The US Flag in the 18th Century

1 May 1707

Flag of the Kingdom of Great Britain, 1707-1801.
Flag of the Kingdom of Great Britain, 1707-1801.

The Acts of Union take effect, creating the Kingdom of Great Britain and the making the red, white, and blue King’s Colors its flag. This flag and its Red Ensign variant were influential in American flag-making.


21 September 1737

Francis Hopkinson as depicted in Oberholtzer's The Literary History of Philadelphia (1906).
Francis Hopkinson as depicted in Oberholtzer’s The Literary History of Philadelphia (1906).

American civil servant and likely designer of the 13-star flag Francis Hopkinson born in Philadelphia.  He famously requested payment in wine from the Continental Congress for designing the US flag, Great Seal, currency, and other symbols — but never received it.


1 January 1752

Late 19th century depiction of Betsy Ross, 1752-1836.
Late 19th century depiction of Betsy Ross, 1752-1836.

Elizabeth Phoebe Griscom born in West Jersey, PA.  Not until the Centennial year 1876, 40 years after her death, would she become the American folk hero Betsy Ross.


3 December 1775

The USS Alfred.  Painting by Harry W. Carpenter (1920).
The USS Alfred. Painting by Harry W. Carpenter (1920).

The Continental Colors – a British red ensign with six white stripes added to form the familiar 13 red and white stripes of the US flag – is first hoisted on the USS Alfred at Philadelphia by John Paul Jones.


1 January 1776

The Continental Colors or "Grand Union" flag.
The Continental Colors or “Grand Union” flag.

According to traditional accounts, the Continental Colors are raised on Prospect Hill near Cambridge, MA by Washington’s army as it lay siege to British-occupied Boston. British military observers interpret it as a sign of surrender.  What flag or flags were actually raised that day is a subject of debate — see Ansoff (2006), DeLear (2014), Ansoff (2014).


14 June 1777

Very early 13-star flag in the Zaricor collection.
Very early 13-star flag in the Zaricor collection.

Second Continental Congress passes the First Flag Act: Resolved, That the flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.


13 January 1794

The Second Flag Act.
The Second Flag Act.

Washington signs the Second Flag Act, changing the flag to 15 stars and 15 stripes, to acknowledge the new states of Vermont and Kentucky.

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Author: SDM

Ethnography * Technology * Design

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