|19 STARS IN AN SPECTACULAR STARBURST MEDALLION UNIQUE TO THIS FLAG, MADE SOMETIME BETWEEN THE CIVIL WAR (1861-65) AND THE OPENING OF THE 1890'S, EITHER TO REFLECT NORTHERN SYMPATHIES, BY REPRESENTING THE COMPLEMENT OF UNION-SUPPORTING STATES AT THE TIME, OR TO COMMEMORATE INDIANA AS THE 19TH STATE TO JOIN THE UNION
|Frame Size (H x L):|
|Flag Size (H x L):||68.75" x 89"|
|American national flag 13 stripes and 19 stars, the latter of which arranged in a spectacular configuration that consists of a single, large center star, surrounded by a circular wreath of 10 stars, followed by pairs of stars that extend outward, one smaller, then one larger, in each corner of the blue canton. The resulting design, unique to this flag, falls into what I would categorize as a starburst medallion. It also constitutes one of the most beautiful and interesting arrangements that an observer will encounter in 19th century American flags.
Made sometime in the period between the Civil War (1861-65) and the opening of the 1890's, the flag survives among just a tiny handful known to exist in the 19 star count. Because the entire flag is made of plain weave cotton, it more likely dates to the latter portion of this date window. Homemade, cotton flags of the Civil War period frequently employ blue fabric made of something else other than cotton--often fine merino wool, or a blended fabric of similar weight. I have long surmised that the reason behind this was simply a shortage of blue cotton during the war, but whatever the case may be, the condition holds true more of the time than not. One may encounter blue cotton in an 1861 flag, it's simply much more unusual.
If made during the Civil War, the intent would be one of two purposes. Kansas entered the Union as the 34th state in January of 1861 (the war broke out in April). It was followed approximately two-and-a-half years later by West Virginia, in June of 1863, when it broke off from Virginia to become its own state. So for the opening years of the war, there were 34 states. This number, minus the entire complement 15 Slave States, equals 19. While Abraham Lincoln expressly requested that the stars representing the Southern States be left on the flag, citing the his goal of keeping the nation together, both the general public and commercial flag makers took great liberty with regard to flag design and generally did as they saw fit. Some of these excluded the Southern states. Yet another reason for wartime manufacture of a 19 star flag would have been to glorify Indiana's 1816 addition as the 19th state. Such a flag might be made for a Civil War unit that hailed from that state, for example, and presented as a gift when the unit left for war. Presentation flags, as they were called, might be carried regularly, or they may be brought out only on special occasions. While cotton was a poor choice of fabrics for long-term outdoor use, because it absorbs water, making the textile heavy and encouraging fabric rot, it was nonetheless the fabric of choice for most homemade flags, being lightweight, affordable, and widely available. While regulation infantry battle flags measured 6 x 6.5 feet and so were basically square, flags homemade for presentation use were almost invariably a bit longer and more rectangular if form. At approximately 5.75 x 7.5 feet, this flag does fit the sort of parameters I would expect of homemade presentation colors. Use of a 19 star count is possible in such a flag made for either exclusionary or state commendation purposes.
Because the number of states grew to 36 by the war's end, if made post-war, the meaning would most certainly be to glorify Indiana. Use at the 1876 Centennial International Exhibition in Philadelphia is one distinct possibility along those lines. This was our nation's first World's Fair, held to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of American independence. Massive in scale, the fair was held in Philadelphia's Fairmont Park. More than 200 temporary structures were erected on the 285 acre site, drawing 9 million visitors over a period of 6 months. Indiana had its own building at the Expo and would have commissioned flags of all sorts. An image of the Indiana building shows a flag hoisted above it that appears to display 15 stars, possibly in a linear pattern, with 13 stripes, but the flag is a tiny detail, engraved by hand, and the star count and/or pattern quite possibly contrived. Whatever the case may be, it suggests that a Stars & Stripes was present on the structure and possibly one with a low star count. Unfortunately, neither photographic images or sketches appear to survive that show what was inside the Indiana display, but thousands of flags appear to have been present at the 1876 fair, in practically all buildings and in countless designs, displayed throughout the premises, with a strong focus on historical reference.
The stars of the flag are hand-sewn and are double-appliquéd, meaning that they are applied to both sides of the navy blue canton. The canton has been pieced from three lengths of fabric, joined with treadle stitching, and was joined to the striped field in the same manner. The stripes were pieced and sewn by the same method. Fabric along the hoist end was rolled over and stitched to create an open sleeve, through which braided cotton cord was inserted. The manner of construction is typical of the Civil War through the centennial era, as-is the cotton cord.
While stars were often hand-sewn into the opening of the 1890's, and while, on occasion, I have seen similar dye lots of cotton in use at that time, I believe that the flag very likely pre-dates this period. Star patterns of this nature were not favored in the 1890's, the red cotton typically encountered in the stripes of homemade flags at this time is typically different, and the overall feel of the flag is more comparable to its counterparts of the 1860's and 70's, the latter especially, than it is to those of the 1890's. To be conservative, however, I should note that manufacture in this later era is not completely out of question. If so, the most likely purpose would be for display at another World's Fair of massive scope, the World Columbian Exposition, a.k.a., The Chicago World's Fair. Held in 1893 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus' landing (a year late due to construction delays), the event was even slightly larger than the 1876 fair. Here Indiana once again had its own building, though unfortunately, just as in 1876, surviving photos of the exterior provide no help and images of the interior don't seem to exist.
