist period and possibly the Revolution against Great Britain.

Exhibition History:
First Presidio Exhibit
Thirteen-Star, United States Flag
Date: Approximately 1845-1850

Publication History:
Madaus, Howard M., Dr. Whitney Smith, The American Flag: Two Centuries of Concord and Conflict. Santa Cruz VZ Publications, 2006, pg. 18-19.

• Sold via Cowan's Auction, Cincinnati, Ohio, to the Zaricor Flag Collection, 1996.

ZFC Significant Flag
Item is Framed


Madaus, Howard M.- Whitney Smith, The American Flag: Two Centuries of Concord and Conflict, VZ Publications, Santa Cruz, 2006, p. 18-19.

Goody, Rabbit, ZFC1495 Analysis Notes, examination and research for Ben Zaricor, April 2009, Zaricor Flag Collection Archives

Image Credits:
Zaricor Flag Collection