Some vexing vexillology – don't forget to fly your flag today

As I put out my flag this morning (seen at left), I recalled this interesting story in the WSJ the other day about vexillology – the study of flags, and a controversy over an image carved into a Revolutionary War era gunpowder horn. Seeing that the 4th and gunpowder and flags go together, it seemed like a natural topic to share. There’s poll at the WSJ also on the topic. Looking at the image on the powder horn in that article, I think he was representing the 8 cardinal compass points, rather than stars.   What do you think?

From the Wall Street Journal

Seeing Stars: Innkeeper’s View of Powder Horn Carving Unfurls Flag Debate

History Buffs Disagree on When Stars Showed Up With Stripes; Some Wave Off Claim

Barnabas Webb has been dead for nearly two centuries. But the Revolutionary War soldier—or, at least, the powder horn he used to carry gunpowder—is vexing the world of vexillologists, or flag researchers.

A Virginia innkeeper and history buff claims the engravings decorating Mr. Webb’s powder horn, which depict the end of the Siege of Boston in March 1776, contain the earliest known representation of the stars and stripes together on an American flag.

image

Image: Catherine MillarInnkeeper John Millar flies this modern interpretation of the horn’s flag.

If correct, it could mean that Colonial Americans united stars and stripes more than a year before the 1777 Flag Act declared that the national flag should contain 13 stripes and 13 stars, potentially rewriting the early history of the Grand Old Flag.

But the claim is raising red flags among some historians of early America, who call it a star-spangled misstep.

John Millar, a Williamsburg, Va., innkeeper by day and architectural and tall-ships historian in his spare time, was perusing an issue of Early American Life, a magazine for enthusiasts of the era, last summer when he came across a photo of an 18th-century powder horn. Studying the images on the powder horn, which bears the date March 17-April 1776, he says he made a surprising discovery: A fingernail-size flag he believes depicts stars.

Balderdash, says Dave Martucci, an early American flag expert and past president of the North American Vexillological Association. “This is not a stars-and-stripes flag,” says Mr. Martucci, a 59-year-old tax assessor and flag appraiser from Washington, Maine. Stars were “in the future.”

Read the entire article and view the image: Seeing Stars: Innkeeper’s View of Powder Horn Carving Unfurls Flag Debate

============================================================

As I said earlier, I think he was representing the 8 cardinal compass points, rather than stars. See this image to understand what I’m seeing:

The image on the powder horn (at left) doesn’t contain the 5 extra stars on the flag they have created (at right), only the 8 dots:

image

Note: I don’t know if you all have the same video advertisement displayed as I do, but it looks worth trying today:

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Ibbo

Its because you realise that you all still want to be part of the United Kingdom right 😉 ? Looks similar to the Australian & KIWI flags.
Still think that you wanted to remain part of the U.K. 😉

Grateful Dead
US Blues
Red and white, blue suede shoes, i’m uncle sam, how do you do?
Gimme five, i’m still alive, ain’t no luck, i learned to duck.
Check my pulse, it don’t change. stay seventy-two come shine or rain.
Wave the flag, pop the bag, rock the boat, skin the goat.
Wave that flag, wave it wide and high.
Summertime done, come and gone, my, oh, my.
I’m uncle sam, that’s who i am; been hidin’ out in a rock and roll band.
Shake the hand that shook the hand of p.t. barnum and charlie chan.
Shine your shoes, light your fuse. can you use them ol’ u.s. blues?
I’ll drink your health, share your wealth, run your life, steal your wife.
Wave that flag, wave it wide and high.
Summertime done, come and gone, my, oh, my.
Back to back chicken shack. son of a gun, better change your act.
We’re all confused, what’s to lose?
Wave that flag, wave it wide and high.
Summertime done, come and gone, my, oh, my.
(posted by a Limey!)

pat

Well shoot. The carving always deal with eight. The flag 13.

Philip Peake

Given the size of the engraving and the width of the Cross of St. George, it would be close to impossible to include the stars on the cross (if indeed they were there).
The flag illustration looks an awful lot like the Hawaii flag to me. It wouldn’t surprise me if different people at different times came up with similar designs. The real question is whether there was any inclination to include any reference to the 13 states.

