13 Star U.S. Flag - Revolutionary & Early Federal Period.
The majority of Americans know the so-called Betsy Ross flag - a US flag that features 13 stars that have been arranged into a circle with no stars inside the actual circle. The Betsy Ross flag is known for being the first ever United States flag with origins that back to 1777, but its full history has never been documented. It was only in the 1870s that the family of Betsy Ross began to promote the Betsy Ross story.
Collectors have found various examples of the same design which also feature a starless circle. History proves, however, that there are no period flags that have survived with the same design and that the earliest flag with 13 stars which also bears no stars in the circle is from the centennial period. The first canvas image features 1782 as a date and not 1777. This means that it is likely that the first 18th century flags had a single circle with a star in its center much like this example.
In fact, every period 13-star flag in the ZFC collection that is either circular or oblong in design has one (ZFC0715 & ZFC1495) or four stars (ZFC0624) and it is worth emphasising that none of them are starless in the center. In addition, the Tarlton Grand Division flag, reputed to be a predecessor to the stars and stripes, has a canton with 13 stars on silk (no stripes) that recently sold at auction in 2006 and it has three stars within a circle. There were other patterns used for flags that had 13 stars besides the circle. The ones in the ZFC collection hint at a variety of patterns used for making period 13-star flags.
Historians and flag enthusiasts have searched for the reason that such a design was developed and what the pattern symbolizes. One reason recently put forward to the ZFC is a story that it represented early sentiments of national unity which accompanied the debate and vote in 1776 for the Declaration of Independence. Historians have noted that it was extremely important for the declaration of independence to be supported unanimously to inform the English, and especially King George III, of America's unity and determination. But there was a problem; as the issue of independence was being debated in Philadelphia, New York was facing imminent invasion by 30,000 British and Hessian troops. The New York delegates, though in support of the Declaration, were also concerned that if they voted yes that the invasion and occupation of New York would be especially harsh. Whilst the other delegates were sympathetic to the situation, the New York delegates found themselves in disagreement as preparations were made for the vote. The question was: what could be done to maintain unity while supporting New York during this critical period?
As the role was called, the other delegates anxiously waited for New York's vote, which many anticipated to be 'no', thus diluting this critical act of defiance. To every delegate's relief and surprise, however, New York voted to abstain. The delegates understood that unity was not threatened by the vote and the momentum of of the colonys'defiance was preserved. As a result, all of the delegates were satisfied and vowed to support and protect New York to the end.
The design of this flag, with 12 stars in a circle and one larger star in the middle, thus grew to symbolize not only New York but any and all states heeding the nascent unity of "these United States." In the ZFC, we have three original 13-star flags with the larger star in the middle of a circle (ZFC0715 & ZFC1495) and a 13-star flag in a horizontal pattern with the larger star in the middle of the second row (ZFC2497) again surrounded or grouped together offering support or protection to the single star (symbolizing a state). In addition, there is a period 13-star flag with 13 stars in a circle and an eagle in the center of the circle which is bigger than the stars and heralds an early design of the Coat of Arms of the United States of America (ZFC2407). The point is that all of the 13-star flags in the ZFC have at least something in the center of the circle. There was something about empty space that Americans liked to fill in!
It is from such a story that the early American flags that were widely used in other patterns feature a large star standing in the middle of a circle of 12 stars and a larger single star that is protected by the circle of 12 smaller stars (states). The pattern of this very flag exists on surviving period flags and paintings and in particular a flag carried in the constitution parade of 1788 celebrating the adoption of the U.S. Constitution. The 12/1 pattern, as it was named by the ZFC, can also be seen in a near-period drawing (1812) called "The Life of Washington" showing George Washington in a camp at Yorktown where the flag is of a horizontal pattern with the large star in the middle of the grouping of smaller stars. The flag is positioned behind General Washington standing in front of his famous tent.
