July 25, 2017
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Our first stars and stripes an opinion from 1960

By: Irene Hilsendager
July 7, 2017

Many years ago, kings of lands far away, began hanging a piece of cloth from a prominent place in front of their house as a royal symbol. Wherever the king went, the cloth went, Therefore it seems the first flag was born.

The first flag ever flown in America was most likely the square of white silk with a cross on it borne by John Cabot when he discovered the American continent at Jamestown, Virginia in 1747.

The early colonies had flags of their own, varying in color and design. But perhaps it was the stars in the flag of Rhode Island and the thirteen stripes in the standard of the Light Horse Calvary  troop of Philadelphia that formed the groundwork for Old glory.

The first American flags took many forms. One, the first navy flag showed a rattlesnake, saying  “Don’t Tread On Me.” Others had the English cross in the corner.

The colonies grew restless under England and in June, 1775, the Revolutionary War began. On June 14, 1777, the Continental Congress met and resolved: “That the flag of the 13 States be 13 stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.”

Legend has prevailed down through the years that Betsy Ross made the first flag. But modern authorities doubt this. Never the less, someone did. And that is all that matters.

The new flag flew in battle two months later, and has been flying ever since.

It was in 1814 during our second  war with England, that the song we now sing while reviewing our flag, was written by Francis Scott Key.

While aboard a British ship anchored near Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor to arrange for the release of a prisoner, the British chose to attack the fort.

Forced to stay aboard during the bombardment, Key came up on the deck as the firing ceased at dawn, and saw it still flying, showing the red, white and blue. 

Inspired by the sight, he sat down and wrote a poem, that was later set to music and made our official national anthem in 1931.

Would you recognize your state flag if it were carried at the head of a parade? Many people couldn’t. The U.S. has 50 flags-one for each state. The story told by these 50 flags is the story of our country. Many emblems were born in battle. In fact, the Nevada state flag displays the words: “Battle Born.” significant of that state’s admission to the Union during the days of the Civil War.

New Jersey’s banner went through the Revolutionary War and was proudly displayed at the British surrender at Yorktown. The North Dakota flag saw action in no less than 37 engagements during the Spanish-American War and the Philippine Insurrection. 

The California flag was born in the “Bear flag revolt,” when settlers opposed the Mexican government in 1846. So it carries a picture of a bear on its white background.

Both Michigan and Wisconsin banners originated during the Civil War. Arizona’s colorful flag showing the rays of the setting sun, was first flown on the battleship of the same name.

A 13-year-old schoolboy, Benny Benson, an orphan, designed the Alaska state flag.

The flag of Hawaii has the British Union Jack on its corner, out of memory for Captain Vancouver who, during his voyage around the world in 1794, gave King Kamehameha, of the island, a British flag.

The Louisiana flag, although not adopted by the state until 1912, was in existence a century before. Oklahoma has had 14 state flags, until its present official banner was adopted by the state legislature. 

Irene Hilsendager’s column each week touches on moments in the history of Cotati, Rohnert Park and Penngrove.