Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
Antique Flags > American Flags



Web ID: 15j-801
Available: In Stock
Frame Size (H x L): 30.5" X 35.5"
Flag Size (H x L): 21” x 24.50”
Extremely rare, 15-star American National flag, with 13 stripes, made in support of the presidential campaign of Abraham Lincoln, by schoolgirls in San Bernardino, California. The flag was made as a presentation gift to fellow student, John Brown, Jr., son and namesake of a famous frontiersman and 49’er, probably to be employed when Lincoln was seeking reelection in 1864.

The flag is accompanied by an excerpt from his diary that speaks of it, specifically. It is also accompanied by a scattering of other things, handed down through the family, among which are handwritten letters and other correspondence, clippings, valentines, and John, Jr.’s law journal from the last decade of the 19th century. This has been expanded upon by our research, adding images and historical accounts from a variety of other sources.

Constructed entirely of cotton, the flag’s most notable aspect can be found in its stars, not only in their number, but in their 7-point design—an extremely rare feature. Whether the makers were copying an earlier example, or creating a design of their own, is not known, but it may be that it was modeled after a flag indignantly flown by his father, who was approached to remove it by southern supporters. An excerpt from John Jr.’s diary, from the year 1870, reads as follows:

“On the opening of the rebellion ‘when shrieked the timid and stood still the brave’, when San Bernardino was filled with rebels, outlaws and a Union man's life was in jeopardy, a band of Dixieites as they were then known, came and ordered my father to take down the flag from his house, that it were best for him to take the flag down.

Fired with courageous indignation, my noble father exclaimed ‘My grandfather dies on Bunker Hill, my father died in the War of 1812, upholding their country's flag, and I am now ready to fall before that flag shall go down.’

The flag remained secure, firm, 'til after the Election of Lincoln, when worn, venerably took it down to preserve it.

This little flag was made by my classmates, girls, while at school. The stitches of their [heart or hand], cheerfully they worked recesses with their needles.”

When the Civil War broke out there was heavy Southern sentiment in California, which would likely have seceded had the matter been put to vote. John Brown, Sr. was a Unionist and flew an American flag, for which he was verbally attacked. One can expect that a young, patriotic, John Brown, Jr., about 16 or 17 years old at the time, had great admiration for his outspoken and well-traveled father, and that some of his fellow students, most of them younger, may have admired him. It is known that the Browns were campaigning hard for Lincoln at the time, and the demands of John, Sr. to take down his flag were no-doubt the talk of the town, the population of which was somewhere around 900.

Though there were pockets of support for the Union with significant strength further north, especially in and around Sacramento, these were in the minority in San Bernardino, and it would have been difficult to be a staunch Union supporter in this state at the time. The commitment of the Browns to Lincoln appears to have garnered the attention of John, Jr.’s female classmates, who got together to make him this flag. What is incredible is that there is actually written record of the account. Seldom is this sort of provenance available with a mid-19th century flag, especially one made in such a far-flung location.

The 15 star count may be a commendation to John’s grandfather, since this would have been the official flag (although with fifteen stripes) when he was killed during the War of 1812. This sort of history was probably something favored in the teachings of the little school. At the same time, the count of 13 stripes would potentially reference the death of John’s great-grandfather, during the Revolution.

In 1851, many Mormons settled temporarily in San Bernardino, significantly impacting its infrastructure. Streets were laid out to mimic those of Salt Lake City, and an open block was constructed for a temple (though none was built). Before being called back to Utah by Brigham Young, in 1857, the Mormons created two schools, including one called Warm Springs (still in use), and another at the present site of Pioneer Park, plus a public square, where they celebrated Independence Day.

It is clear that patriotic events were very meaningful in the town. Even so, the reason for 15 stars and 13 stripes was probably not rooted in the reasons suggested above.

When 15 star flags appear in the mid-19th century, produced in rare instance, for various commemorative or politically-motivated purposes, they typically bear 13 stripes. By this time, people had simply forgotten that during the 1795-1818 era, the concept was to add both a star and a stripe added for each new state. That practice was abandoned with the passing of the Third Flag Act in 1818, that increased the star count to 20, adding 5 new states, yet returned the stripe count to 13, from 15, because increases in the latter had become impractical.

