Three Flags Day

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Three Flags Day commemorates March 9 and 10, 1804, when Spain officially turned over the Louisiana Territory to France, which in turn ceded the territory to the United States in the Louisiana Purchase.

The ceremony in St. Louis, Missouri cleared the way for Lewis and Clark to begin their exploration.


France had ruled Louisiana from its founding until the Treaty of Paris (1763) which ended the Seven Years' War (whose North American phase was the French and Indian War) in which Spain received the French land west of the Mississippi River (the "right bank" going downstream), and Great Britain received the French territory east of the river (the "left bank"), which had been called the Illinois Country.

Spain officially took over its territory in 1769 when it suppressed the Rebellion of 1768 by settlers who did not want Spain to take over the Louisiana Colony.

The United States extended its boundaries to the Mississippi in 1783 at the conclusion of the American Revolutionary War via the Treaty of Paris (1783) in which it acquired the Illinois Country.

On October 1, 1800, Napoleon concluded the acquisition of the Louisiana Territory for France from Spain in the Third Treaty of San Ildefonso. However, the treaty was kept secret and Spain continued to administer the territory.

The United States and France agreed on April 30, 1803 for the U.S. purchase of Louisiana (which was announced publicly in the United States on July 4). However the United States did not immediately take possession and Spain continued to administer the territory because it still had never formally turned it over to France.

After the United States purchase, Thomas Jefferson announced plans for an exploration of the new territory. Spain, however, prohibited any foreign exploration of its territory. Lewis and Clark were to spend the winter of 1803-04 at Camp Dubois in Illinois opposite the confluence of the Missouri River and Mississippi River until the territory was formally ceded to the United States.


On November 30, 1803, Spain formally transferred the territory in a ceremony at Place d'Armes in New Orleans attended by Spanish Governors Juan Manuel de Salcedo and Sebastian de la Puerta y O'Farril and new French Governor Pierre Clement de Laussat.

On December 20, 1803, New Orleans and the Louisiana Territory were transferred to the United States in a ceremony with Laussat and incoming United States governor William C. C. Claiborne. However, with navigation on the Mississippi halted because of winter, the news was not conveyed to St. Louis.

On March 9 Amos Stoddard (the new United States lieutenant governor for Upper Louisiana) and Meriwether Lewis arrived by boat and were met by the Spanish lieutenant for Upper Louisiana Don Carlos De Hault De Lassus. Lassus said:

People of Upper Louisiana, by order of the king I am now about to surrender this post and its dependencies. The flag which has protected you during nearly 36 years will no longer be seen. The oath you took now ceases to bind. Your faithfulness and courage in upholding it will be remembered forever. From the bottom of my heart I wish you all prosperity.

The Spanish flag was lowered on March 9 and the French flag was hoisted over the city of St. Louis for 24 hours. The French flag, which initially supposed to have been lowered at sunset remained under guard all night. The next morning the flag of the United States was hoisted. This event is sometimes referred to as the "Three Flag Ceremony" or "Ceremony of Three Flags."