By the time the first shots of the American Revolution were fired at the Battle of Lexington in 1775, the American colonists had already designed and flown a number of distinctive flags. Some of these flags were only used locally by those who designed and made them. Others saw widespread use throughout the Revolutionary War.
Some of the earliest flags associated with the American Revolution were Liberty flags. These were seen in a wide variety of designs, ranging from a plain blue field with the word "Liberty" sewn in white, to variations of British flags with the word "Liberty" added. Variations of the Liberty flag had longer messages such as "Liberty and Union." Most colonists who flew Liberty flags were loyal to the British crown, but objected to what they deemed unfair government practices.
Sons of Liberty
By the mid-1760s, some colonists were beginning to openly protest Great Britain's taxation practices. One group, known as the Sons of Liberty, met regularly under a large elm tree in Boston. When English authorities had the tree cut down, the Sons of Liberty erected a flagpole and flew a flag with nine red and white vertical stripes. The British authorities soon outlawed these "rebellion stripes," leading the Sons of Liberty and similar groups of protestors to adopt a flag with red and white horizontal stripes, similar to the field on the current American flag.
The coiled rattlesnake was one of the most common symbols used on the flags of colonists during the American Revolution, particularly by minuteman militia units. These flags featured a snake on a plain or striped field, usually with the motto "Don't Tread on Me." Some versions of these flags included other mottoes, such as Patrick Henry's "Liberty or Death."
Pine Tree Flags
The pine tree was another common emblem on American Colonial flags. Colonists adopted the pine tree symbol from the local Penacook Indians and had used it to modify British flags from the mid-18th century. During the Revolutionary War, the pine tree emblem was often placed on a white field. George Washington used a variation of the Pine Tree Flag on his personally funded naval vessels with the phrase "Appeal to Heaven" added.
Grand Old Union Flags
Grand Old Union flags were among the most commonly used during the American Revolution, in part because they were easy to make. The flag is an adaptation of the British naval flag, a red field with a British Union Jack in the upper left corner. Colonists modified the flag by sewing white horizontal stripes on the red field, creating the red and white striped pattern that would later be adopted as part of the official American flag.
Stars and Stripes Forever
The most immediate precursor to the Old Glory Americans are familiar with was designed in 1777, when the Revolution was well underway. It was a further adaptation of the Grand Old Union Flag. The new flag consisted of seven red and six white horizontal stripes and replaced the Union Jack with a blue field bearing 13 five-pointed stars. The 13 stars and stripes represented the 13 rebellious colonies. There were several variations on the placement of the stars on the flag. The most common designs staggered the stars or placed them in a circle.
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