The reason for 15 stars is another matter. Here the count may signify an abolitionist position, reflecting the number of Free States between 1848 and 1850, just before California entered the union. This is when John Brown, Sr. entered the state. All manner of symbolism can be seen in flags made during the antebellum, as well as both during and after the Civil War (1861-65). The abolitionist message likely conveyed here was probably familiar to Brown, Sr., who may have brought such a flag into the state when he arrived, in 1849, later copied by the schoolgirls. It is important to note that he actually entered Salt Lake on July 4th, which seems to have been the most important day of any given year for this Western patriot.

When other large contingents of Mormons began to arrive in San Bernardino, from 1853-1857, it was probably due in part to their favorable relationship with Brown, Sr. and other community leaders. Knowing how important Independence Day was to the Mormons, from previous experience, this may explain why Brown made a 280-mile, round trip journey by horse to Fort Tejon, to obtain a flag from his friend Sam Bishop, in order that he may display it at Fort San Bernardino during the first public festivities to celebrate Independence Day, in 1853 (Source: Brown, John, Jr. (ed.), “History of San Bernardino and Riverside Counties, (1922, Western Historical Association), p. 1132. The flag obtained from Bishop, a Judge and Justice of the Peace, must have been familiar to Brown, who perhaps may have lent it to him previously. Whatever the case may be, it is clear that the Mormon contingent was fond of the holiday, and by 1856, the concentration of Mormons settled in San Bernardino was second only to that of Salt Lake itself.

Similar use of 16-star, 13-stripe flags occurred during the mid-19th century aboard U.S. Navy ships, where they were flown as “small boat ensigns.” Because there were 16 Free States from 1850-1858, and because the U.S. Navy spent much of its time during this non-war era, protecting merchant ships and chasing slave traders, it has been theorized that flags in this star count likely reflected the number of Free States. Evidence of this survives not only in actual flags of that era, but in newspaper articles, primarily in the South, that reported Northern ships displaying 16 star flags.

Obviously flown with pride for an extended period, the flag made for John Brown, Jr. is wind-whipped and frayed. Note how the blue canton rests on a red stripe, as opposed to white. When this occurs, some flag historians have referred to this as the “blood stripe” or the “war stripe”, suggesting that the flag was constructed in this fashion when the nation was at war. In actuality, the placement probably occurred more often by accident. Not everyone knew where the canton was traditionally positioned, and because there was no official specification until 1912, there was no regulation with regard to this aspect. Whatever the case may be, the war stripe feature is both scarce and highly coveted by collectors. Yet another visually unusual trait can be seen in the blue color of the cotton sleeve along the hoist.

The flag is entirely hand-sewn, with the exception of two runs of interlocking stitch, present along the lower edge of each of the first two stripes. While interlocking chain stitch machines constituted some of the first, and were available during the 1850’s, some crank-handle-operated and some treadle, I have seen this type of stitch most frequently on flags that date to the close of the Civil War. In California, where this flag was made, probably at a private school, its origins are more difficult to predict. Brought by sea, or by a wealthy traveler, it would have been a spectacle, no doubt, in this far-flung location. The Mormons may have been the source, seeming to have no lack of either industriousness or resources.

Whatever the case may be, fewer than ten versions of the Stars & Stripes flags with 15 stars are known to exist from the mid-19th century, with pieced-and-sewn construction. Further, just two or three examples are known to exist that are period to when the 15 star flag was official. One of these is the Star Spangled Banner, of Ft. McHenry fame, whence our national anthem was written, now in the collection of the Smithsonian. In other words, 15 star flags, whether made in the 18th or 19th century, are rare in the extreme.

Summary of the Adventures and Patriotic History of John Brown, Jr. and Sr.:

Not to be confused with the abolitionist of “Bleeding Kansas” fame, executed at Harper’s Ferry, this John Brown gained fame as Western pioneer, trapper, hunter, and 49’er, playing roles in the exploration and/or settling of Texas, Colorado, California, and the surrounding region.

Orphaned in St. Louis, Gateway to the West, where his family had moved, John Brown, Sr. worked at various jobs, some aboard riverboats. Shipwrecked on one voyage South, off the coast of Galveston, instead of heading back to Missouri, he traveled north up the Red River to Ft. Leavenworth. This was both pre-Texas and pre-Kansas Statehood. In the former, joined the forces of Sam Houston in the Texas Revolution, participating in the defeat of the Mexican Army at the Battle of San Jacinto. Here he saw Mexican President and General, Santa Anna, captured and taken prisoner for the first time, in perhaps the most memorable event in the history of the soon-to-be state.