Bloke down the pub

Someone adding two and two together and trying to make thirteen.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Happy independence day to all you colonials.

I think flying the flag today is a nice way to say thank you to those who voluntarily serve our country in the military. For many of them today is just another day.
On a less fun note but a necessary part of keeping freedom I just finished reading what has to be the US implementation vision for the Belmont Challenge. Funded by NSF and overseen by IBM.
Anthony-I know you will appreciate the irony of using their climate change modelling to know model societies and economies for planning and policy purposes.
I think we need to explain to the money grubbing and planning to control bureaucrats that the BEST way to model uncertainty is not to even try. Let well-informed individuals and less informed make their own decisions and accept the consequences.
What a tragic vision John Holdren seems to be creating at NSF. The report classifies people as “sociotechnical systems.”

Oh, say can you give me a break, look at the color photo of the horn – all of the carver’s flags have carved up squares and dots for embellishment.
OTOH, look at the UFO above the “LEET.” Oh heck, maybe this is the first example of leet-speak or at least the inspiration for the geek community when its time arrived.
Humbug! Yeah, I know that’s out of season. 🙂

oeman50

Thanks, Jeremy. I usually play that song as part of my celebration of the 4th. I used to break out my t-shirt from that tour, but it’s too fragile, now.

Robin Melville

The flag mock-up inexplicably omits the cross of St Patrick (the red diagonals). Did the revolutionaries have something against the Irish?

davidmhoffer

I looked at the image in full in the linked article and I find it hard to believe that the specific figure in question is even supposed to be a flag. There are two other figures which are clearly flags on the powder horn. They are both depicted on flag poles, and they both have ruffled edges on the far side from the flag pole to show that there is a wind blowing. The wind is even going in the same direction as the weather vane is pointing. I don’t have a clue what that figure is supposed to be, but I doubt that it is a flag.
Happy birthday America. May you one day soon return to the role you have played so well, to the benefit of so many, and at great cost to yourselves in gold and in blood. Leader of the free world.

polistra

Was this revolution necessary? The only objective answer is No.
Canada stuck with the Crown, US created a new system.
After 250 years, the only real difference between Canada and US is that Canada’s governmental system is more adaptable, more responsive to the needs of the people.
1776 was a bad idea, and we should undo it.

Ibbo says:
July 4, 2012 at 8:11 am
> Still think that you wanted to remain part of the U.K. 😉
Hah! “Live Free or Die” – New Hampshire state motto, from John Stark, hmm, not during the Revolutionary War, but a toast in 1809. http://www.redstate.com/barrypopik/2011/04/25/live-free-or-die-the-true-origin-given-today-on-john-stark-day-in-new-hampshire/
BTW, the NH Constitution makes it the citizens’ right to revolt when necessary:

[Art.] 10. [Right of Revolution.] Government being instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security, of the whole community, and not for the private interest or emolument of any one man, family, or class of men; therefore, whenever the ends of government are perverted, and public liberty manifestly endangered, and all other means of redress are ineffectual, the people may, and of right ought to reform the old, or establish a new government. The doctrine of nonresistance against arbitrary power, and oppression, is absurd, slavish, and destructive of the good and happiness of mankind.
June 2, 1784

One could argue we’ve shirked our duty a few times, but for the most part the state government knows they can be replaced.

polistra says:
“1776 was a bad idea, and we should undo it.”
No, it was a good idea. But bad, corrupt, self-serving people have learned to game the system for their own benefit. We began as a union of states, united by a small federal government with very few and limited powers. But after two terrible world wars and a long Cold War, federal power has been aggrandized, individual liberty has been smothered, the Constitution’s clear requirements have been subverted, and dictatorship of some sort appears inevitable.
But I still fly the flag, 24/7/365.

To rebut your opinion, the “stars” on the powderhorn are between the compass points, not on them. Also, one of the other flags on the horn shows only 4 compass points, which would be strange as they would be the midpoints (NE, SE, NW, SW). Another shows 8 lines, but only 4 stars.
Yes, I said stars. Many flags of the era had stars, but I’m not aware of any that had dots as decorative elements.
Of the several obvious flags depicted on the powderhorn. I would agree that this one shows stars and stripes on the same flag.

