Grand Union Flag
The "Grand Union Flag" (also the "Continental Colors", the "Congress Flag", the "Cambridge Flag", and the "First Navy Ensign") is considered to be the first national flag of the United States, then known as the "United Colonies" of North America. This flag consisted of alternating thirteen red and white stripes with the British Union Flag (also known as the "Union Jack") of the time (the variant prior to the inclusion of the St. Patrick's cross (St. Patrick's Flag) of neighboring Ireland after the unification of 1801 into the United Kingdom) in the canton.
By the end of 1775, during the first year of the American Revolutionary War, the Second Continental Congress operated as a de facto war government authorizing the creation of an Army, a Navy and even a Marine Corps. A new flag was required to represent the Congress and fledgling nation, then known initially as the "United Colonies", with a different symbol from the "Red Ensign" (British "Union Jack" with the combined crosses of St. George and St. Andrew from 1707 in the upper corner on a field of red) flown from British civilian and merchant vessels, the British "White Ensign" with again the "Union Jack" crosses of St. George and St. Andrew on a white field and a large red St. George's cross super-imposed for the means of identifying ships of the King's Royal Navy, and the British Union flags carried by the King's army troops on land.
The "Grand Union" flag of the American colonists was first hoisted on the colonial warship USS Alfred, in the harbor on the western shore of the Delaware River at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on December 3, 1775, by newly-appointed Lieutenant John Paul Jones of the formative Continental Navy. The event had been documented in letters to Congress and eyewitness accounts. The Grand Union flag was used by the American Continental Army forces as both a naval ensign and garrison flag throughout 1776 and early 1777.
It is not known for certain when, or by whom, the "Continental Colors'" design was created, though the flag could easily be produced by sewing white stripes onto the previous British Red Ensigns. The "Alfred" flag has been credited to Margaret Manny.
It was widely believed that the flag was raised by George Washington's Army on New Year's Day, 1776 at Prospect Hill in Charlestown (now part of Somerville), near his headquarters at Cambridge, Massachusetts, (across the Charles River to the north from Boston), which was then surrounding and laying siege to the British forces then occupying the city, and that the flag was interpreted by British military observers in the city under commanding General Thomas Gage, (1719-1787), as a sign of surrender. Some scholars dispute this traditional account, concluding that the flag raised at Prospect Hill was probably a British union flag.
The design of the Grand Union flag is similar to the flag of the British East India Company (EIC). Indeed, certain EIC designs in use since 1707 (when the canton was changed from the flag of England to that of the Kingdom of Great Britain) were nearly identical, though the number of stripes varied from 9 to 15. That EIC flags were potentially well known by the American colonists has been the basis of a theory of the origin of the Grand Union flag's design.
The Flag Act of 1777 by the Continental Congress authorized a new official national flag of a design similar to that of the Colors, with thirteen stars (representing the thirteen States) on a field of blue replacing the British "Union Jack" flag in the canton. The resolution merely describes "a new constellation" for the arrangement of the white stars in the blue canton, so a number of designs were later interpreted and made with a circle of equal stars, another circle with one star in the center, and various designs of even or alternate horizontal rows of stars, and even the so-called "Bennington flag" from Bennington, Vermont which had the number "76" surmounted by an arch of 13 stars, later also becoming known in 1976 as the "Biccentennial Flag". The combined crosses in the British Union flag symbolized the union of the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland; the symbolism of a union of equal parts which was retained in the new American flag as described in the Flag Resolution of June 14, 1777 (later celebrated in American culture and history as "Flag Day").
- Ansoff, Peter (2006), "The Flag on Prospect Hill", Raven: A Journal of Vexillology 13: 77–100, ISSN 1071-0043, LCCN 94642220.
- Fawcett, Charles (October 1937), "The Striped Flag of the East India Company, and its Connexion with the American ‘Stars and Stripes’", Mariners Mirror.
- Hamilton, Schuyler. (1853). History of the National Flag of the United States of America
- Leepson, Marc (2004), Flag: An American Biography, ISBN 0-312-32308-5.
- Preble, George Henry (1880), History of the Flag of the United States of America.