Heading West, for the next 14 years he trapped among an arm-long list of Native American tribes, gaining expertise in all areas of life in the wild and unsettled regions. He physically helped build many garrisons that became outposts of Western migration, including Forts Laramie, Bent, Bridger, and many others. In 1842, he helped build Fort Pueblo [Colorado], where he met other famous frontiersmen from “Old Bill” Williams, to James Waters, Dick Owens, John Burroughs, Tim Goodale, and Calvin Briggs. He trapped between there and the Yellowstone River, becoming acquainted with the likes of Kit Carson, James Bridger, William and Minton Sublette, and the Bents, Theodore and Mabel, Queen of the Explorers. An intrepid hunter and a great storyteller, Brown had so many straight-out-of-the-storybook experiences that his day-to-day life read like a dime store Western novel.

In the 1840’s Kit Carson and John Brown, Sr. served as guides for John Fremont, “the Pathfinder,” who won government contracts to map the Oregon Trail. On one of his five expeditions, Fremont went on the hunt for the Mexican General, Pico, who ruled as governor within the territory that would become California. Not finding him at home within the region, he took both San Francisco and Los Angeles with just 100 men, securing them from Mexican control, and naming himself military governor. Brought up on charges of treason, he was subsequently pardoned by President James Polk. Fremont’s expeditions led to the Gold Rush and opened California to statehood. Becoming one of California’s first two senators, in 1856, Fremont ran for the presidency as the first nominee of the newly-formed Republican Party, on the anti-slavery ticket.

A friend to Native Americans and Mexicans alike, John Brown, Sr. took a Mexican wife, Louisa, who, previous to their marriage, was wed to a freed slave, John Beckwith, with whom she had a daughter. When Beckwith left them, Brown became as family to Louisa and her daughter, then a husband and father. The couple would produce six daughters and four sons.

When John, Jr. was just one year old, living with his father and mother at Ft. Pueblo, having accumulated numerous buffalo skins and beaver pelts with their numerous companions, the Browns left for Taos within the New Mexico Territory. Along the way, the pack train was attacked by Apache warriors, with some of the group killed and losing all of the pack horses and hides. During the mele, Some of Louisa’s companions urged her to throw John, Jr., who she was carrying, else the Indians would surely overtake her. She escaped with him, however, jumping a ravine with her horse and holding onto John’s neck so hard that it is said, in one reference, that ever-after he could not hold his neck up quite straight.

When John, Jr. was age two, in the early part of 1849, the Browns, accompanied by frontiersmen James Waters, Alexander Godey, and others, hit the trail for what had now—in a treaty following the Mexican War (1846-48)—officially become the California Territory. They arrived at Salt Lake, in the Utah Territory, on the 4th of July, continuing on to Sutter’s Fort, in present day Sacramento, where they arrived on September 15th, 1849. This was about a year before California gained statehood (Sept. 9th, 1850). In 1852, the Browns relocated to Fort San Bernardino. Shortly beforehand, a large contingent of Mormons had arrived, and motivated by a significant fear of attack by desert-dwelling Native Americans, a 750 x 320-foot log stockade had been built in just 20 days. Completed on December 15th, 1851, the fort would encapsulate the forthcoming town, the layout of which would be modeled after Salt Lake.

According to “History of San Bernardino and Riverside Counties, (1922, Western Historical Association), edited by John Brown, Jr. himself:

“[John, Jr.] is indebted to his father for starting him in his patriotic career. It was his father who rode on horseback to Fort Tejon, where he obtained a flag from his old friend, S.A. Bishop [Sam Bishop, simultaneously serving as Justice of the Peace, Notary Public, and Judge of the Plains], and brought it to display on the first celebration of the 4th of July in San Bernadino, in 1853. He [John, Sr.] was chairman of the Republican County Central Committee in 1860, and with his boys, John, Joseph and James, hauled wood to kindle fires to arouse the Americans to support Abraham Lincoln for president and to support the Union, and in 1864 displayed the same activity in supporting President Lincoln for the second term” (p. 1132).