It would be prudent to also note that while Indiana passed its 50th and 75th anniversaries of statehood in 1866 and 1891, respectively--two other years to consider as a possible source--it does not appear that celebrations or parades of any great scale were held to commemorate either event.
Period 19 star flags, made to reflect when Indiana joined the Union as our 19th state on December 11th, 1816, are practically unknown. To understand why, it is necessary to examine how the addition of more states at the time affected the flag, and to consider how few may have been actually produced.
The First Flag Act of 1777 provided for 13 stripes and 13 stars. When Vermont and then Kentucky became the 14th and 15th states in 1791 and 1792, respectively, there were no immediate changes to the national flag. Three years later, in 1795, the Second Flag Act was passed by Congress, raising the count of both stripes and stars to 15. This remained the official specification through the addition of 5 more states until finally, in 1820, the count of stars was raised again to 20 per the Third Flag Act. At this time the number of stripes was returned the original 13, where it remains today almost 200 years later, to reflect the 13 original colonies.
Almost no 13 star flags exist that have been positively identified to the period in which there were 13 states. Even in the long expanse of years that followed, when the 15 star flag would have been accurate (1792 and after) or official (1795-1818) , only 5 or so examples with this star count, that were actually made during that period, are thus far known to have survived. One of which is our nation’s most famous flag, the Star Spangled Banner.
From the beginning in early America, flag-makers largely ignored official star counts. For this reason, flags with more than 15 stars, yet fewer than 20, were being made as the states came into the Union--possibly sometimes even beforehand, in hopeful anticipation. In this era, according to the handful of actual, surviving flags, as well as illustrations, the logic of continuing to add a stripe for every star seems to have held forth.
The only surviving 16 star flag, made in the period when we had 16 states (1796-1803), has long resided at the Hartford National Bank in Stonington Connecticut. The “Stonington Flag,” was reportedly made by the women of the First Congregational Church of Stonington in 1796 and later saw use by local militia in the defense of the bombardment of Stonington by the British in 1814. An 1876 photo of the flag clearly shows 15 stripes and a gap along the sleeve where the 16th stripe existed at one time.
Two surviving flags with 17 stars, made in the 1803-1812 period, survive, on having 17 stripes and one 15, as well as a third flag in a fragmented state. The 17-star, 17-stripe examples is privately owned. It was handed down through the family of Captain James Clephan (1768 – 1851) of the British Royal Navy and is reported to have been collected by Clephan as a war trophy following his capture of the American privateer “Blockade” near the Caribbean Island of Saba, during the War of 1812. The ship is recorded as having being taken on October 31st, 1813 (in both American and British sources) by Clephan while in command of the HMS Charybdis. The fragment has 17 stars in the same pattern and accompanied the complete flag. The other, with 15 stripes, contains 17 painted stars around a painted federal eagle. Among the holdings of the Chicago History Museum, the flag is thought to have possibly been made by Betsy Ross, who is known to have made wool flags with painted cantons. It is thought to have been commissioned by the Indian Department, to be presented as a gift of the U.S. Government to a Native American chief, though the story that accompanies it has sadly gotten confused over time with paperwork and research relating to two other flags.
One 18-star, 18-stripe flag is among the holdings of the Louisiana State Museum, reportedly made by Mrs. Ann Mather Hickey and other women of Baton Rouge at the Hope Plantation, for use by Colonel Philip Hicky at the Baton Rouge arsenal in 1812, following Louisiana’s admittance to the Union.
As for flags in the 19 star count, which is most applicable to this discussion, just two or three pieced-and-sewn examples are known. One of these, at least, clearly dates to the 1816-1817 period, and all have 13 stripes. It seems possible that by the time that Indiana was added, on December 10th, 1816, the logic of returning to 13 stripes was becoming clear. If a change wasn't made, they would soon become pinstripes.
Beyond the early group of flags described above, others among what I call "the low star counts" were sometimes produced outside the period when there were a corresponding number of stars (or states). These generally bear 13 stripes, as well, and date between the mid-19th century and the 1st quarter of the 20th. Even at this later date, however, flags with 19 stars are exceptionally rare. Among pieced-and-sewn examples, I have owned just this one and certainly fewer than 5 are known in total.* Because so few antique 19 star flags exist from any period, a collector wishing to own one has few opportunities in which to do so. For this reason, as well as the beautiful presentation of this flag, with its hand-sewn stars and their spectacular configuration, it can confidently be considered an excellent addition to any collection.
* A small handful of tiny printed parade flags (a.k.a. hand-wavers) are known in the 19 star count. Printed on cotton, these measure approximately 5 x 8 inches and were made in the Civil War (1861-65) - 1876 Centennial era.
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|Collector Level:||Flags for the truest Patriots. My best offerings|
|Flag Type:||Sewn flag|
|Earliest Date of Origin:||1861|
|Latest Date of Origin:||1893|
|War Association:||1861-1865 Civil War|
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