Friday, July 16, 2010

A New US Colonial Rebel Flag?

Colonial Kerchief made before 1779

In the Vexillological scholarly journal, The Raven: volume 14 – 2007, an article was written by Laura K. Kidd. It was entitled: Wave It or Wear It? The United States Flag as a Fashion Icon. Laura's article is a whitty and insightful essay that showcases the use of the American flag on clothing. I definitely recommend its reading.

Kidd makes a fascinating discovery on the 'yin yang shift' of the left and right opinions in the use of the American Flag since the 'Anglo-Saxon Cultural Revolution of 1961.'

On an illustration in black and white shows that ‘th
e first commemorative textile with a flag motif is a linen kerchief printed to honor General George Washington.’ (The Raven) The inscription around General Washington read from twelve o' clock reads:


Flags from the Four Corners

(click on any pic to see a larger clearer image)

The original source of this illustration is from a book by Herbert Ridgeway Collins: Threads of History: Americana Recorded on Cloth 1775 to the Present, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington DC, 1979.

There are two flags on this kerchief that caught my eye: a flag that seems to have a rising sun design, like Japan, in the upper left corner; and a 25 striped flag that has 13 horizontal red and 12 white stripes.

Is it a Colonial Red Ensign or a some sort of unknown 13 Ray Ensign?

The flag with the 'rising sun' design is described as a ‘Colonial Red Ensign.’ However on close examination with my computer, that description does not seem to fit. The exquisite work in the kerchief reveals the designer had an attentive eye for detail. Thus if it were a 'Colonial Red Ensign' it would and should look like one, but it doesn't. Furthermore the 13 darkly coloured rays do not match with a theoretical lazy version of UK flag. Otherwise it would make more sense to have 12 rays rather than 13.

4 rays for the red cross of England + 8 rays for the eight blue triangles of Scotland = 12 coloured rays

13 is a patriotic number anyways. Perhaps it was not the intention of the designer to make a Colonial Red Ensign? Maybe this flag is an undocumented or personal revolutionary flag?

According to Kidd, this kerchief was made somewhere between ‘1775 unto 1778.' There were a variety of colonial rebel flags flying in this period.

Kidd also states it is possible that, ‘if printed after the passing of the First Flag Act in June 1777, the designer did not use the 'official' United States flag as a design motif. Perhaps the textile designer did not know that there was now an official’ U.S. flag – or the new flag did not have meaning to the designer.'

13 Striped Son's of Liberty Flag:red stripes are labeled with red numbers and white stripes are labeled with white numbers

The second flag of intrigue seems to be an accidental variation of the Son’s of Liberty Flag. The usual Son’s of Liberty flag has 7 red and 6 white stripes for a total of 13. But this Son’s of Liberty flag has 13 red and 12 white stripes for a total of 25. Perhaps the person making the textile made an honest mistake? One can easily get confused upon reading a description that the Son's of Liberty that is supposed to have 13 stripes; one could easily interpret that this meant 13 red stripes, instead of the proper total of 13 stripes via 7 red and 6 white?

Gadsden Flag with clear lettering

Finally it is difficult to make out what is written upon the Gadsden Flag. It seems to say 'DON'T TREAD UPON ME.' However most Gadsden flags read, 'DON'T TREAD ON ME.' So what's the big deal with 'ON' versus 'UPON?' Not much I suppose, it seems to be a common enough mistake. I suppose, 'DON'T TREAD UPON ME,' has a polite tone while 'DON'T TREAD ON ME,' has a more threatening tone.

'Upon' also has a mystical undertone: 'Once Upon a Time' vs. 'Once On a Time.' Perhaps the 'upon me' version could be thought as a polite-cautionary Gadsden Flag, while the 'on me' version is a passionate-threatening Gadsden Flag.

In conclusion, on one hand this kerchief offers up a new unknown revolutionary era flag with 13 rays emanating from the center, in the canton, that are assumed to be red. On the other hand, it could simply be an error or liberty of the artist's hand, or simply a distorted image of a 'Colonial Red Ensign.' If a clearer image of the kerchief in question can be found it could help clarify the issue or offer evidence of a 'US Colonial Rising Sun Ensign?'

Modern Rendition of the 13 ray colonial ensign:
assuming red and white are used: 13 colonies 13 stripes?

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