13 Star U.S. Flag, Revolutionary & Early Federal Period.
SEE SUMMARY BELOW FOR ORAL DESCRIPTION OF MATERIALS AND TECHNIQUE FOR IDENTIFICATION.
This period thirteen star flag from Salem, MA early history is unknown; but it was formerly part of the acclaimed collection of noted antique dealer Mr. Boleslaw Mastai and his wife Marie-Louise d'Otrange Mastai, formerly of New York City, and later Amagansett, Long Island. Their collection was the result of fifty years of collecting, research and study by the late husband-wife team. Mastai, started collecting in the mid 20th century and amassed to greatest private flag collection in the United States; which he detailed in his ground breaking book The Stars and The Stripes; The American Flag from Birth of the Republic to the Present, published by Alfred Knopf, New York 1973, and was hailed as a revelation of the American Flag as art and as social history.
This is a very rare period 13 star flag. Mastai was very deliberate scholar, and selected this flag as Mastai #1 in his collection, reinforcing the high opinion he had of this flag. Also, it was this flag that he and his wife chose to be photographed holding for the end paper of the book jacket of the aforementioned book. Further, he selected this flag to be featured on the 7 July, 1980 cover of Time magazine after exhibiting it at least twice: : in 1973 at the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth Texas, and in 1978 at Building 6, World Trade Center, New York City.
Period illustrations from the 1780s indicate that the 13 stars of the United States flag were occasionally arranged as a circle of 13 or less stars arranged around the remaining stars. And, while this suggests that circular patterns were in the public mind in the 18th century actual flags are quite rare. Similarly, other images indicate that there was little uniformity in the construction and use of early flags; this has given rise to many various interpretations to explain these differences. One common assumption is that militia troops generally carried non standard or variant flags with blue or red stars and stripes of various colors. This seems to stem chiefly from the oral history asserting that North Carolina militia at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse displayed a surviving flag with 13 blue stars on March 15, 1781.
However, what is not in dispute is that two of the design motifs of this flag seem to place it both in New England and the early Federal period: the use of blue stars on a white canton is a design feature on early American Flags that can be definitively dated to the 1790s, and the single ring of nine stars with four center stars the number nine being an auspicious number in the late 18th century.
This star pattern, the single ring of nine with four center stars, is identical to the canton on the flag of the Bucks of America. A Massachusetts militia unit composed of freemen of color who were presented this flag in the late1780s. While circumstantial, it supports the use of this motif during the revolutionary era; a 13 star design literally unknown at any other time in American history. The number nine was an auspicious number in this era because nine represented the number of colonies that attended the Stamp Act Congress and were symbolic of 45 the pamphlet published in 1763 by the civil-rights activist John Wilkes, whose influence on the American revolutionary movement was second only to Tom Paine's Common Sense.
Later, the symbolism of 9 came to represent to the nine states needed to approve the Constitution on September 17, 1787; although Benjamin Franklin had urged unanimity, decided they only needed nine states to ratify the constitution for it to go into effect. Once the Congress of the Confederation received word of New Hampshire's ratification, on June 21, 1788, it set a timetable for the start of operations under the Constitution, and on March 4, 1789, the government under the Constitution began operations; and so 9 came to also represent the nine states which ratified it into existence.
The use of the single ring of nine stars is a symbolic design element that would have been immediately understood the late Colonial, Revolutionary and early Federal Period. Considering the flag from its construction elements and discounting 19th & 20th century repairs and additions, the original portions of this flag contain nothing that would exclude it from being a product of the 18th century. The presence of cotton thread is not a disqualification as recent scholarship has demonstrated the use of cotton in the 1760s and the fabrication of cotton sewing thread in New England as early as 1792. The numerous repairs and remakes also attest to the importance placed upon this flag by subsequent owners.
"One of the oldest 13 star flags in existence reflects the chaos surrounding the creation of the United States flag. In the absence of official guidelines many early flag makers both interpreted and modified the early versions of the American flag. This unique variant of the Stars and Stripes is perhaps the best evidence we have of the peoples flag, demonstrating that our flag was a product of the popular and expedient imagination rather than official writ.
This striking flag, now called the Hancock English Flag, because of the an 1880 presidential election campaign panel added to the fly edge, is a period 13 star flag. One of the few in existence, homemade flags like this one were the norm between 1777 and 1795, when this star count was current. While ships chandlers routinely made flags for maritime and naval use; local governments, the militia and private citizens were left to their own enterprises when a flag was desired.
This flag is constructed out of a variety of fabrics: red wool bunting, white cotton cloth and printed calico blue stars in a very uncommon reversal of the traditional American motifs. There are more white stripes and the star field is the reverse of the normal white stars on blue. Yet it still captures the essence of the Stars and Stripes. Adding to the distinctiveness of the flag is the unusual stat pattern a circle of nine with four stars on the center. The flag was probably made out of the material the seamstress had at hand.
A previous owner of the flag identified it as treasured family relic from New England. Perhaps it was, for at some point the flag was lovingly repaired by removing the bottom white stripe in order acquire fabric to mend and patch this relic of the Early Federal period. Later, demonstrating their support for the Democrat ticket, the fly panel that gives the flag its current name was added recycling this 13 star flag in the 1880s.
Thirteen star flags are quite rare and we are fortunate to have had this historic flag be preserved and conserved by the family that passed it down to us today."
Flag Examination Videos:
Summary - ZFC0624 Flag Examination by Dr. Rabbit Goody, PhD, of Thistle Hill Weavers, May 2009 (4 mins.) Also features summary for ZFC2407 U.S. Revenue-Marine Ensign & Custom House Flag (4 mins.)
Full Flag Examination - ZFC0624 by Dr. Rabbit Goody, PhD, of Thistle Hill Weavers, May 2009 (31 mins.)