One of John, Jr.’s first memories, from 1852, at age 5, was of two teachers, Ellen Pratt and William Stout, who taught even before the first schoolrooms were built. In 1857, the Browns moved from outside of town to within it, and John, Jr. began attending both public and private schools in San Bernardino. The flag associated with this narrative is reported to have been made by schoolgirls soon after, “at school,” during one of Lincoln’s campaigns. Most likely this occurred at a private school, where girls regularly produced needlework embroideries and samplers, and would have been likely to have had needles at hand for the required work. As one of the elder students, it is likely that John was looked up to, and probably aided in the instruction of younger students. He would go on to become a teacher, a superintendent of schools, a director of the board of education, then a lawyer. With regard to the latter profession, he explains, in “History of Sa Bernardino and Riverside Counties”: “It can be truly said of him that he espoused the cause of the poor and oppressed…” and “He is pre-eminently the friend of the aged, and is beloved by the children, who regard him as a true Santa Claus. Even the poor Indian finds in him a faithful champion of their rights” (p. 1131).

More documentation of his patriotic tendencies is noted in the same text:

“The friends of John Brown, Jr., have always known him as an ardent patriot; the American Flag [capitalized] floats over his home on all national, state or municipal holidays, and waves from pine to pine at all his mountain camps. With that veteran school teacher of precious memory, Henry C Brooke, he raised the star spangled banner over many of the school houses in the county, in the early 70's, thus beginning a custom that was afterwards adopted by the state, and calculated to inspire patriotism in the hearts of the rising generation” (p. 1131).

“In 1868 John [Jr.] cast his maiden vote for the candidate of the Republican Party, General U. S. Grant, and has remained loyal to that party, believing that by so doing he was contributing to the highest welfare of the American people under one Flag [capitalized], one constitution, with liberty and union, now and forever, one and inseparable” (p. 1132).

“On July 4, 1876, he married, in San Bernardino, miss Maddie Ellen Hindman, of Grand Rapids, Michigan” (p. 1131).

“In the summer of 1882, he visited the Atlantic and middle states with his wife and their little daughter Nellie – Bunker Hill, where his father's grandfather fell in the war of the revolution, Plymouth Rock, Mount Vernon and Washington Tomb, Independence Hall, Niagara Falls, Ford’s Theater, where Lincoln was assassinated, and Faneuil Hall, the cradle of American Liberty” (p. 1132).

John, Sr. would long outlive all of his frontiersman companions. In 1888 he helped found the local Society of California Pioneers. He attended his last meeting a few days before he passed in 1899. John, Jr. served as secretary for 44 years, from its existence until he too passed, in 1932. That organization still exists and was kind enough to provide me with several resources and photos.

Included with this grouping are the following:

(1) A large, elaborately engraved certificate, presented to John Brown, Sr. in 1888 by the "Society of California Pioneers".

(2) A law notebook (14" by 8 3/4") that belonged to John Brown, Jr. A handwritten notation on the front endpaper reads: "John Brown, Jr. - Feb. 19, 1890".

(3) A group of handwritten letters, written in 1884 to "Pa and Ma" (Mr. and Mrs. John Brown, Sr.) by daughter, Mary.

(4) A letter (single sheet of paper folded with writing on four panels), written by Mary Brown to her sister, Sylvia.

(5) A letter written in Los Angeles in 1884 and sent to "Pa and Ma and All".

(6) Three additional sheets of paper (writing on both sides) that are part of one or more letters to Sylvia from Mary.

(7) A postcard addressed to John Brown Jr. that reads in part:

(8) A single sheet of notebook paper with the John Brown "Family Tree."

(9) A newspaper clipping of an original poem commemorating John Brown, Sr., by Mrs. P.A. Crozier, written for the Great Western Journal.

(10) Various other valentines, poems, newspaper clippings, and other paper items.

(11) An old, typed copy of the excerpt from John Brown, Jr.’s diary.

Collector Level: Flags for the truest Patriots. My best offerings
Flag Type: Sewn flag
Star Count: 15
Earliest Date of Origin: 1861
Latest Date of Origin: 1865
State/Affiliation: Kentucky
War Association: 1861-1865 Civil War
Price: Please call (717) 676-0545 or (717) 502-1281