I also note with humor the image of the windmill and what may be solar panels on top of some buildings. Obviously the carver was predicting the arrival of green energy some 230 years later.

DonK31

Re:
Ibbo says:
July 4, 2012 at 8:11 am
Its because you realise that you all still want to be part of the United Kingdom right 😉 ? Looks similar to the Australian & KIWI flags.
Still think that you wanted to remain part of the U.K. 😉
Our Founders did want to remain free Englishmen until:
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
The more things change, the more they remain the same.

Neil McEvoy

@Robin Melville:
US independence predates the union of Great Britain and Ireland. Therefore, the British flag of the time and colonial derivatives thereof did not contain the St Patrick’s cross.
Happy birthday USA.

theduke

polistra says:
July 4, 2012 at 8:51 am
====================
Oh, shut up.
REPLY: I’d have to agree, arguing about undoing the event that produced the greatest nation in the history of man (on the Fourth of July no less) is probably in the top three stupidest comments ever witnessed here. And, I don’t mind insulting polistra, since he’s just another phantom commenter with an anonymous opinion. – Anthony

007

The guy was doodling, what’s the big fuss?

theduke

Mark Wagner says:
July 4, 2012 at 9:03 am
=====================
Yes, I agree. How many flags in vexillogical history have compass points on them?
One must understand the importance of stars to those living at the time. Star-gazing was the likely the equivalent of video-gazing today. Otoh, compasses were also very important. But why celebrate them on a vexillum?

The Powerline blog does a Calvin Coolidge quote he gave on July 4, 1926 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Declaration.
“About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful. It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776, that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance over the people of that day, and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern. But that reasoning can not be applied to this great charter. If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people. Those who wish to proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress. They are reactionary. Their ideas are not more modern, but more ancient, than those of the Revolutionary fathers.”
There are great plans being put in place in the US and through the UN to take all this away in the name of a “sustainable” society.
No. You may not government. Not anywhere in the West I hope but especially the US.

Jake

The carver was obviously inspired even if not well skilled. (Better than I’d do without clip-art and tracing paper though I’ll admit)
I think the “dots” are attempts at stars. A dot wouldn’t be as jagged as these are, since it’s easy to make a round dot simple by putting the point of the knife down and twisting, like a drill. I think the reason there are only 8 “stars” and not 13 is also a product of the carvers skill. He simply didn’t know how to make stars on top of stripes that were already there in the space available. And he didn’t need to. It was HIS powder horn, he knew what it meant, even if it wasn’t totally correct.
As for the US having a flag with stars and stripes a year before the 1777 Flag Act, I’d say it was likely. Back then we didn’t need a government fiat to tell us how to act. Hopefully some of that still endures.
Happy Fourth of July!

@oeman50 says: July 4, 2012 at 8:39 am
Thanks, Jeremy. I usually play that song as part of my celebration of the 4th. I used to break out my t-shirt from that tour, but it’s too fragile, now.
////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////
My pleasure! Ran into the Dead as a 15 year old by chance, and have loved them ever since. Always play this on Independence Day – the Dead for me are part of the best of America, the non stop pioneer country. Shame you are in a mess. Shame we are in a mess.
Wave that flag!

Skeptic Tank

“After 250 years, the only real difference between Canada and US is that Canada’s governmental system is more adaptable, more responsive to the needs of the people.”
Then why aren’t people risking their lives and families to immigrate to Canada? Or China, which is the new land of opportunity?
Most of the mistakes the US has made simply involved becoming more like the rest of the world.

kim2ooo

DonK31 says:
July 4, 2012 at 9:16 am
———————–
+10

kim2ooo

polistra says:
July 4, 2012 at 8:51 am
Was this revolution necessary? The only objective answer is No.
Canada stuck with the Crown, US created a new system.
After 250 years, the only real difference between Canada and US is that Canada’s governmental system is more adaptable, more responsive to the needs of the people.
1776 was a bad idea, and we should undo it.
——————————–
Grrrrrrrrrr….
You are welcome to live in Canada…leave my country alone!

kim2ooo

theduke says:
July 4, 2012 at 9:28 am
polistra says:
July 4, 2012 at 8:51 am
====================
Oh, shut up.
REPLY: I’d have to agree, arguing about undoing the event that produced the greatest nation in the history of man (on the Fourth of July no less) is probably in the top three stupidest comments ever witnessed here. And, I don’t mind insulting polistra, since he’s just another phantom commenter with an anonymous opinion. – Anthony
———————————-
It could be VERY embarrassing for polistra to get his but* whipped by a girl!

