This is the first flag of the United States of America. It flew from 1775 to 1777.
It was conceived and flown during the American War of Independence and is called the Grand Union Flag. Sometimes it’s referred to as the Continental Colors, the Congress Flag, the Cambridge Flag or the First Navy Ensign.
By whatever name ….
…. it’s striking, don’t you agree?
What was the inspiration for the design?
Let’s begin with the Union Jack.
In 1775 as the war broke out but before the Declaration of Independence, George Washington wrote to his brother explaining that large sections of the newly formed Continental Congress were working towards reconciliation with Britain.
So, the Union Jack was retained.
The ports of the British American colonies were bustling places of trade. Each merchant ship from the Mother Country flew the Red Ensign.
Here’s the Red Ensign as it was in 1775, before the union with Ireland and inclusion of St Patrick’s Saltire:
Want a new national flag?
Sew on some white stripes! Da dah!
All ready to be hoisted on the colonial warship Alfred on the Delaware River, Philadelphia on December 3, 1775.
Perhaps the choice of first United States flag wasn’t even as convenient as that.
From 1707 and well through the period 1777, this was the flag of the British East India Company:
In 1775 to 1777, this was flown on ships of the British East India Company in the ports of Boston, New York and others. They visited infrequently but records show they were in American ports.
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Here’s an extract from an 1880 school textbook titled A Brief History of the United States showing the Grand Union Flag as “First National Flag” :
George Washington’s army raised the Grand Union Flag on January 1, 1776 at Prospect Hill near Cambridge, Massachusetts. They were laying siege to the British, but the British thought it the flag was a sign of capitulation by the colonists.
By 1777, the newly formed Congress substituted the Union Jack on the flag for thirteen stars, hints of today’s flag.
Make no mistake though. The United States flag of today is either an amended Red Ensign or co-opted flag of the British East India Company.
Independence or not, we are cut from the same cloth.