13 Star U.S. Flag - Grand Luminary design, Revolutionary & Early Federal Period.
This 13 star Grand Luminary flag is an enigma wrapped in a riddle and surrounded by mystery. The flag is made of wool bunting with six-point, linen stars gracing the canton. These features point to manufacture during the early federal period, especially the six-pointed linen stars, a common feature of 18th century flags.
Today, we often incorrectly assume that a star means one of the fifty, traditional five- point stars we see on the present United States flag. In fact, a star may have many more points. In the early days of the republic, a star depicted or drawn as a representation of a heavenly body generally had six or more points. One with five-points was more correctly called a mullet and represented a stylized rowel of a spur. In the 18th century, flags commonly had six, seven and eight point stars. The five-point star became a more standardized feature after the passage of the Second Flag Act in 1795.
The six point stars on this flag are arranged in the form of a great six-pointed star representing a glory. A glory is a meteorological phenomenon wherein a halo or false sun appears opposite the sun. Often interpreted as some form of Divinity or Providential Acquiescence, glories are formed by vaporized scatterings from cloud or mist droplets. They commonly appear on mountains and hillsides when the sun breaks through mist and when there is an opportunity to look downwards towards the anti-solar point.
This flag was originally constructed entirely by hand; however, there are also areas of machine sewing, which cannot have occurred prior to 1847. However, these are repairs and are indications of the importance with which this flag was once held and still does today. Part of its early history has been discovered. It was acquired at Sotheby's Auction of the Mastai Estate Flag Collection in New York City on October 10, 2002, as Lot No. 9; however, it was not a Mastai flag but a related piece offered in conjunction with that sale. Research reveals it to be from the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities collections. According to their records, a period 13 star flag was donated to them in 1966 by the Youngs family, but was subsequently deceased, possibly because the machine stitching reduced the likelihood of it being a period flag. Unknown to the person or persons who made the decision to decease the flag the machine stitching, which is clearly seen in the field of the flag by textile examination, revealed the machine stitching was not the original thread on the flag. Analysis revealed the original thread was hand sewn silk thread. Silk thread along with examination of all the materials the flag was made from including construction details reveal that they are of 18th century origin.
This flag was made sometime between 1782 and 1790, likely right after the return of NY to the colonies when the British left and the new American govt. was formed.
Because of its simple geometry, symmetric appearance and functionality it is easy to draw; the hexagram has been a popular symbol from ancient times. It has a long and complex history, and was often used to indicate the combination of terrestrial and celestial realms. It is the most iconic symbol of Judaism today. Known as the Magen David, or Shield of David, it graces the current flag of the State of Israel; but the motif, was not originally Jewish. In the ancient world, hexagrams were used by many religions, and in the Dark Ages, Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike used them as auspicious symbols.
U.S. government versions of the Great Seal show the constellation of 13 stars in a hexagram pattern of two triangles intersecting to form a six-pointed star. There has been much speculation about the symbolic intent of this hexagram, but it may simply be a rearrangement of a 3-2-3-2-3 star pattern on one of the other first United States flags.
The large six pointed star formed from 13 smaller has been a distinctive feature of the US Arms and Great Seal since 1782. This early Federal Period flag incorporates this design motif into its canton. This flag is unique as it was used during the 21 months New York City served as our nation's capital: March 4, 1789 to December 5, 1790 and maybe before.
The Great Seal of the United States was approved on June 20, 1782. The blazon or heraldic description for the crest which appears above the head of the American bald eagle was first described by Charles Thompson, the seal's designer and Secretary of the Congress but no official arrangement for the stars was specified.
Curiously, a flag with this same star field pattern is depicted in 1851 lithograph The Bay of New York: Taken from the Battery by Edward Valois. Believed to depict the 4th of July, it is thought that it may depict this very flag, flown in commemoration on that holiday and explains why the flag was repaired with machine stitching so it may be used on that auspicious day, the 4th of July.
Although this is conjecture, the circumstantial facts support the theory: the original flag is from the period; it was lovingly repaired for reasons now lost to history; it was retained by a prominent Long Island historical association; this variant star pattern of the Grand Luminary is almost unknown in the 19th century and this may have been a 4th of July commemoration of the events of Evacuation Day 1783, when a United States flag replaced the Union Flag of Britain at Battery Park in New York City.
The pattern is so rare that this is the only one of size to fly that has ever been seen by many flag collectors. Replicas of this pattern and flag with 5 point stars is known to exist dating from the Centinel period 1876 suggesting that the five pointed stars are a result of the exact specifications of the original flag had been forgotten or lost to the flag makers that made the miniature replicas in 1876. In fact it is believed by this collector that only one of these flags was made in the 1780s because it is closely associated with the President of the Continental Congress whose shield depicts this very design in 1782. Such usage would also explain how a flag of 60 plus years would still be in condition to fly in 1851 at the Battery because it was used indoors and protected from the elements.
This flag is truly a national treasure that by accident and a commitment to find the history of flags once thought lost to the past survives to tell us more about the American experience and character. It is one of the most important flags in the country.
1st Public Exhibition:
San Francisco Officer's Club Presidio Jan. - Feb. 2003
2nd Public Exhibition:
San Francisco Officer's Club Presidio May - December 2003
Night of Flags
In celebration of George Washingtons Birthday
The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America in California Patriotic Services Committee
Ben Zaricor, Director, Flag Center
James Ferrigan, Curator, Flag Center
Thursday, February 26, 2009
Octagon House, San Francisco
5:30pm to 7:30 pm
Washington Flag Congress, 2011
24th International Congress of Vexillology and
45th annual meeting of the North American Vexillological Association.
Washington, DC & Alexandria, VA
July 31-August 6, 2011
Madaus, Howard M., Dr, Whitney Smith, The American Flag: Two Centuries of Concord and Conflict. Santa Cruz: VZ Publications, 2006, p. 15.
• Youngs Family, Sag Harbor, Long Island, NY, until 1966.
• Gifted to the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities, until 1992/95.
• Anonymous Collector, until consigned to auction, 2002.
• Sold via Sotheby's of New York City to the Zaricor Flag Collection, 2002.
ZFC Significant Flag