Before the Stars and Stripes were chosen as the flag of the United States on that relatively mundane day of June 14, 1777 many a rebel flag were already flying for the Patriot Cause. The Pine Tree Appeal to Heaven Flag was relatively popular as was the Gadsden Rattlesnake Design. Although the Gadsden name is attached to the popular yellow rattle snake flag, note that this design originates out of the mind of Benjamin Franklin. Perhaps a name change is in order, since using a rattlesnake to represent the colonies was originally Benjamin Franklin's idea?
One of the popular designs was the horizontal or sometimes vertical Rebel Stripe Flags. No doubt there were other designs that came to be, but were eventually lost in the sands of time. But one design has been recovered. It was mistakenly identified as a British Ensign.
Like the legend of Betsy Ross there is an air of mystique on the story of its nebulous genesis. It was definitely generated during the American Revolution sometime before 1777, and most likely by an American Patriot. All evidence points to John Hewson - the Paul Revere of Philadelphia. Or rather Paul Revere is the John Hewson of Boston? The story behind the flag - which can not be wholly determined - involves the first first lady - Martha Washington. Apparently it seems that Mrs. Washington visited Mr. Hewson at his calico print shop in Philadelphia and requested a special handkerchief that was to honor her husband, then the Commander and Chief.
In the four corners are four flags - three are familiar and one is mystery. The three familiar flags are the Don't Tread On ("Upon" in this Case) Me Gadsden Flag, Appeal to Heaven Pine Tree Flag, and the 13 Son's of Liberty Rebel Stripes. The fourth flag, in a general sense, is most like the official modern flag since it has a canton and a field. But the field is solid and in the canton is a 'star burst' of 13 rays (with 12 spaces). It looks like the Japanese Rising Sun Flag but without the sun and less a few rays.
We do not know for sure if Martha Washington did indeed request the commission of this handkerchief at John Hewson's calico printing yard in North Philadelphia. Unfortunately Mr. Hewson's printing yard was destroyed when the British Occupied Philadelphia.
Nonetheless this handkerchief was made to honor George Washington as the "Foundator and Protector of America's Independency and Liberty." The flags in the four corners were intended to be ensigns that represented the united cause of the 13 Rebel Colonies of United States of America. The four flags were essentially 'de facto' flags of the United States before the adoption of the official stars and stripes.
Notice the 13 Rays in the Canton
Printed by John Hewson 1775-1777?