Collectors have collected flags from the last quarter of the 18th century and much of the 19th century that show a large star surrounded by smaller stars, even when more states were added in various patterns, in particular in a circle or oblong design, horizontal and Great Star patterns. These examples and stories may be the key to unlocking one of the more sought after mysteries that historians and collectors of historical American flags have been attempting to resolve for decades because the reason for the existence of the larger star was previously lost somewhere in the past. There are examples that suggest other theories but they all post date the 17-star flags and thus do not cover the entire history of the larger star. Only the story of the debate and vote of the Declaration of Independence July 2, 1776 covers the entire period of the early flags of the United States.
This small, handmade 13-star flag's early history was likely one of the first of the 13-star flags that were used by civilians as early as the late 1770s. This type of use is indicated by its much smaller size as there were few official requirements for a flag of this size. Most 13-star flags were much larger for functional reasons. It is believed that ZFC0715 is the only known one of this pattern to exist in a private collection. The only other examples that have survived, with this one exception in the ZFC, are in three public institutions. Also, this size indicates private or civilian use with very limited official use by the government. ZFC believes it was likely made in Philadelphia and was not exclusively for private use.
This flag was once a part of the highly acclaimed collection that belonged to famous antique dealer Mr. Boleslaw Mastai and his wife Marie-Louise d'Otrange Mastai. The Mastai collection came about after 50 years of intense study, research and preservation by the now deceased husband and wife team. Mastai originally began collecting at the beginning of the 20th century and managed to create one of the biggest collections of flags in America. Mastai's noted book, The Stars and The Stripes: The American Flag from Birth of the Republic to the Present (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1973) is considered to boast important information about the history of the American flag.
The material of this flag was hand spun and the actual flag itself was hand-sewn with wool bunting and the cotton stars that were stitched with cotton and linen threads were made complete with a pure linen heading. One of the most famous flags with the stars in this same pattern is the so-called Cowpens Flag, which is a flag that was attributed to the 3rd Maryland Regiment at the Battle of Cowpens, January 17, 1781. The original is now at the State House in Annapolis, Maryland, and while the exact details of that flag remain unresolved, the flag's notoriety has caused other flags with this star pattern to be styled as "Cowpens Flags".
Historical Note: It was not until the Mexican American War in 1845 that the stars and stripes were first sanctioned by the military to use in the "field" (in military maneuvers and battle). However, in the Revolution period there were very few regulations strictly governing the use of flags and it is documented that most flags in the "field" were not stars and stripes and the Cowpens flag was an exception to the normal practice.
Through the revolution in 1776, the Quais War with France in 1798, The Tripoli War, and the war of 1812, the Navy and Privateers used the stars and stripes in battle and in naval engagements. During the American Revolution, a great variety of flag designs were used although many if not most were not stars and stripes. They were: Don't Tread on Me, All Stripes, Continental Colors and even more flags that dated beyond 1777. The stars and stripes pattern tended to be 5,4,5 star configurations and although it is said it was a revolution pattern, the 3,2,3,2,3 pattern had very few documented examples in flags and renderings on canvas.
In fact, all of these patterns almost have no surviving flags with the exception of the few in the Zaricor Flag Collection (see "Heart of the Collection" - Original 13 Star Flags Landing).
11 November 2008
Tiger 21 Meeting, Muir Room
Four Seasons Hotel, San Francisco, CA
Night of Flags
In celebration of George Washington's Birthday
The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America in California
Patriotic Services Committee
James Ferrigan, Curator, Flag Center
Ben Zaricor, Director, Flag Center
Thursday, February 26, 2009
Octagon House, San Francisco
5:30 pm - 7:30 pm
University of California - Santa Cruz
Board of Councilors Meeting, Rare Flags Exhibit
Santa Cruz, CA
7 June 2012
Mastai, Boleslaw and Marie-Louise D'Otrange, The Stars and The Stripes: The American Flag as Art and as History from the Birth of the republic to the Present, Knopf, New York, 1973. p. Frontispiece, 42 & 44.
Time Magazine, Volume 116, No.1,7 July 1980, Front Cover.
• Anonymous Collector(s).
• Acquired by Mr. & Mrs. Boleslaw & Marie-Louise d'Otrange Mastai, The Mastai Collection, until 2002.
• Sold via Sotheby's Auction in New York City to the Zaricor Flag Collection, 2002.
ZFC Significant Flag
Item is Framed