Alan the Brit

An interesting flag! Mind you, if you removed those stars, took away the horizontal stripes to the right, & added a diagonal red cross to what was left it would look much beter indeed!! Damn you Colonials & your wretched Boston Tea Party! It used to be ALL ours!!!:-))

Curiousgeorge

These kinds of discussions always lead rants about who has a right to a given piece of dirt. There are those who consistently claim; “We got here first”. I suspect the Neanderthal complained in a like manner about Cro-Magnan.
It’s never about who’s first. It’s about: “Can you hold what you’ve got?” Merry old England could not. Nor could the Romans or any other power.
Old Ben Franklin remarked on this in regards to the US Constitution, and I’m afraid we’ve not taken his warning seriously enough.
There are very many people (foreign and domestic) who are on a mission to supplant this “Republic” with something else.
Can we “hold what we’ve got” against this onslaught?

Joel S.

There is still a far greater number of Canadians immigrating to the US (and therefore a much larger percentage of population) than the other way around. Nothing against Canada, I love visiting there (I live an hour or so from the border), but I would still rather live here.

Banjo

Happy fourth….but if you chaps ever change your mind,
“America will be welcomed back into the empire and New York renamed Chiddingfold on Sea.”

jorgekafkazar

Mark Wagner says: “To rebut your opinion, the “stars” on the powderhorn are between the compass points, not on them. Also, one of the other flags on the horn shows only 4 compass points, which would be strange as they would be the midpoints (NE, SE, NW, SW). Another shows 8 lines, but only 4 stars.”
Yes. There are five obvious flags, each drawn to various levels of detail. The British flag is obviously depicted as the major element, similar to other flags whose origin is the Union Jack, with either four or eight squiggles in that device. Obviously, the squiggle count is not intended as an accurate depiction. The largest, most detailed flag definitely shows thirteen stripes. Would the star count necessarily also be thirteen? I’m not so sure. It could be eight of something else, but we’ll never know for sure. Definitely not compass points, since the simpler flags show an X pattern, not a + pattern. Mark is right.

kim2ooo

Curiousgeorge says:
July 4, 2012 at 10:11 am
Can we “hold what we’ve got” against this onslaught?
————————– IMO
Only if REAL competition against liberal / socialist news agencies exists.
Only if Education of children is put back in the hands OF the People.

davidmhoffer

REPLY: I’d have to agree, arguing about undoing the event that produced the greatest nation in the history of man (on the Fourth of July no less) is probably in the top three stupidest comments ever witnessed here
>>>>>>>>>
GUFFAW!
I challenge you to produce two additional comments as dumb as that.
REPLY: I was being kind. – Anthony

davidmhoffer

GUFFAW!
I challenge you to produce two additional comments as dumb as that.
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
Unless one or both came from me, in which case…. never mind.

David L

007 on July 4, 2012 at 9:31 am said:
The guy was doodling, what’s the big fuss?”
I agree completely. Every square on that horn is bisected once or twice, or thrice. It’s like my doodles in boring meetings. First I sketch a square, then i put some perspective lines on it to make a cube. Then I draw circles on the faces. Then maybe i put a cross on the circle, or a vine snaking through it. Just keep adding on until I tire of it and move on. I imagine sitting around a boring camp in 1776 with a nice white shiny powder horn and pocket knife was just as inspirational as a boring meeting with nice white clean pad of paper and a pencil in 2012.

Dan Hawkins

Vexillogists should leet this bee.

D. Patterson

There are 13 stripes on the powder horn’s flag, if you also assume the lines as stripes The 5 stars on the cross were likely omitted because it was impractical to represent them on such thinly scribed lines.

davidmhoffer

GUFFAW!
I challenge you to produce two additional comments as dumb as that.
REPLY: I was being kind. – Anthony
>>>>>>>>>>>
I caught Anthony exagerating! Are there points for that?
On a more serious note, polistra’s comment hardly needs rebuttal, but I will say this. It is common here in Canada for those of a certain political bent to belittle, complain about, mock, and rage at, the United States of America. When my patience wears thin, I always ask the same question. Can you name one other country in the world that, over the last 150 years or so, you would be comfortable sharing 4500 kilometers of undefended border with?
The ensuing silence is in general my reward.
Happy birthday USofA. Canada is a great country, in part because we grew up in a great neighbourhood. (we’ll consign that little spat in 1812 to the past).

cui bono

A note from the motherland.
You (that is us until 1783) were surrounded by the frogs until we (that includes you) bashed them in the 1750s and 1760s. All we asked was you pay a tiny bit of the expense of the war, a very fair price for not having to parler franglais and be hemmed in by New France. And then what happens? The ultimate desecration – you start throwing away perfectly good tea!
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Nouvelle-France_map-en.svg
Sacre bleu, as you would now be shouting at the boules World Series, munching your salted snail snacks.

theduke

I look at the overall illustration and see what appears to be a depiction, symbolic of course, of the siege and the city. You see churches, perhaps public buildings, a windmill, and most importantly, water and possibly a waterfront. The flag in question appears to be coming out of an island with cannon on it. It could represent a regimental flag of some kind of a regiment that was positioned on the island. Perhaps one of the experts should check a map of Boston Harbor to see if there is an island on it that approximates that particular shape and if so, who was inhabiting the island during the siege.
Yes, this amateur eye thinks it’s a depiction of the siege.

Hari Seldon

Wish the English revolution had reached England…

oldseadog

Robin Melville:
The cross of St. Patrick was added to the Union Flag in 1800 when Ireland became part of The United Kingdom Of Great Britain and Ireland.
The flag under discussion was from 1777.

theduke

cui bono: LOL. As a descendant of Englishmen who drove the French out of Acadia (Nova Scotia) and were probably Loyalists, I appreciate that. However there were other issues: the motherland acting more like the Vaterland and, of course, taxation without representation, which simply means the imposition of second class citizenry.

S Matthews

‘I always ask the same question. Can you name one other country in the world that, over the last 150 years or so, you would be comfortable sharing 4500 kilometers of undefended border with?’
France? Good food, wine etc, and a confidence that they will run up the white flag if any unpleasantries ensued.

Jim

[SNIP: Jim, let’s not go there, OK? -REP]

davidmhoffer

I have, after careful consideration, concluded that the United States and Canada are polar opposites. Given the main focus of this blog, I shall use as my solitary example, the matter of hockey sticks.
In Canada, hockey sticks are mostly made of wood.
In the United States, hockey sticks are made of data.
In Canada, we break millions of hockey sticks each year playing games with them.
In the United States, hockey sticks get bigger and uglier each year, and are big business.
In Canada, when we play with our hockey sticks, we complain it is too cold.
In the United States, when you pull out your hockey sticks, the complaint seems to be about being too warm.
As a final note, we in Canada are conservationists, and worry that we are breaking too many hockey sticks which may result in a shortage. As a consequence, we have assigned retired statisticians and economists and university professors to breaking your hockey sticks instead of ours. Thanks to the gift of the internet from Al Gore, they don’t even have to leave the country to do it.

Gunga Din

It looks like a flag to me. The closest thing the the colonies had to a standard flag was ships taking the British red naval ensign and sewing white stripes on them. Are the “dots” doodle versions of stars? Could be.
I’d be curious to know what colony he was from. The staff goes down to what looks like an island with what might be cannon. Could the “island” be South Carolina?
I’d also like to see the other sides of the horn.

u.k. (us)

polistra says:
July 4, 2012 at 8:51 am
“Was this revolution necessary? ……..”
========================
Can you argue this point ?
“The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”
Thomas Jefferson

Duster

I doubt the compass quarters idea. Every visible flag exhibits the same “canton” on one side, in one case in the lower right. I suspect that the carver was more familiar with the flags and ensigns used by the Bristish and used those as a model.
As regards the constitution, Jefferson thought that the country would need a revolution every generation to preserve what they had worked and bled to develop.